Security of Private Persons at State Expense Must Not Be an Act of Political Patronage

Like the British colonial rulers who distributed titles like Rai Bahadur and Rai Sahab to favoured allies, the government today hands out Y and Z category security to mark the feudal status of its loyalists.

Recently, a 33-year-old actor has been provided the Y+ scale of security by the Central government, becoming probably the second actor in Bollywood to get such security. Social media erupted into a fireball of criticism over this, with a large number of people describing it as a ‘criminal waste of taxpayers’ money’ and questioning how the government could provide security to an actor based on a few controversial tweets.

Government’s official position on security expenses

Five years ago, a question was raised in the Rajya Sabha about providing security to persons in the political and judicial fields. On December 9, 2015, the then MoS (Home) replied that security for the president, vice-president and the prime minister was provided according to the Blue Book. Though not stated in so many words, it was clear from the context that the security was given ex officio, that is, by virtue of the offices they held. It was told that Union ministers, state chief ministers and judges of the Supreme Court and high courts were provided positional/statutory security cover to facilitate impartial decision-making.

The MoS (Home) added that security arrangements for other political personalities were made after careful assessment of the threats emanating from terrorists/militant/fundamentalist outfits and organised criminal gangs, and that the mechanics of security arrangements was prescribed in the Yellow Book. The degree of threat varies from individual to individual, depending on factors such as the nature of activities, status, and likely gains for the terrorists, etc. Accordingly, categorised security cover (Z+, Z, Y & X) is provided to them on the basis of gravity of the threat.

Once again, though not explicitly stated, it was clear from the context that the threat from such elements emanates from some work done by the protectees in their public life, in national interest. A political personality, for example, could obviously not claim security on the ground that he faced threats from his enemies in his native village over some old, private land dispute.

There is no order or statement of the government in the public domain explaining the rationale of providing security to actors. This is probably the second instance of an actor getting security at state expense. Amitabh Bachchan was provided ‘X’ category protection in 2006 and ‘Y’ in 2008. The current Y+ scale was earlier called Y (threat).

First principles

There can be no dispute about security for the president, vice-president and prime minister, or Union ministers, state chief ministers and judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, because they represent the core functioning of the Indian state.

Amongst other political personalities, those who hold public office and go out of the way to do something in the interest of the nation that incurs the wrath of the terrorist/militant/fundamentalist outfits and organised criminal gangs, can claim security at state expense.

Two arguments can be given for protecting them. First, if they were to be harmed by such elements, it would affect the prestige of the government adversely and create an impression in the minds of the people that if the government cannot protect its own functionaries involved in service to the nation, how it will ever protect the common citizens – a situation which could potentially be destabilising. Second, it would deter others holding public office from acting impartially or boldly, to the detriment of public interest.

Other than the above categories, a democratic country cannot be allowed to arbitrarily create a class of privileged persons to pamper to society’s latent feudalistic tendencies. If exceptions need to be made in public interest, they should be made in a transparent manner so that people retain their faith in equality before the law.

In Rajinder Saini vs State of Punjab and others (2015), the Punjab and Haryana high court observed that while politicians or holders of party offices, just to show their might, were seeking security, the same could not be provided merely on asking. In Randeep Singh Surjewala vs. Union of India and others (2017), the Punjab and Haryana high court denied inclusion of Surjewala’s name as a categorised protectee in the Central list in Delhi as there was no specific input of threat to him, either from any terrorist or militant outfit or fundamentalist groups.

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More importantly, the assessment of threat perception by the agencies concerned must not be regarded as the word of god because, given the record of the absolutely servile behaviour of the bureaucracy to the political masters in power at a given point of time, this is likely to suffer from a high degree of ‘biased subjectivity’. Readers would not have forgotten the ‘caged parrot’ remark of the Supreme Court for the CBI. In the case of N. Jothi vs. The Home Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu (2006), the petitioner, an MP, had contended that he was at a loss to understand how police officials could suddenly change their threat perception in respect of him with change of the ruling party. It is a different matter that the Madras high court held that it could not sit in appeal over the decision taken by the security review committee.

In Ramveer Upadhyay vs. R.M. Srivastava and others (2013) the ‘Z’ category security of a minister in the state government of UP was downgraded after he ceased to be a minister. The Supreme Court observed that irrespective of a reference to ordinary citizens in the Yellow Book, they hardly ever got such security irrespective of the threat perception or imminent danger. The court said, “Before the Supreme Court a minister and an ordinary person under Article 21 are the same”. But the court left it to the appropriate authorities to assess the threat perception.

Intelligence agencies all over the world suffer from what I call the ‘manufactured report syndrome’ to different extents. The whole world was made to believe before the US-led invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Yet, international agencies tasked with actually carrying out inspections in Iraq found none, making it the greatest intelligence failure in living memory.

As a general example applicable to any country, suppose the political executive wish to oblige a private person ‘A’ by granting him security or whatever. Now in pursuit of this, suppose their agencies ‘manufacture’ intelligence reports that a certain terrorist organisation intends to harm ‘A’. The question is what is there to disprove it?

In view of this, I suggest that there must be provision for legislative oversight involving the opposition too, to re-examine the recommendation of the agencies because the courts have hitherto been reluctant to enter the field of assessment of threat perception. In the US, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is subject to Congressional oversight.

The curious case of political personalities involved in criminal cases

According to a submission made to the Supreme Court, 2,556 sitting MLAs and MPs from 22 states are accused in various cases. If former MPs and MLAs from these states are also included, the number rises to 4,442.

Now, the legal position is that only convicted persons are barred from contesting elections for six years. In February 2020, the Supreme Court has ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that goaded them to field suspected criminals over decent people, but not barred them.

This means that political personalities with criminal cases against them could theoretically be provided with security. Such is the case with all those who figure as accused in the Babri masjid demolition case.

Can private individuals be given security at state expense?

As a matter of principle, private individuals should not be given security at state expense unless there are compelling, transparent reasons which warrant such protection – especially if the threat is linked to some public or national service they have rendered.

On the other hand, we could consider cases of authors like Salman Rushdie, whose work had invited the wrath of fundamentalists. Would the state be justified in granting such authors security at state expense? There could be two situations in such cases. The threat could be in vacuo, or the opponents could have done something tangible like taking out protest rallies etc. where open threats were made to the author or actor, the government could consider granting security until the threat abates. However, if the threat were in vacuo, it would be improper for the government to grant security. Thousands of authors or public speakers could claim that they had also been threatened. What is there to disprove it?

To claim security on the ground that the actor had an argument with the chief minister or that one feared harm at the hands of the state police itself because of that, is untenable. Since no threat of any sort was perceived before that spat, it follows that the spat must have been the sole precipitant. This means that the assessment of threat perception, if at all any, was neither professional nor honest.

Also read: Centre Gives Kangana Ranaut Y-Plus Security, Actor Thanks Amit Shah

If Kangana Ranaut’s apprehensions were to be true, this would mean a breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state warranting perhaps imposition of president’s rule as a systemic measure. If law and order in Maharashtra has so deteriorated that the state police cannot be counted upon to offer protection, the Centre’s responsibility is surely to deal with this problem as a systemic measure, not just post a chowkidar there as a symptomatic measure.

Baba Ramdev was granted ‘Z’ category security, reportedly taking into account his ‘vulnerability to attacks from his opponents’. In my considered view, this assessment of threat perception is neither professional nor honest. There could be a million others also who are vulnerable to attacks from their opponents.

Can rich people deserving security be given security on payment?

In the first place, it would be improper for government to ask for payment for security to be provided to citizens. It would not be in consonance with a welfare state where such services are supposed to be provided free in lieu of the taxes the citizens pay. For example, the government does not ask people to pay for the cost of investigation into their FIRs, however high the cost is. Officers may even need to travel abroad for investigations.

If despite this, the government asks for payment, only the government would know why they did so. In the absence of any official disclosure about that, one can only conjecture.

Payment for security is not a new thing. Even in the case of Ramveer Upadhyay, he was asked to pay 10% of the cost of a policeman out of the two assigned to him. In 2013, Mukesh Ambani was provided ‘Z’ category security at a cost of about Rs 15 lakh per month.

From the information available in public domain, we do not know the government’s logic behind it. May be the security was granted in view of his industrial ventures’ importance for the nation. However, we do not know about the payment part. For the sake of argument, it is possible to conjecture that perhaps they wanted to fend off possible allegations that they had unduly favoured a particular person over the public.

However, we should keep in mind that ‘Z’ category security consumes considerable trained manpower of the police or the CAPFs for round-the-clock protection. It means that that many men become unavailable for their basic duties. The monthly payment for them does not replace those men. In any case, it consumes a lot of time, training infrastructure, and needs trained staff to roll out trained manpower. Precisely for this reason, there is a provision for recovering training charges from the personnel if they resign before 10 years.

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According to the official figures from 2016, we have only 137 police personnel per lakh of population. They have to perform myriad tasks. I need not explain the adverse consequences on the quality of policing for those one-lakh people if 11 police personnel out of those 137 were taken away for providing security to one individual. In 2013, the Delhi Police had submitted before the Supreme Court that it had deployed 8,049 police personnel for VIP security (at a cost of Rs 341.24 crore) whereas only 3,448 personnel were deployed for crime prevention and investigation for the whole city.

In 2017, the Patna high court commented, “It’s a matter of concern as to how the state manages to maintain law and order amid these challenges, that a large number of security guards are being deployed for the protection of VIPs.”

In July 2019, over 1,300 commandos of CAPFs were taken off VIP security duty. What went unnoticed was that the burden of security for many of the protectees was passed on to the state police instead!

Ideally, in a democratic country like ours, providing security at state expense ought not to become an act of patronage to create a coterie of ‘obliged’ and ‘loyal’ persons, as the British had done with the zamindar class by conferring titles like Rai Bahadur, Rai Sahab, Khan Bahadur etc. The optimal management of limited public resources is a sort of fiduciary obligation of the state and it is expected that it will not be treated like a spoil of political office or allowed to become a product of whim.

Dr. N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Views are personal. He tweets @NcAsthana.