New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS): The just approved anti-terror intelligence hub, a brainchild of Home Minister P Chidambaram, faces a major stumbling block with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joining her counterparts from Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Bihar in strongly opposing it.
Banerjee joins J Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha and Nitish Kumar of Bihar in raising concerns that the powers given to the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) would infringe on the federal structure and the rights of State governments.
The powerful anti-terror agency, which will integrate and analyse inputs on terror threats in India, derives powers from the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) that allows Central government agencies to make arrests or searches in terror-related cases.
The agency will keep State police in the loop but need not seek permission from State governments before launching any operation.
Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking the government to "review and withdraw" the executive order on NCTC, which was to be formed March 1 after a cabinet nod last month.
But the Home Ministry appeared unfazed, with informed sources saying that there was no question of withdrawing the order as Chief Ministers had been consulted on the issue in an internal security meeting.
The West Bengal Chief Minister, who is known to have blocked key government decisions, has said that "arbitrary exercise of powers" by the NCTC would have "a bearing on the rights and privilege of the States as enshrined in the Constitution".
She said the Home Ministry should have consulted State governments before establishing such powerful organisations "which infringed upon the powers and rights of the State governments"
Her colleague and Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed charged the Central government of which he is a part with neglecting States. "Being part of the government in the Centre doesn't mean we will forget our State interests."
Banerjee follows Patnaik, who described the executive order on establishing NCTC as "draconian" and asked Manmohan Singh to withdraw it. "They have ignored State governments. That is why I have spoken to Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Bihar and Tamil Nadu," the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief told reporters in Bhubaneswar.
Patnaik's close aide Pinaki Misra, an MP, said the order was a "clear assault on the federal structure". "They should have a clear relook at it and redraft the entire policy in consultation with State governments," Mishra told IANS.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to slam the Congress-led government over the issue and backed the State governments over their concerns on their autonomy.
"Terrorism is not a problem confined only to the Central government. It's a national problem. If the Prime Minister and Home Minister are serious about it then they should have taken State governments on board and decided on something that was acceptable to all," BJP leader Balbir Punj told reporters.
He described the NCTC as a "weird proposal" and an "infringement on rights of States".