New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) faced a fresh crisis on Friday after seven chief ministers came out against a proposed powerful counter-terror intelligence hub, saying it infringed on the rights of states.
The Congress, which leads the UPA, tried to play down the issue after ally and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joined three chief ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh as well as Janata Dal-United`s Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Biju Janata Dal`s Naveen Patnaik in Orissa and AIADMK`s J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu also spoke out against the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
Led by the most vocal Patnaik, the chief ministers declared that they were against the NCTC because they had not been consulted before New Delhi notified it.
In separate letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, six of them complained that the proposed NCTC would infringe on the federal structure and the rights of state governments.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the chief troubleshooter of the government, said in West Bengal that a decision would be taken after studying the criticism.
The powerful anti-terror agency, a brainchild of Home Minister P. Chidambaram, will integrate and analyse inputs on terror threats in India. It becomes functional March 1.
It allows central government agencies to make arrests or searches in terrorism-hit states without seeking permission from their governments.
Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram did not respond to the criticism. But Home Secretary RK Singh insisted the government was not passing a new law. However, he justified the NCTC.
"There was no need to consult the states prior to notifying the NCTC. It has been formed for better coordination among (security) agencies to fight terror better," the home secretary said.
RK Singh, according to sources, spoken with West Bengal chief secretary Samar Ghosh and cleared that the agency derives its power from the existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and no new legislation was being proposed for it.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley warned that any attempt to undercut the power of the states could derail the central government.
His colleague Balbir Punj said, "It is a weird proposal. Terrorism is ... a national problem.
"If the PM and home minister are serious about it, they should have taken state governments on board.
"How can we have a tangible fight against terrorism when you don`t enjoy the confidence of your allies?" he asked, referring to Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee.
The first to raise his voice was Patnaik who said in Bhubaneswar: "The centre`s notification completely bypasses the states.
"This government is happily passing authoritarian orders without consulting states. I am shocked."
Patnaik got in touch with the other chief ministers. His office released Banerjee`s letter to Manmohan Singh outlining her strong objections to NCTC.
Banerjee, whose relations with the Congress have become frosty, alleged that "arbitrary exercise of powers" by the NCTC would have "a bearing on the rights and privilege of the states".
She said the home ministry should have consulted the states before coming up with such "draconian" law. She asked Manmohan Singh to withdraw it.
Her colleague and Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed said: "Being part of the government in the centre doesn`t mean we will forget our state`s interests."
BJD MP Pinaki Mishra said, "They should have a clear relook and redraft the entire policy in consultation with states."
Similar strong comments also came from Jayalalithaa, Gujarat`s Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh`s Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Himachal Pradesh`s Prem Kumar Dhumal.
"Multiplication of agencies is not a solution," Dhumal said and asked the central government to set its house in order.
Patnaik denied the chief ministers were forming a pressure group.
In New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said Mamata Banerjee had the right to consult other chief ministers.
"It is part of a democratic process if some chief minister wants to talk to other chief ministers," she said. "We are not unduly disturbed."