international, India, Mumbai attacks
Manish Swarup/AP
A boy runs past Railway Protection Force soldiers talking at Chhatrapati Shivaji Teminus, in
Mumbai, India.

India Expands Reach in Fight Against Terrorism

December 18, 2008 05:31 PM
by Christopher Coats
The Indian parliament has rushed to pass legislation that would restructure and refocus its law enforcement efforts following the November attacks in Mumbai.

A National Approach to Fighting Terrorism

Mirroring U.S. efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, India’s lower house passed legislation this week aimed at strengthening national security, similar to the Office of Homeland Security.

The National Investigation Agency Bill proposes setting up a new federal office to investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism; the bill would also allow for the creation of fast-track courts to try those charged with terror-related crimes. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill would clear the way for quicker investigations and allow the detention of suspects without charge for 180 days, double the current limit.

Marking the second time this year that the government has proposed such anti-terrorism legislation, the lower house’s approval is the closest the legislation has come to being passed into law.

Background: Investigative and judicial powers in question

Marred by questions of jurisdiction and authority, national efforts have been thwarted for years thanks to the interpretation of India’s 1950 constitution, which places law enforcement under the guidance of individual states.

Although the national police force amounts to 2.2 million active officers, critics suggest that the lack of central authority leaves many forces inadequately trained and unprepared to mount a defense against terror attacks.

The 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), passed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was intended to expand national law enforcement efforts. However, POTA was repealed by the current government in 2004 due to human rights concerns.

A proposal was floated to launch a national office that year, but was dogged by questions of authority until late July of this year, when bombings in Ahmedabad and Bangalore left 51 dead.

Still, it wasn’t until last month’s attacks in Mumbai, which presented the national government with a series of well-coordinated armed attacks, that support for a new federal agency was galvanized.

Opinion & Analysis: Examining India’s judicial system

Criticized by local leaders and the U.S. State Department as a hurdle to pursuing and successfully prosecuting terrorism suspects, India’s judicial system has been a frequent target of those hoping for reform.

In April, the U.S. State Department noted in a terrorism report that, "The Indian court system was slow, laborious, and prone to corruption; terrorism trials can take years to complete. Many of India's local police forces were poorly staffed, lacked training, and were ill-equipped to combat terrorism effectively."

Despite earlier protests, the Bharatiya Janata Party has expressed its support for the new legislation. However, many feel that without the consensus of state governments, any new federal department would be left powerless.

Professor C. Raj Kumar noted that the Mumbai attacks were the clearest sign yet that the current government is unable to protect the country against terrorism. Kumar recommended a comprehensive policy overhaul, laid out in a Dec. 11 editorial in The Hindu. His proposal generally reflects the legislation passed by the lower house of the Indian parliament this week.

Later Developments: Projected increase in homeland security spending

The Hindu reported that the recent Mumbai terrorism attacks will likely lead to a dramatic spike in homeland security spending, with estimates suggesting that it will reach $9 billion by 2016.

“The continuous threat of terrorism, the development of India’s infrastructure and the eventual development of the nation’s civil aviation capacity promise to expand the overall security spending in India to over $9 billion by 2016,” said Friso Buker, a senior consultant with Frost & Sullivan, according to The Hindu.

Related Topic: Homeland security around the world

According to Jonathan Schell, writing for YaleGlobal, after the 2004 terrorist bombings in Madrid, Spain made a conscious effort to respond differently than the United States had to 9/11. A new government was voted into power and civilians responded with massive public demonstrations.

The following year, the United Kingdom experienced terrorist attacks on the London Underground train system. In response, the country increased funding for MI5, its counter-intelligence and security agency, and launched a series of community outreach and policing efforts.

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