Endowed with a genius for traitor-making,” noted civil servant John William Kaye of colonial India’s greatest spy. From 1831 to 1857, Mohan Lal Zutshi had helped shape the Empire he served, feeding false information to the court of Persia not to strike across the Indus, building secrets networks across central Asia, warning that the Afghan war of 1842 was headed to disaster—and when it happened, rescuing British prisoners headed for the slave-markets of Turkestan.
Then, in 1877, Zutshi—Agha Hasan Jan to some, Mirza Quli Kashmiri to others—passed away at his home on the fringes of Delhi, ending a long retirement financed by dowries raised from his 17 wives.
“Ill of temper, ill of health,” Zutshi fumed in his diary, “these are caused by injustice”. His masters never paid the bills for his epic Afghan achievements, and the great spy died in penury.
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Internal security budget nightmare
As India’s intelligence and police services contemplate the upcoming Union budget, they’re entitled to feel similar irritation. For years now, expenditure on internal security institutions has been stagnant. Last year’s budget gave the Intelligence Bureau just Rs 83.5 crore for capital expenditure, out of an overall outlay of Rs 2,575.25 crore. Forensic science, the backbone of modern investigation, was committed just Rs 15.4 crore in capital expenditure; Rs 21.69 crore was provided for police training.
Funding for the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence service, isn’t made public, but insiders say the organisation is also stressed. As demands for quality intelligence on China’s military and policies have surged, in the wake of the crisis along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the organisation has had to swivel resources away from long-standing covert programmes in regions such as Afghanistan and Iran.
Even modernisation of the obsolescent hardware holding up the national criminal database—meant to be the keystone of the modernisation of policing—is slowing. Last year, it received Rs 668.5 crore, down from Rs 784.53 crore in 2020-2021 and Rs 939.79 crore in 2019-2020.
Financial pressures on the defence services, which have slowed their modernisation over the best part of a decade, receive national attention. The dangerously-anaemic state of the intelligence and police services—the backbone of India’s state security—rarely gets a mention.
India’s only security challenge isn’t on the LAC, though. In addition to insurgencies like Kashmir or Chhattisgarh, there’s the threat of violence by unemployed young people, caste tensions and communal killings. Even on the streets of Delhi, police seem unable to even stop broad-daylight mob attacks.
As I have pointed out earlier, the implosion of the Haryana Police along caste lines in 2016, the failure of intelligence services and police to contain violence after the arrest of Ram Rahim Singh; the near-collapse of the state across southern Kashmir in 2018: These are illustrations of what India might look like if policing and intelligence aren’t fixed.
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A state of chronic anaemia
For an understanding of the chronic anaemic of India’s police and intelligence services, two facts are key: There aren’t enough personnel, and the ones present aren’t trained or equipped to appropriate standards. The Bureau of Police Research and Development estimates there are 192 officers sanctioned for every 100,000 of India’s 1.2 billion-plus population. Because of budget constraints, though, India actually has only 150.8 police officers per 100,000 people—well below the United Nations norm of 250.
Telangana should have 218 police per 100,000 residents; it has 131. Uttar Pradesh should have 185; it has 127. Bihar doesn’t even pretend to aspire to United Nations norms — it has 73 per 100,000, as noted earlier.
In 2020-2021, the Parliamentary Research Service estimated that Indian states spent an aggregate of 4.1 per cent of their budgets on policing—which might sound impressive, if it weren’t for the fact that the spending is mainly on salaries.
Even in relatively well-administered Maharashtra, scholars Renuka Sane and Neha Sinha wrote, “budgets, as they stand, barely allocate funds for operational expenses of running police stations, or maintenance costs for computer systems, arms and ammunition”.
Training is just as much of a problem. The most recent figures available, from 2016-2017, show 44,083 police personnel—or 0.03 per cent of the national police force—received any form of in-service training. Total state and central government spending on modernisation of facilities, the Bureau of Police Research and Development recorded, stood at just Rs 7,356.18 crore, or less than 7 per cent.
India’s intelligence services suffer from similar deficits. In 2013, then-Minister of State for Home R. P. N. Singh told Parliament that the Intelligence Bureau had 18,795 personnel on its rolls, against a sanctioned strength of 26,867. That one-in-three shortfall, officials say, is almost unchanged, nine years on. The organisation, therefore, doesn’t have the luxury of mentoring young officers to acquire deep specialist knowledge of domains like Kashmir, or Maoist terrorism—one of its historic strengths.
R&AW is believed to have similar staffing deficits, especially in key mid-level executive positions. Increasingly reliant, on Indian Police Service officers serving short-term tenures, the organisation is dangerously short of experts with granular knowledge of regions like China, Central Asia and the Middle East. Funding is believed to be relatively generous for offensive covert operations—targeting terrorists in neighbouring and in technical capabilities, like surveillance—but there has been a slow degrading of analytic and linguistic skills.
The segments of internal security that are well-funded, interestingly, tend to touch directly on the lives of VVIPs and national elites. Last year, Rs 145.20 crore was budgeted for capital expenditure on the Special Protection Group, and Rs 222.63 crore for the Delhi Police.
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A dangerous deficit
Elsewhere in the world, far less volatile polities have realised spending on internal security is essential for maintaining law and social order. The United States, with a far smaller population than India, spends over $100 billion each year on policing. The budget of New York’s police force for modernisation alone outstrips that of India. China is reported to have been spending more on its internal security institutions than on defence.
True, neither India’s central government nor the states can—or ought, given other pressing social needs—seek to match these enormous numbers. There is, however, a need for a clear roadmap for modernising and developing the internal security system. In some cases, enhancing training or regional skills, thoroughgoing personnel-policy and recruitment reforms are needed, too.
Ever since the birth of Indian policing, experts have flagged the same issues, as I wrote earlier. The first issue of the national Crime in India Survey, published in 1953, warned that “India has the lowest number of policemen 100,000 of population”. In rural areas, it said the police “had ceased to exist as an effective force”. Lack of funding had meant that “there had been no improvement in methods of investigation, or the application of science”.
“All these handicaps continue to exist”, the survey recorded the next year. Thus, “we make the same suggestions we made the last year”.
The author tweets @praveenswami. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)
Source: The Print