Thursday, September 8, 2011

Getting a Grip on Terrorism

I've just watched New Delhi chief honcho Sheila Dixit in an infuriating television interview about the bombing of the High Court in her city yesterday, less than four months after it was last hit.

She maintained throughout a cold distance from what had happened, making the right noises but seemingly not in the least perturbed. It was as if she had no personal responsibility for the death of 12 people and the physical mangling of many others.

Why were the CCTV cameras ordered after the May bombing not in place? An enquiry was under way. She really had nothing to say. The interviewer, Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today said the delay was being blamed by the CPWD on the Delhi Police revising their original request for 32 cameras, asking for 49 instead. The CPWD had cancelled the tender issued for the purchase of 32, putting back the acquisition process by months. "That is criminal!" he declared.

She was unfazed.   

Asked if heads would roll, she said they would -- if an investigation showed that anyone was at fault!

With 12 dead and nearly 80 injured because of a basic failure of security, what does she need to prove  that indeed, people were at fault? Including, of course, herself.

Home Minister Chidambaram made his usual anodyne statement, as did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Neither made any real sense. We've all been around this track once too many times. Their failures can no longer be explained away, or even explained.

That goes for the television channels too. They are so enamoured of "Big Fight" discussions and promoting their own political agendas (including 24/7 coverage of Anna Hazare) that they have forgotten that their basic job is to be our society's nervous system. It's up to them to keep track of action on the anti-terrorism front. The CCTV camera story should have been top news as it happened -- not after the bombing.

So what can we do to turn things around?

Here are my proposals:

  1. A CCTV Czar: The Prime Minister should appoint a cabinet-level Minister whose only job will be to ensure that all our cities and important facilities (sea and air ports, hospitals, factories, bridges, dams etc) are under adequate surveillance. To avoid delay because of procurement red tape he should be authorized to work with private businesses to get the cameras installed, submitting the bills to government for reimbursement. His office should maintain a web site showing progress and allowing feedback from the public on what is happening or not happening on the ground.
  2. Every newspaper and television channel should establish beat coverage on the installation of CCTV cameras in its own area. It should be as regular as the weather report, and include the functional status of the installed equipment. The people responsible for the system should be regularly interviewed, and any problems aired without delay.
  3. Chambers of Commerce & Industry at the central, state and city level should appoint a coordinator on CCTV installation and functionality. They should fund training programmes to ensure enough trained staff for local and nearby systems.
  4. The programme should aim to cover all major cities and facilities within six months, and have a comprehensive national system in place within a year.
If another terrorist attack should occur either in Mumbai or Delhi, there should be a pre-designated list of officials to be immediately suspended, to be fired after the requisite investigation.


No comments: