Comfort of the cordon

The outrage following the Delhi gangrape brought into focus the wastage of police manpower on VIP security duties, at the cost of the aam aadmi's safety. This brought forth belated reassurances from the highest levels of government. The home minister said in an interview that the matter had received attention from both 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road, and that he had ordered the home ministry to carry out a professional-threat related review of all those given protection by the Delhi Police, so that the list could be reduced to to a sensible number. As someone who has dealt with VIP security in the government for years, I don't see this assurance being translated into reality. Unfortunately, security has become a status symbol and a tool of political patronage.

I am reminded of a similar assurance being made by an earlier home minister in Parliament in the mid-1990s, after the opposition raised a din. I was then working in this area at the national level and the proposed changes landed on my desk to implement. Being somewhat naive in the art of governance, I took the task seriously, and promptly went about making a realistic assessment of the terrorism-related threat faced by each person in the "XYZ" category in the capital. I was helped by my colleagues in central agencies and by Delhi Police. We met, discussed the threat perceptions threadbare, and recommended reducing the list by almost 30 per cent. If the government had acted on our advice, it would have saved the Delhi Police considerable resources, which could be used to protect the average citizen.

I then personally carried the pruned list to the home secretary for his and the ministry's approval. On seeing our recommendations, he hit the roof. "Do you want the government to fall?" he shouted and promptly summoned the special secretary to his chamber. He was asked to carry out a fresh review, with clear directions not to touch any politician's security. We could, however, axe the security of as many bureaucrats, both serving and retired, as we wanted.

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