It’s not an easy time to be a home secretary. After the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks; there are challenges to motivate the massive security and intelligence apparatus into making fight against terror its first mission. But then the new home secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai like his boss, P Chindabaram, is a hard taskmaster. Pillai has moved to North Block after an eventful stint in Udyog Bhavan. He has an unmatched bureaucratic resume as India’s chief negotiator at the World Trade Organization (WTO), chairman of the Board of Approval for Special Economic Zones, he was the commerce secretary and has served in the Ministries of Defence, Shipping and Transport and in the Ministry of Home Affairs, dealing with the North Eastern states.
A prodigious appetite for work, officials said, prepares Pillai to shape plans for the national security. His often remains in the office and working at 10 p.m. He receives a private intelligence briefing everyday, often identifying issues to be called to Prime Minister’s attention, and then sits in on the home ministers daily briefing an hour later. In his North Block office, he recalled the moment when he was joint secretary in the home ministry and how crucial his new posting is. In an exclusive interview with The Week he talked about troubled Northeast, Kashmir, India’s preparedness to tackle terror and when asked about The Week’s cover story on India’s Secret Torture Chambers, he remained silent for a while then turned his face and replied heavily, “It was shocking. It should not happen.”
Excerpts of the interview:
Q. The Week magazine in its last addition has done a cover story on the India’s secret torture centres. Have you seen the report?
A. It was very disturbing. It should not happen.
Q. Who runs these facilities?
A. I don’t know.
Q. Have you taken notice of the story?
A. We have tasked a team in the home ministry to look into the matter. We have photocopied The Week’s report and have prepared a file on it. We will do an internal analysis and find out how these facilities are being run. We have a human rights division at the ministry that division will be tasked to carry out the further inquiry into this matter. It is a process which we will do with the consultation with various agencies to get their views on the subject.
Q. So these facilities will be closed?
A. I assure you that we will look into the matter.
Q. You have taken the charge of home secretary at a time when country is facing many security challenges. What are you priorities to deal with the situation?
A. Our priority is to raise our level of preparedness. There is huge shift the way we used to work at MHA and now the way we deal with the issues today. There is 24 hours intelligence sharing. We all meet every day to monitor and analyses the intelligence inputs and the ground reports. Yes, here and there something can happen. But we are definitely raising our level of preparedness.
Q. But there are turf battles and egos between different agencies.
A. We have a system now wherein we meet daily. We have set up a group, we are collectively responsible. We have got our intelligence system more or less fixed, with the re-establishment of MAC (Multi- Agency Committee). Now, you can’t pass the buck. With MAC everything will now be logged properly, any word uttered will be logged. We will hold people accountable if they have not asked the right questions.
Q. The moment something happens, everybody start blaming other agency.
A. That’s unfortunate. We have clearly laid down the rule that no central intelligence agency will talk about these matters. Leaks happen when someone talks.
Q. Are you not surprised that one incident, Mumbai attacks, settled the national debate on internal security?
A. Yes, I agree it was the tipping point. We learnt lot of lessons from Mumbai attacks. The most important was how important is it is to have a cohesive and coordinated strategy to deal with the situation.
Q. What the approach post-Mumbai terror attacks?
A. The approach is to emphasize the elements of the anti-terror strategy which deserve to be emphasised and creating a structure under which you can deliver what has to be delivered. I think the elements were all there, the elements are being brought together in a manner that people who are involved in the anti-terror effort are aware of their priorities are aware of their responsibilities and are part of a structure which works together and will enforce accountability.
Q. What is the progress in respect of the National Investigation Agency (NIA)?
A. NIA has a crucial work to do. We have stationed posts and it is one of my priority areas to strengthen NIA.
Q. We have seen fresh spate of violence in Northeast. Are you worried about the deteriorating situation in Northeast?
A. The problem in Northeast, as per my understanding of the situation, is under development. We need to create more opportunity for the people. The 10% of the entire central budget goes to Northeast while as the region comprises of only 3% of Indian population. I think the state government needs to utilize the money properly.
Q. During your earlier stint at the home ministry as a joint secretary for northeast you had developed good contacts with the Nexalities.
A. Yes, I have nourished good contacts in the region. My strategy remains: Don’t target the gun-slingers, talk to the ideologues. That strategy worked well when the Bodos were raising their voice for ethnic recognition. I am planning to visit the region in the next month to revise the security situation there.
Q. Kashmir is again on boil. Is not the ministry disappointed that despite the good turn out of people in recent elections, the people are again out on the streets protesting against the killings. What went wrong there?
A. It is a complex issue. There are genuine problems which need to be addressed. The roundtable table talks should resume, there should be more confidence building measures, the cross border trade should move on. The point is to improve the ground situation.
Q. Is there any proposal to restart talks with Hurriyat Conference?
A. We are in touch with some people in Srinagar.
Q. Omar Abdullah has said that it is a time for the CRPF to pull-out from Kashmir. What is your take on that?
A. Yes, we completely agree that it is a time for the paramilitary forces to slowly withdrawn from Kashmir. The question is the state police ready. I think the police should be made ready. I think it is a matter of one or two years; the local boys should be recruited that would also provide more jobs to Kashmiri youth. Strategically speaking, the advantage is also that the local men should do the job; they know the language, the terrain and therefore they are better equipped to deal with the ground situation. There is no need from a cop from Assam to serve in Kashmir.