Each year during the Budget Session, Rajya Sabha examines the working of certain ministries. This year it has identified four ministries for discussion, which includes the Ministry of Home Affairs. In light of this, we analyse some key functions of the Ministry and the challenges in carrying out these functions.
What are the key functions of Ministry of Home Affairs?
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is primarily responsible for: (i) maintenance of internal security, (ii) governance issues between the centre and states, and (iii) disaster management. It also discharges several other key functions that include: (i) border management, (ii) administration of union territories, (iii) implementation of provisions relating to the official languages, and (iv) conducting the population census every ten years.
Under the Constitution, ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are state list subjects. The MHA assists the state governments by providing them: (i) central armed police forces, and (ii) financial assistance for modernising state police forces, communication equipment, weaponry, mobility, training and other police infrastructure.
What is the role of the central armed police forces?
The MHA manages seven central police forces: (i) Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) which assists in internal security and law and order, (ii) Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which protects vital installations (like airports) and public sector undertakings, (iii) National Security Guards which is a special counter-terrorism force, and (iv) four border guarding forces, namely, Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Assam Rifles (AR).
As of January 2017, the total sanctioned strength of the seven CAPFs was 10. 8 lakhs. However, 15% of these posts (i.e., about 1.6 lakhs posts) were lying vacant. The vacancy in the CAPFs has remained above 7% for the last five years (see Table 1). In 2017, the Sashastra Seema Bal had the highest vacancy (57%). The CRPF, which accounts for 30% of the total sanctioned strength of the seven CAPFs, had a vacancy of 8%.
How does MHA assist the police forces?
In Union Budget 2018-19, Rs 1,07,573 crore has been allocated to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Ministry has estimated to spend 82% of this amount on police. The remaining allocation is towards grants to Union Territories, and other items including disaster management, rehabilitation of refugees and migrants, and the Union Cabinet.
The MHA has been implementing Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) scheme since 1969 to supplement the resources of states for modernising their police forces. Funds from the MPF scheme are utilised for improving police infrastructure through construction of police stations, and provision of modern weaponry, surveillance, and communication equipment. Some other important objectives under the scheme include upgradation of training infrastructure, police housing, and computerisation.
The scheme has undergone revision over the years. A total allocation of Rs 11,946 crore was approved for the MPF scheme, for a five-year period between 2012-13 to 2016-17. Following the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission (to increase the share of central taxes to states), it was decided that the MPF scheme would be delinked from central government funding from 2015-16 onwards. However, in September 2017, the Union Cabinet approved an outlay of Rs 25,060 crore under the scheme, for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20. The central government will provide about 75% of this amount, and the states will provide the remaining 25%.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has found that weaponry in several state police forces is outdated, and there is a shortage of arms and ammunitions. An audit of Rajasthan police force(2009-14) found that there was a shortage of 75% in the availability of modern weapons against the state’s requirements. In case of West Bengal and Gujarat police forces, CAG found a shortage of 71% and 36% respectively. Further, there has been a persistent problem of underutilisation of modernisation funds by the states. Figure 1 shows the level of utilisation of modernisation funds by states between 2010-11 and 2016-17.
What are the major internal security challenges in India?
Maintaining internal security of the country is one of the key functions of the MHA. The major internal security challenges that India faces are: (i) terrorist activities in the country, (ii) cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, (iii) Left Wing Extremism in certain areas, and (iv) insurgency in the North-Eastern states.
Between 2015 and 2016, the number of cross-border infiltrations in Jammu and Kashmir increased by almost three times, from 121 to 364. On the other hand, incidents of insurgency in Left Wing Extremism areas have decreased from 1,048 in 2016 to 908 in 2017.
The Standing Committee on Home Affairs noted in 2017-18 that security forces in Jammu and Kashmir are occupied with law and order incidents, such as stone pelting, which gives militants the time to reorganise and perpetrate terror attacks. The Committee recommended that the MHA should adopt a multi-pronged strategy that prevents youth from joining militancy, curbs their financing, and simultaneously launch counter-insurgency operations.
In relation to Left Wing Extremism, the Standing Committee (2017) observed that police and paramilitary personnel were getting killed because of mine blasts and ambushes. It recommended that the MHA should make efforts to procure mine-resistant vehicles. This could be done through import or domestic manufacturing under the ‘Make in India’ programme.
What is the MHA’s role in border management?
India has a land border of over 15,000 kms, which it shares with seven countries (Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Afghanistan). Further, it has a coastline of over 7,500 kms. The MHA is responsible for: (i) management of international lands and coastal borders, (ii) strengthening of border guarding, and (iii) creation of infrastructure such as roads, fencing, and lighting of borders.
Construction of border outposts is one of the components of infrastructure at border areas. The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2017) noted that the proposal to construct 509 outposts along the India-Bangladesh, and India-Pakistan borders had been reduced to 422 outposts in 2016. It recommended that such a reduction should be reconsidered since 509 outposts would reduce the inter-border outpost distance to 3.5 kms, which is important for the security of the country.
How is coastal security carried out?
Coastal security is jointly carried out by the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, and marine police of coastal states and Union Territories. The MHA is implementing the Coastal Security Scheme to strengthen the marine police of nine coastal states and four Union Territories by enhancing surveillance, and improve patrolling in coastal areas. Under this scheme, the Ministry sought to construct coastal police stations, purchase boats, and acquire vehicles for patrolling on land, among other objectives.
The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2017) observed that the implementation of Phase-II of this scheme within the set time-frame has not been possible. It also noted that there was lack of coordination between the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard, and the coastal police. In this context, the Committee recommended that the Director General, Indian Coast Guard, should be the nodal authority for coordinating operations related to coastal security.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.