India’s Counter-Terrorism Agency Faces State Opposition

India’s government is under pressure to suspend plans to create a flagship national counter-terrorism agency as regional leaders say the new body will be too powerful and will usurp the role of local police.

The chief ministers of eastern Odisha state and the southern province of Tamil Nadu wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday urging him to withdraw proposals for the agency, which is due to become operational March 1. At least nine other state chiefs, including Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, whose party is a key member of Singh’s coalition, also oppose the plans, according to the NDTV 24x7 news channel.

After last week describing the powers of the planned National Counter-Terrorism Centre as “draconian,” Odisha leader Naveen Patnaik called for states to be consulted.

“My primary objection is the high-handed manner in which the government of India has tried to address such an important issue,” Patnaik wrote in his latest letter. “Prior consultation with the states would have greatly strengthened this process of national security in which our aims are identical.” Odisha was earlier called Orissa.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram proposed the new unit after visiting the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center in the wake of the 2008 attack on Mumbai in which 10 Pakistani Islamic militants killed 166 people during a three-day rampage through luxury hotels, the city’s main railway station, a Jewish center and cafe. The centre’s establishment was delayed by a separate debate over to whom in India’s government its director should report, Chidambaram said in an interview Feb. 2.

Mumbai, Delhi

Singh wrote to chief ministers opposing the body saying he has asked Chidambaram to address their concerns, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s office today. The centre will be a part of the Intelligence Bureau and not be an independent organization, the statement said.

India has suffered seven terrorist attacks since 2008, including coordinated bombings in Mumbai in July that killed 13 people and another explosion in New Delhi in September that left 11 people dead. The strikes have spurred public debate on how effectively Chidambaram’s leadership is improving security.

In the latest attack, the wife of an Israeli diplomat and her Indian driver were hurt Feb. 13 when a magnetic device was attached to her car before it exploded. The Indian government said they don’t know who was responsible for the strike and have not made any arrests.

The same day, authorities in Georgia said they foiled the bombing of an Israeli vehicle. Thai police arrested two Iranians they said were preparing to target diplomats from Israel after blasts on a Bangkok street Feb. 14.

Chidambaram became home minister amid criticism of his predecessor in the days after the Mumbai raid, and pledged to boost the capability of police forces to respond to terrorist attacks and improve collaboration between intelligence agencies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Macaskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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