The Centre on Saturday failed to break the logjam on the controversial anti-terror body National Counter Terrorism Centre with non-Congress chief ministers stoutly opposing and some of them demanding its withdrawal.
At the end of the daylong conference in which West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Gujarat CM Narendra Modi asked the Centre to drop the proposal while Jayalalithaa said it should be kept in abeyance, there was uncertainty as to when the NCTC would come into operation.
Home Minister P Chidambaram parried questions on a timeline for implementing his pet project that has been kept on hold ever since non-Congress chief ministers raised strong opposition saying it cut at the root of the states powers and destroyed the federal fabric.
He said he was "leaving the meeting with an open mind" and the government would take a decision on concerns of the chief ministers over locating the NCTC in the Intelligence Bureau and undertaking operations even in exceptional cases.
"I firmly believe that we need a counter-terrorism body. Whether its is NCTC or some other body, whether it will have these powers or some other powers or functions is a matter that can be debated but certainly we need a counter-terrorism body. "I have assured them that all their suggestions would be most carefully and anxiously considered," he said.
The non-Congress chief ministers' opposition came notwithstanding appeals from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram for a broad consensus. Even Congress ally the National Conference voiced reservations over the NCTC in its present form saying it makes it as stringent as the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi of Assam also wanted that the Centre should take into confidence the states before undertaking operations. Significantly, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said they would support NCTC if their suggestions are incorporated and NCTC is suitably amended.
Making a strong pitch for the formation of NCTC, the prime minister said its establishment is not a state versus Centre issue but will work as a vehicle of country's combined efforts to curb terrorism.
Stressing that NCTC will supplement the counter-terrorism capabilities of the states and not supplant them, Dr Singh asked the state governments to work with the Centre in dealing with terrorism.
In his speech, the home minister, the prime mover of the NCTC proposal, said terrorists do not recognise boundaries and the Centre and state governments have to work together to make the country safe and secure.
"We have to work together. Working together -- state governments and the central government working together, the opposition and the treasury working together, civil society organisations and government institutions working together -- I am confident we can make the country more safe and more secure," Chidambaram said.
Chidambaram pointed out that there are cases where, despite inputs regarding the presence of terrorists, the security agencies concerned did not act either due to lack of capacity or lack of a timely decision. "Most of these cases concerned so-called 'jihadi' terrorists and cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoists. What should the Central government do in such cases?"
In his closing remarks, Chidambaram made it clear to the chief ministers that "no decision is not an option" and that the Centre would come back to states after considering their suggestions. Briefing reporters, he said all the chief ministers recognised the need for an NCTC or a similar organisation.
"As expected, there was strong support for NCTC by many chief ministers, qualified support from many CMs and outright rejection of the idea by three CMs."
He said the principal concerns were one why is it located in the Intelligence Bureau and two why do personnel of the NCTC or a similar organisation have to undertake, even on an exceptional circumstances, operations on its own?
"We will examine the two issues...why it will be under IB and why it will carry out operations under exceptional circumstances...and the government will take a final decision," he said.