'Mumbai is not safe yet'

Published: 18 October, 2012 06:37 IST | Shailesh Bhatia |

Former special director of Intelligence Bureau, Ravindra Narayan Ravi, offers insight on the 'perceived' migrant threat to city, and the need to upgrade security infrastructure

The special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is no stranger to issues like insurgency and the Naxal movement in some of the most sensitive areas of the country including the North East and Kashmir. With a career spanning 36 years, former special director of the Intelligence Bureau, Ravindra Narayan Ravi, has seen it all.

Ravindra Narayan Ravi
More needs to be done: Former special director of the Intelligence Bureau, Ravindra Narayan Ravi

Based out of Delhi, Ravi, who retired from active service in April 2012 as an advisor to the government agencies, including the Army, has faced the wrath of insurgency with a brave heart. Contrary to what one expects of a man of such endeavours, he is a very soft-spoken person.

Speaking to MiD DAY, Ravi expressed his concerns on safety for a metropolitan city like Mumbai. He said that the imminent threat lies not from outsiders, but in the seed of intolerance growing in the mindset of the local population towards a ‘perceived’ threat from migrants, who settle here in search of better prospects.

He was glad to answer questions regarding his concerns and offered an insight into what and how the ‘perceived threat’ has been doing to the mindset of the populace, and what could happen thereafter.

You mentioned that the growing intolerance of locals towards immigrants is a great threat to internal security. Kindly elaborate. 
We need to distinguish between an immigrant and a migrant, as the terms are often used loosely creating avoidable confusion. Locals’ intolerance towards illegal immigrants is not a threat to internal security. Instead it reflects alertness of our citizenry and should be welcomed. However, witch-hunting of migrants in the name of illegal immigrants must be avoided, as it unleashes toxic regionalism and has potential to trigger serious backlash.

How does one broadly distinguish between an immigrant and a migrant?
An immigrant is a foreign national, whereas a migrant could be of Indian nationality, but hailing from some other part of the country. Presence of illegal immigrants is a cause for serious concern, as it adversely impinges on our national security and the labour market for Indian jobseekers. However, migrants do not pose reason for concern.

In a city like Mumbai, what could be the repercussions of this intolerance?
Mumbai like some other metropolitan cities in India, has a fairly large number of Bangladeshi immigrants masquerading as Bengalis and at times even as Oriyas and Assamese. But it is also true that the city has a large number of migrants from other parts of India, who are here seeking jobs.
Cities like Mumbai offer a huge opportunity for low-skilled service sector jobs like domestic help, help in shops and establishments, rickshaw pulling, security guards etc. Any reckless move to purge the city of illegal immigrants could hurt the genuine Indian migrants more. A drive against illegal immigrants invariably degenerates into xenophobia and brings avoidable instability. Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. Such instability adversely impacts its economy and reputation. The present system of detection of illegal immigrants is flawed and unworkable. It should be made simple, fast and credible.

Can community policing, like what is happening in Kerala, be effective in a city like Mumbai?
Community policing is essentially people-oriented policing. It is democratic policing and it works on a premise that policing should not be limited to the police and the community must have a robust stake in policing. When the community joins hand with the police in policing itself, it is an enormous force multiplier.

Although community policing has been attempted by several states in India, Kerala has institutionalised it through a progressive police act. It offers a model that may be adopted with suitable modifications, if need be, by other states. It is relevant not only to rural areas, but urban centres, including mega-cities like Mumbai.

Is it correct to perceive all outsiders as a threat to internal security?
Outsiders are usually not a threat to internal security and are economic migrants seeking job opportunities. They contribute significantly to the economy of the place by rendering low-cost services. They also lend quality to the lives of locals by doing their day-to-day menial jobs. However, if an outsider is an illegal foreign national, it may be a different story. Although a bulk of these are economic migrants, they are more vulnerable to subversions and manipulations detrimental to our national security.

What steps should to be taken to curtail the influx of nationals from neighbouring countries?
There are several doable measures to restrict and regulate the illegal influx from a foreign country. Implement stringent border management, photo identity cards for Indian nationals, especially those from the states bordering Bangladesh, protocol for controlled immigration in some labour sector allowing foreign nationals to come and work on a work-permit, without prejudice to our own labour force.

What are the main internal threats to the city?
Mumbai, being the face and heart of India, has been a preferred target of hostile foreign forces. An attack on Mumbai has far-reaching devastating consequences for the country. That is why it is a preferred target of the enemies. Its geo-strategic location has some inherent vulnerability.

However, these are not insurmountable. What Mumbai needs is a comprehensive preventive and proactively responsive security infrastructure to ensure security of the city. It needs serious political resolve and adequate resources. We have to do much more before we can say that Mumbai is safe. 

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