Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Octopus reduced to role of guard

Mir Ayoob Ali Khan, TNN, Mar 2, 2010, 05.23am IST

HYDERABAD: The state government is in no mood to restore to Octopus its original role of fighting urban terrorism and wants to use it as one of the security agencies of the police department.

The government has not taken any action so far on the suggestion of principal home secretary Gautam Kumar that the use of Octopus commandos for guarding strategic installations and important places of worship would render them useless to fight terrorists. “There are agencies that are trained to guard places on the hit list of terrorists. Octopus which has a specific task cut out for itself should not be wasted,” Gautam Kumar said at a meeting chaired by the chief minister. Soon after the meeting it seemed that Kumar’s sane advice would be given heed to, but a few days later this idea has been given up.

The first batch of Octopus commandos comprising about 300 men are posted at Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD). Its second batch of commandos -completing training -are expected to be posted at Shar, Sriharikota. Based on the central intelligence inputs over the years the police have narrowed down on about six spots that the terrorists might target.

The Octopus was created in the aftermath of the twin bomb blasts in September 2007. As per original plan it was supposed to be a composite force comprising various wings to take care of the entire gamut of terror-related activities such as intelligence collection, data analysis and operation. But the agency even before it could take off fell victim to ego problems of top cops.

After finding it unable to raise the kind of force originally envisaged, the government decided last year to reduce the Octopus to an operational unit and handed over its earlier mandate of intelligence collection part to the existing counter-intelligence cell. The operations unit, without its own eyes and ears, will now be used in situations like hostage crisis, building seizures and bomb attacks. In the beginning the Octopus was supposed to be provided with choppers for quick deployment and stationed at at least three designated spots in the state with headquarters in Hyderabad. But now Octopus commando units would be sent to at least five more strategic and sensitive spots.

Police officers who term the deployment of Octopus commandos at TTD and other places as misuse of the force point out that while Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has job of guarding central government installations such as airports and Nuclear Fuel Complex, it is the task of the AP Special Protection Force to keep a watch on important government structures such as Secretariat, dams and power plants.

They argued that given the recent explosions in Pune it is fair to believe that the threat of terrorist attacks in the state is still alive. They believe that since the Octopus has been raised on the lines of National Security Guards, the force which was used during Mumbai attacks, its role can be diluted only at the peril of public security. The force should be attached to the counter intelligence cell and work under the direct supervision of the director general of police. The state government has been using this model in case of special intelligence branch and the Greyhounds, both of which are dedicated to fighting left wing extremism, for the last 25 years. If this model can work against the naxalites why it cannot be used for fighting terrorism, they wondered.

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