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Pranab Says, Home Minister Will Be Given Power He Needs

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said the government was ready to “empower” the Home Ministry to use air support for police action against Naxalites provided adequate safeguards were in place against any misuse of such
PTI May 19, 2010 11:53 IST
PTI
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said the government was ready to “empower” the Home Ministry to use air support for police action against Naxalites provided adequate safeguards were in place against any misuse of such powers.

Speaking to reporters of  The Indian Express, Mukherjee said the Cabinet fully backed the efforts of Home Minister P Chidambaram in fighting Naxalite groups and was mindful of the fact that the Home Ministry needed to be empowered with whatever was needed to win the battle.

“Power is required. Whatever the Home Minister feels necessary, he should be empowered with that,” Mukherjee said.

“But if we want to establish an institutional arrangement to deal with it, then we will have to look at what will be the implications of it, what will be the further impact on it (the fight against Naxalites) and whether it can be properly used or if there is any scope for misuse,” he said, responding to queries whether Chidambaram's request for a “larger mandate” for the Home Ministry would be acceded.

In an interview with a TV news channel on Monday, Chidambaram said he had asked the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for a greater mandate in dealing with Naxals but he was granted only a limited mandate. By larger mandate, Chidambaram apparently meant the use of air surveillance which, he said, was being demanded by chief ministers of all affected states.

Mukherjee said as Home Minister, Chidambaram was best placed to make the correct assessment of the prevailing situation and the government fully agreed with his assessment.

“But we have seen that whenever we have empowered enforcement agencies with sweeping powers, there have been cases of misuse. So when we give them the authority that they require, we have to simultaneously ensure that there will be adequate safeguards to prevent any misuse,” he said.

“All the aspects have to be viewed because we cannot take any action that will be described as some sort of knee-jerk reaction. I feel that the problems of insurgency and Naxalism are long-drawn out problems and they cannot be sorted out or solved through a mechanism that can be described as switch-on and switch-off... You have to address it in proper perspective. And it takes time,” Mukherjee said.

Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, in the meanwhile, said he was not in favour of use of air power in anti-Naxal operations, though the party itself made a very guarded response.

“This is for the security forces and the government to decide. It is not for a political party to decide,” Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said.

Congress sources, however, said the party did not have any objection to the use of aircraft or helicopters for surveillance, supply or other logistical purposes.

The Congress also sought to distance itself from Digvijay Singh's remarks holding the Chhattisgarh government responsible for the second major attack in Dantewada in little over a month.

“Last time (when 75 CRPF personnel were killed) we did not criticise the Raman Singh government. This time also we are not pinpointing any blame. We want all stakeholders to be on the same page against the Naxals,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters.