20 YEARS OF NSC

What India’s Expanded Security Architecture Looks Like

Nitin A. Gokhale New Delhi 16 April 2019

Twenty years ago today, India’s National Security Council Secretariat or NSCS came into existence through a Cabinet Resolution.

Two decades since making a modest beginning by occupying just half a floor of the Sardar Patel Bhawan on Parliament street, the NSCS has expanded both in its influence and physically too, to spread itself across the entire five storey building as it begins its 21st year of existence.

Just as its physical presence has grown so has its budget. From a measly Rs 39.9 crore (actual expenditure) in 2016-17, its budget was increased to Rs 333.58 crore in 2017-18 although it could spend only Rs 168 crore at the end of the financial year 2017-18. However, for the financial year 2018-19 it has again been allotted Rs 303.83 crore.

Appointment of two more deputy national security advisers, as opposed to just one in the earlier structure, is part of a major restructuring. Accordingly, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) Rajinder Khanna will look after external and technical intelligence matters, Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer and former Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran is entrusted with handling diplomatic affairs and RN Ravi, former Intelligence Bureau officer and interlocutor for Naga talks, has been assigned to oversee internal security matters. Ravi was Chairman of Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) until he was re-designated Deputy National Security Adviser. Khanna and Saran were already Deputy NSAs.

The three Deputy NSAs will now widen the scope and responsibility of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which works directly under National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, arguably Prime Minister Modi’s closest confidant on foreign and security policies. Doval, a former career intelligence officer—like Ravi and Khanna—has been NSA and Special Representative for talks with China since 2014. His remit has steadily increased since then. With increase in its mandate, the NSCS will likely need more funds in coming years.

Along with the division of responsibility in the NSCS, the government has reconstituted the Strategic Policy Group (SPG), a body that has existed since 1999 (appointed by the Vajpayee government a month before the Kargil conflict began). It was earlier headed by the Cabinet Secretary. In a partial but significant amendment to the original Office Memorandum, the SPG will now be led by the NSA, with the Cabinet Secretary and Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog becoming members of the group. Like in its earlier avatar, it will also have the three service chiefs, the intelligence chiefs, secretaries of defence, home, finance, atomic energy, defence research and development, revenue, space, and governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as members. The NSA will have the power to co-opt any other official and department as and when needed while the Cabinet Secretary will ensure coordination and implementation of decisions taken by the SPG.

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