India Today Exclusive: Amit Shah seeks to jump start Chidambaram’s dream project Natgrid

Union Home Minister Amit Shah will on Friday chair a high-level meet to jumpstart National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid), a dream project of former home minister P Chidambaram, who is currently lodged in Tihar jail.

India Today TV has learnt that top officials will make a key presentation to Amit Shah on Thursday morning for its revival.

Natgrid and National Investigation Agency (NIA) were created in the aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, which claimed over 166 lives. While NIA took off successfully, 11 years on, Natgrid continues to struggle for a start.

However, sources in the establishment have told India Today TV, that Amit Shah has taken interest to not just revive the project but also to have it up and running by the end of the year.

Officers charged with Natgrid turnaround

Sources said that two senior officials have been roped in to oversea Natgrid to ensure that the extensively delayed project sees the light of the day.

The first hire is Saurabh Gupta – a scientist who has contributed to National Informatics Centre (NIC) in Shimla. Saurabh Gupta has been brought in to make key changes in the system, sources said.

The second key official in charge of Natgrid turnaround is Ashish Gupta.

Ashish Gupta is an old hand and has been the joint secretary Natgrid since 2014. However, he has now been charged to revive the project under the aegis of CEO Ashok Patnaik.

Incidentally, Patnaik, who has been at the helm of affairs since 2016, is the son-in-law of former PM Manmohan Singh. But insiders say he wishes to make a mark before his retirement by kickstarting the agency’s work.

The agency office at Andheria Mor in New Delhi is almost ready and is equipped with state-of-the-art scientific equipment and giant screens. The deadline for finishing the infrastructure and formal inauguration has been tentatively scheduled for December, but a top officer said that “even with an inordinate delay, the project will be ready by March”.

What is Natgrid

Natgrid is the integrated intelligence grid connecting databases of core security agencies of the Government of India to collect comprehensive patterns of intelligence that can be readily accessed by intelligence agencies.

A source said that Natgrid, once fully functional, will help in real-time tracking of a terror operative or suspect.

A source said, “Janamkundli (entire history) of the suspect will be before agency tracking the person. For instance, the identification of mobile number, his current status, bank balance, his travel destination will be known by click of the button.”

“So far it is only been seen in movies, but it will be a reality. Now, if a suspect is on a train. We have to dispatch several teams and check manually. But now, real-time tracking will be possible. The railway and airlines will have real-time tracking facility,” sources said.

The banks had shown reservation of sharing data, but sources said that has also been taken care of.

Natgrid will have “janamkundli” of each terror suspect criminal, including their mobile number, current status, bank balance, travel details. (Illustration by Tanmoy Chakraborty)

The data of every agency will be collated in Natgrid. For instance, any information collected on LeT chief Hafiz Saeed by various intel agencies will be accessible by 80 agencies.

Once fully processed, the data will track down each and every suspect on a real-time basis. However, the information will be available with certain checks and balances.

Why Natgrid failed to take off

Sources say that even the current crop of officials are perplexed as to why Natgrid failed to take off.

Sources said while the project was need of the hour in 2008, but since it failed to start, mostly all intelligence agencies, state police and central armed police developed their own mechanism.

Key issue in the Natgrid was the right to privacy. Sources said that earlier teams in Natgrid went overboard with checks and balances, hence there were too many hindrances.

Natgrid also suffered from red-tapism, sources said.

While nearly 95 non-governmental experts were hired at exorbitant salaries, most of them had little or no work. An officer said the inside joke was “hummne bahut jalebiyan banayi hain” (we have made many jalebis – an indian sweet dish), suggesting that the despite an experienced team, the project was caught up in successive bouts of red-tapism.

At least four times, tenders were to be put out but were shelved at the last moment.

There is also a belief that the project failed to take off because there was no proper groundbreaking ceremony at the start of the project.

Ironically, now PM Narendra Modi had opposed the project as Gujarat chief minister.

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