Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 kept Home Ministry in tenterhooks

Wednesday, 26 December , 2007, 12:01

New Delhi: As violence hit several areas in the northeast and a spate of terror attacks struck fear across the country in 2007, the Home Ministry geared itself to face fresh challenges of terrorism and naxal menace in 2008.

The distant northeast kept hogging the headlines almost throughout the year for all the wrong reasons. It started with the massacre of nearly 70 Hindi-speaking migrant workers in Upper Assam in January 2007 and the killing fields of the State saw more bloodshed in the months to follow.

Trigger-happy ULFA activists kept security forces busy throughout the year, which saw a tribal upsurge late in the year in support of the demand of Adivasis that they should be treated as Scheduled Tribe. The bomb blast in Rajdhani Express train in December 2007 gave a gory end to the already blood-stained violence graph in the State.

The outgoing year saw terrorist attacks in Hyderabad, Ajmer, Ludhiana and in certain cities of Uttar Pradesh, even as naxals kept security forces on tenterhooks in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa and some other States.

By torching public property, uprooting railway lines and laying landmines to target mostly securitymen, the Maoists gave the security establishment sleepless nights.

The Home Ministry was on its toes and held review meetings at regular intervals for fresh strategies to deal with the overall security scenario. It advocated better surveillance along the coastal areas to keep terrorists away and toyed with the idea of having a federal crime agency as suggested by various panels on police reforms.

The pattern of terrorist violence in the country this year showed that militancy was travelling towards the southern region as Hyderabad bore repeated brunt of terror attacks. Previously, terrorist attacks occurred mostly in north India.

In May 2007, the Mecca Masjid blast at the time of Friday prayers and the subsequent police firing left 14 persons dead and 50 others injured.

Barely three months later, in August, explosions hit two areas in Hyderabad again claiming 32 lives and leaving 35 others hurt.

Fears of Home Minister Shivraj Patil that militants might target innocent people in crowded and religious places came true again and again as terrorists carried out an explosion in the famous Dargah Sharif in Ajmer, killing three persons and injuring 17 others in October 2007. The hands of LeT and HuJI were suspected to be behind the incident.

The same month, militants detonated a bomb in a cinema hall in Ludhiana, in which Babbar Khalsa's role was suspected.

As the year was preparing to say good bye, a series of bomb blasts occurred almost simultaneously in three Uttar Pradesh courts at Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad, in November 2007. The incident came on the heels of Uttar Pradesh police busting a JeM module allegedly trying to target Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Looking Back: The highs and lows of 2007

With these incidents having trans-border links and inter-state dimensions, suggestions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Home Minister for having a federal crime agency got greater focus though many States have voiced reservations.

Gun-toting naxals had a field day in the most troubled states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, shooting innocent people and killing security personnel to establish their reign of terror.

In Chhattisgarh, armed Maoists stormed a police camp in Ranibodli village in Bijapur district and killed 49 policemen and special police officers in one go in March 2007.

Latest data available with the security establishment shows that there have been 1,285 incidents and 571 casualties among security personnel and civilians till October 2007 against 1,509 incidents and 610 casualties in the same period last year, reflecting that the menace still continued despite efforts to contain it.

Among the 11 naxal-hit States, Chhattisgarh topped the list with 311 casualties, followed by Jharkhand with 123 and Bihar 53.

Issues like coastal security, terrorism, organised crimes and smuggling of narcotics topped the agenda during the Home Secretary's visit to Maldives in January 2007. Border management was the key topic of discussion at the Home Secretary-level talks India had with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

SAARC Home Ministers and Secretaries met in New Delhi to discuss the entire gamut of security-related issues and it was decided that actionable intelligence should be shared from time to time. India also hosted the Asia Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which was attended by 50 countries.

The year also saw V K Duggal passing on the baton of Union Home Secretary to Madhukar Gupta on March 31, 2007.

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