NEW DELHI (AFP) — The Indian government unveiled new security measures Thursday after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted to "vast gaps" in intelligence gathering following a spate of bombings in major cities.
The cabinet approved proposals to hire 7,000 additional policemen in New Delhi, install closed-circuit television cameras in busy areas and create a research wing in its intelligence agency, Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta told reporters.
The measures were announced a day after Singh acknowledged that India had to face up to the growing involvement of home-grown militants in attacks that had previously been blamed almost exclusively on neighbouring Pakistan.
"We are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight against terrorism," the prime minister told reporters late Wednesday.
Singh's government has been strongly criticised in the wake of serial bomb blasts this year in the cities of Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and New Delhi, which have claimed more than 100 lives.
After the latest bombings killed 22 in the Indian capital on Saturday, the media accused the government of incompetence and of lacking a coherent counter-terrorist strategy.
While acknowledging there were "vast gaps in intelligence" that needed to be overcome, Singh rejected charges that his administration's policies had made the country more vulnerable to attack.
"There is no question of government being soft on terrorism," he said.
India's main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has taken the Congress-led government to task over its decision in 2004 to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act ushered in by the previous BJP-run administration.
Congress had argued that the legislation was misused to settle political scores and harass Muslims -- a point reaffirmed Thursday by Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi when he ruled out bringing the act back.
"No, No, No. It is draconian," Dasmuni told reporters.
Singh, however, acknowledged that the security forces might need stronger legal tools in conducting counter-terror operations.
"Even this aspect is under consideration with the aim of identifying provisions which could be made to further strengthen the hands of the law enforcement agencies," he said.
Several of the bombings this year, including the New Delhi blasts, were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen, which has forced the government to confront the emergence of an indigenous Muslim militancy.
In the past, India has focused its limited counter-terrorist and intelligence resources on rival Pakistan, which it accuses of orchestrating militant attacks.
While insisting that the role of Pakistan-based groups should "not be minimised," Singh admitted that the involvement of local elements in recent blasts added "a new dimension to the terrorist threat."
Hindu-majority India has around 140 million Muslims.
While communal tensions have always existed, India's Muslims have largely resisted the path of organised militancy, but Finance Minister P. Chidambaram warned that times were changing.
"The divide between the Muslims and Hindus is taking new and dangerous forms," he said in a speech Wednesday, in which he highlighted a growing sense of "alienation" within the Muslim community.
"Out of the hopelessness and despair ... will rise new waves of terror," he added.
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