“The Truth will Come Out”

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In an exclusive interview with Open, Home Secretary GK Pillai makes it plain that much more startling information is yet to emerge from the Radia tapes. Answering questions on a range of issues, from the right to privacy and tackling of Maoists to human rights and police reforms, he makes a frank case for what needs to be done. Excerpts:

Q What do you make of Open’s expose of the Radia tapes?

A I believe there are far [more] serious portions of the transcripts involving hawala transactions and tax evasions. What has so far come out is what I call titillating versions. I believe this part should not have come before; other parts that are far more serious and of far more importance to the nation [should have come first]. Anyway, what has happened has happened. The Ministry of Finance is now conducting an inquiry. The tapes are between the CBDT and the CBI. The Finance Ministry will do its job. And then the truth will come out.

Q Coming to phone tapping. There is this paranoia that we are behaving like Stasiland. It is like the Emergency, where the phones of journalists, writers and activists are being tapped. Why does the Government need to tap so many phones?

A As the Home Secretary, I authorise the tapping of phones. Currently, we are tapping about 7,000 phones through eight investigative agencies. In India, we have 500 million active phone users. If out of these, a few thousand are being tapped, we cannot call it invasion of privacy. I have no problem if a Maoist leader is calling a human rights activist. But if he is calling him and asking him to do a certain job, which he does, then the State cannot sit back.

About human rights activists, see, I am not asking them to condemn the killing of security forces. They are in uniform and are there to do their job. But when ordinary citizens are killed, children are targeted, then why don’t I hear a word from these activists? Being a police informer in this country is not a crime. It is a good citizen’s job. Even in Arundhati Roy’s case, we did not press for sedition charges. Now if some person has gone ahead and done that, what can we do? … Look at what has been done to tribals in Sweden. Or in America. By those standards, we have done a lot better.

Q What have you achieved in Naxal areas so far?

A There is a slight improvement in these areas as well. And here, we don’t only have to deal with the police but paramilitary forces as well. We have concentrated and planned new strategies on force deployment in these areas, basically in grid fashion in areas like Kanker and Rajnandgaon (in Chhattisgarh), and it is showing results. I can tell you that so far we have reclaimed about 10,000 sq km. Of course, in certain areas, like Orissa, Maoists have expanded as well. We are focusing on police recruitment right now. In six Naxal-affected states, there is a shortage of about 3 lakh police personnel which will take 4-5 years to fill up. Out of 35 battalions of the paramilitary, that is about 35,000 personnel, the actual fighting force comes actually to about 10,000 to 15,000. In some areas that were the Maoists’ so-called liberated zones, which we have freed, the villagers are very happy. Their main demand now is that the forces should stay. New bus routes are being planned, contractors are bidding for small projects. To me these are all signs of normalcy. But it is only 50 per cent work done. But, to me, it will take about seven years to [create] almost complete normalcy in these areas.

Q We don’t want to go into the nomenclature of Operation Green Hunt, but there is massive troop deployment in these areas. Do you think this can be sorted out militarily?

A No, the police can do its job only up to an extent. They can free the areas where Maoists are entrenched. But other administration has to follow. Right now, no doctor, no government servant wants to go there. So our strategy is two-pronged. Once the security personnel establish a grid, the administration has to [follow]. Doctors have to come. Basic infrastructure has to be built.

Q But there are also reports of human rights violations from these areas. In some cases, the forces claim to have killed ‘Naxals’ who later turned out to be innocent tribals.

At the Home Ministry, we have made it clear that we have zero tolerance for such incidents. But I am not denying that such cases take place. Mistakes do happen. The police have to win the hearts and minds of people. Both we and the Maoists are trying exactly that. But we must understand that in these areas, the policeman is vulnerable. The police to people density… is pretty low. We have to have fortified police stations. In some police stations, we have six-seven policemen. You cannot ask them to… fight a platoon of Naxals. We have to make a lot of changes. In Manipur, for example, 50 per cent [of the] police force is used for protecting maybe 100 VIPs. The rest are for 30 lakh people. This has to change.

Q But why can’t we have zero tolerance against such cases?

A See, we have to inculcate this among the police force. We have to train them properly and say, ‘Look, you are for the welfare of the people.’ The degradation of the police by the political class is astounding. The police has to be told that they are upholders of law and not instruments of the political party in power. We have to make it clear that law is…

Q …the supreme commander?

A Yes, supreme commander. We are making efforts to change this. You go and speak to the SP, he says, ‘Boss, what to do? The thanedaar is this MLA’s man, that MP’s man.’ We need to change this. The police top brass will be held accountable… that can only happen when you give them the mandate to choose their subordinates.

Q Let us now come to the alleged fake encounter of Maoist leader Azad. If the Home Ministry has had no hand in his killing, as you have reiterated, then why shy away from a probe?

A See, our information is based on what the Andhra Pradesh police told us. Beyond this, we have no information. The Home Ministry cannot order a probe. It has to be either done by the state government or by the judiciary. Some civil rights groups have done investigations of their own. We have no problem. Even in encounters like the one at Batla House in Delhi, many people think it was fake. But the NHRC did a probe and said it was a valid encounter. Even in the Shopian case of Kashmir, people had a problem. I have a problem with activists who think, ‘If you say my version is right then you are right, otherwise you are wrong.’

Q Post 26/11, we were promised that there will be an overhaul of the whole intelligence apparatus. But nothing significant has been achieved so far. Are we better equipped today to handle or pre-empt such situations?

A It is not perfect, but we have improved. We have set up the Multi Agency Coordination Centre that meets every day at the IB [Intelligence Bureau] headquarters. Intelligence is now shared in real time. No intelligence agency chief can now say, ‘Look, I had this piece of information yesterday.’ Because now he is supposed to share it real time with others. With Pakistan we are now clear that we cannot expect anything. We can keep playing the charade of sharing dossiers, but we have realised all that is futile. Whatever needs to be done has to be done by us [India].

Q Looking back at your tenure as Home Secretary, what do you think has been your biggest challenge so far?

A I think basically the biggest challenge has been persuading state governments to understand the importance of police reforms. Some changes have been made, but we still have a long way to go. I mean in terms of the posting or transfer of police officers, training of police officers. And when I say police officers, I mean from the constable level [upwards]. Filling up vacancies is another big challenge.