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We are in no way secure

Vijay Mukhi 


Two events have changed India in the last four months — 26/11 and Satyam. Our response to both these major events has been the same. We, as a country, have done absolutely nothing. The 26/11 episode affected our life, Satyam our wallets. It’s been four months after 26/11 and I am yet to meet a policeman on the roads of Mumbai who is carrying a gun that can take on the might of a terrorist. I am yet to meet a policeman who has gone through a rigorous training programme that will prevent another hostage attack. I am yet to see a boat that would protect the coasts of Maharashtra. I could go on and on. Why have we failed to come together?

Let’s start with the judiciary. A spate of PIL(s) were filed in the Mumbai High Court in the chambers of the Chief Justice, which heard them immediately. I was present in the court that fateful day as I had also filed a PIL. Most of us wanted some mechanism to be created by the courts that would monitor the security systems in place for our safety and security. The state and Centre vehemently opposed the creation of any such body on various grounds, but to the credit of the high court, they could sense the anger and frustration of people and went ahead and created a citizens’ committee, headed by Justice Srikrishna. This committee met twice and debated a large number of security issues, but as the Centre and state have gone to the Supreme Court against the High Court’s decision, things are in a state of limbo. Score 1 for the judiciary.

The industry reaction to 26/11 has been to say the least a big joke. They have gone ahead and tried to spend their way out of the problem. They have not thought precisely what they should be doing in this space. For example, most five-star hotels in the city check your car for explosive devices by looking at three places, underneath your car, in the bonnet or the boot. They believe that no terrorist will carry bombs in the back seat of the car. They, along with the malls, have installed what we call Door Frame Metal Detectors (DFMDs in industry jargon) at all entry points. These can check for the minutest traces of explosives. Unfortunately, in our country, most of the DFMDs do not work when one passes through them, and now someone has to physically check you again. One five-star hotel actually checks you twice.

We believe, if we have physical frisking, for some reason, it is better than a machine checking you, which is not what the world thinks. They want to remove people from the security process. The world uses to remove people from the process of security.Doing the same job over and over again leads to fatigue and tiredness, and this is where a security breach happens. For some reason, the industry wants to take the role of a policeman, which is not their job. The industry has also not been proactive in lobbying governments. Score 0 for industry’s response.

The security business is booming in India and we see a large number of business delegations coming to India to source our security. We are seen as the fastest-growing country in security spending. There is a new security company formed in India every two days. Companies are spending a lot of money on physical security, but very little is being done as far as e-security is concerned.

Industry associations and the society at large initially make all the right noises and then fatigue creeps in. I see no more meetings being held or press releases from associations or citizen groups. It seems the flame has died out, as if 26/11 never happened. The frustration and anger among the people still remains. In the last month, the Indian Merchants Chamber hosted two delegations from Israel and the UK. These days, it is difficult to get people to attend a seminar, but both these security seminars were full of people and the question and answer sessions were very emotional and aggressive. People did not really ask the foreigners questions, they were more interested in talking about 26/11 and its aftermath. People are scared and worried as they do not see any movement on the ground, but lack a way of getting their point across to the powers that be. The problem with citizen groups is that very rarely do we see them come out with actual workable suggestions. State bashing is a good thing up to a point. Score ½ for the response of citizens groups and Industry Associations.

The politicians have realised and felt the anger of people and are willing to discuss security at the drop off a hat. As they are close to people, they understand their feelings and anxieties. The IAS officers at the very top are also willing to talk about security. This group is at least willing to talk about security. The only problem is that they do not control the bureaucracy today. Score ½ for the response of the politicians and senior IAS officers.

So far, all the sections of society we have spoken about, judiciary, citizens, industry, citizens groups , politicians, etc are sincere in their approach and are thinking towards security. Then where is the bottleneck?

There is a huge mass of bureaucracy that is answerable to no one and all and this is the stumbling block that is making things happen. They do not believe that anything different has happened at all after 26/11 and, for some reason, no one wants to tame them.

The only way out for the civil society is to get together and make the courts hold the government accountable for security on a day-to-day basis. The courts or the state must set actual deadlines for action to take place on the ground. US President Barack Obama has come out with a site that says Do Not Trust Us, Track Us. We must have a similar system in India, using a called xBRL, where we can use software to track what the state is doing. This way they cannot make promises and get away with it. They have to be held accountable.

The author is a security practitioner, a member of the 66-member Maharashtra State Security Council and chairs the sub-group on Cyber Security and Communications.

The views are personal

First Published: Thu, March 26 2009. 00:34 IST