New Delhi/Kolkata: The government Saturday said it had no intention to encroach upon the rights of the states while fighting terrorism. But the assurance didn`t calm down voices against a proposed anti-terror intelligence hub, claiming its provisions threatened federalism.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was the latest to join his counterparts from other states, including West Bengal, in strongly opposing the just approved National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), a brainchild of Home Minister P. Chidambaram, which has the powers to set up inter-state intelligence support teams.
"Without discussing and taking opinion of the state governments, setting up of such anti-insurgency hub is against the federal structure of the Indian constitution," Sarkar told reporters, demanding the withdrawal of the executive order on the NCTC.
As the clamour over the setting up of NCTC grew louder, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said the matter should not be "politicised" because the agency was key to pre-empting terror strikes in India.
Soni reiterated that the NCTC proposal didn`t talk about making amendments in any existing law but would derive powers from the anti-terror legislation already passed by parliament.
"In my understanding, it (setting up of NCTC) is an administrative decision. And I don`t think that the central government in any way wants to interfere in the federal system or weaken it. I think the chief ministers also know that Manmohan Singh`s government would not want to do this."
Amid the confrontation, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is the second largest constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), skipped a security event in Kolkata that was presided by Chidambaram.
Apparently unhappy with the home minister`s move, Banerjee gave a last minute miss to Chidambaram`s inauguration of the National Security Guard (NSG) hub in Kolkata.
But the home minister defended his stand on NCTC. "Internal security is a responsibility that is shared by the central and state governments," the home minister said.
He stressed that while the constitution has assigned law and order and police to the state governments, it has also given the responsibility to the central government for protecting every part of India from external aggression or internal disturbance.
Striking a conciliatory note, the home minister showered praise on the Mamata Banerjee-led government and said the central government was "very happy" to work with West Bengal.
"Under this government, Maoist activity has been substantially controlled. In some time, we hope to put down the problem and rid West Bengal of the menace. It is good that the state accepted our advice and conducted joint operations against the rebels."
The home minister`s remarks come a day after Banerjee joined other state governments to express resistance over the powers given to the anti-terror agency that is being set up March 1.
The NCTC derives its powers from the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which allows it to make arrests or searches in terror-related cases.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is leading the war against NCTC but it is the Trinamool Congress opposition that has even threatened the existence of the UPA government. The party lends a crucial support of its 19 MPs to the coalition.
The other chief ministers who have protested against the NCTC include J. Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu, Narendra Modi of Gujarat, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Prem Kumar Dhumal of Himachal Pradesh, and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh.
In a related development, Home Secretary R.K. Singh said that the war against terror won`t be winnable if states worked independently.
"It is the duty of the central government to deal with terrorists and to coordinate with states to tackle terrorists. If all states work independently and if there is no coordination, can we win this fight," he said at an event in Haryana.
He said it is the central government`s responsibility to fight those who wage war against the nation.
"We can`t fight terrorism in this manner."