Airport security: A safety check for better co-ordinationhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/airport-security-a-safety-check-for-better-co-ordination/

Airport security: A safety check for better co-ordination

After toying with the idea of the proposed Civil Aviation Security Force, the civil aviation ministry has come to the conclusion that airport security will remain with CISF — with a focus on improving communication with Airports Authority of India.

Armed CISF jawans stand guard outside the airport in Nagpur in the wake of the attack on the IAF base in Pathankot. (Source: PTI)
Armed CISF jawans stand guard outside the airport in Nagpur in the wake of the attack on the IAF base in Pathankot. (Source: PTI)

Ministry of Civil Aviation’s proposal for a dedicated security force called the Civil Aviation Security Force for manning the security at India’s airports has been given a quiet burial. As a result, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is expected to continue as the sole dedicated airport security force. The civil aviation ministry and the Ministry of Home Affairs are, instead, working on a better co-ordination mechanism to improve security at the Indian airports, ministry officials said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, the administrative ministry of the CISF, had strongly voiced its opposition to creation of another dedicated force when the CISF’s Aviation Security Group was already manning airport security at a majority of the country’s airports.

Now, on the proposal for floating the proposed Civil Aviation Force, the aviation ministry too has veered around to the view that the core competency of the Ministry of Civil Aviation or the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is not to raise a force and run a security agency.

A civil aviation ministry official, in a recent deposition before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, has specifically cited that “it was better that the civil aviation security remained with a specialised agency such as CISF”. Officials in the ministry said they are now working with the home ministry to establish a structured co-ordination mechanism among agencies.

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On June 10 last year, after a violent incident involving employees of the AAI and the CISF at Karipur International Airport in Kozhikode, Kerala, there was a fresh push to the proposal for having a separate force for handling the security requirements at India’s airports.

The civil aviation ministry’s plan to replace the CISF with a new dedicated Aviation Security Force was actually floated during the United Progressive Alliance government’s tenure. The National Democratic Alliance government too debated this proposal last year after the Karipur airport episode.

The incident at the Karipur Airport on June 10, 2015 involved a fight between Fire Service Officials of the AAI and the CISF personnel in which one CISF official was killed. There was widespread damage of airport property and the runway was blocked for some time. As a result, the airport was closed for six hours and four flights were diverted. This raised question marks over the effectiveness of the existing coordination mechanism between various agencies involved in providing security at airports.

In the wake of the incident, as an initial response, the home ministry mooted the idea of a coordination mechanism at the airport level, wherein the Airport Director – an officer of the AAI — and the Chief Security Officer — a CISF officer — have structured interactions and a dialogue with all the wings of the airport management.

The government is also contemplating constituting another standing mechanism, wherein the Home Secretary, the Civil Aviation Secretary, Director General of the CISF and Chairman, AAI would meet once in three months to look at the gaps in security infrastructure has been mooted.

“The basic issue in the Karipur (also known as Calicut Airport) incident was the absence of a proper coordination between the Airport Director and the Commandant (CISF). This was an isolated case concerning lack of understanding of security issues among the junior staff,” said former Director General, Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) Kanu Gohain, who also worked on aviation security matters.

He said the AAI and the CISF need to improve their coordination mechanism but there is no need for a new security force. “We do not need a new security force. CISF is adequately staffed and equipped and it has over the years developed a range of expertise in aviation security. We need to build on this expertise of the CISF,” Gohain said.

Out of 98 operational airports in India, Aviation Security Group of the CISF has taken over the security of 53 airports of the AAI and 6 airports run by private companies in joint venture with the state-owned AAI. CISF has been manning these airports with a total strength of around 22,000 personnel.

Of these total 98 airports, 26 are categorised as hypersensitive, 56 are categorised as sensitive and 16 are categorised as normal. Before the induction of CISF till 2000, state police forces used to provide security at airports.

In the backdrop of hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 from Kathmandu in December 1999, the government after detailed reviews assigned the task of aviation security at Indian airports to the CISF. The first Airport Security Unit of CISF was inducted at Jaipur Airport on February 3, 2000.

The missing security link

One of the most crucial links in India’s aviation security apparatus is the post of the Commissioner of Security (Civil Aviation), Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). And this post – filled by an officer of the rank of Director General of Police – has been lying vacant for over three years. GS Malhi, an IPS officer, who last headed the BCAS retired in November 2012.

It’s not clear why the government has not filled up this post crucial from the security standpoint. The BCAS is the nodal agency for laying down aviation security standards in line with the rules set by Chicago Convention of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The Bureau monitors and implements security rules and surveys the security needs of airports.

Founded in 1978 in response to the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet to Lahore two years earlier, the BCAS started as a cell within the DGCA. Another wing of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the DGCA looks after the issue of safety at the Indian airports including licencing of airlines and aircraft.

The 1987 bombing of the Air India Boeing 747 jet Kanishka , however, underlined the need for a more professional organisation for aviation security. The BCAS was then upgraded to a department within the Civil Aviation Ministry, to be led by a DGP.

The government empowers the BCAS Commissioner of Security to issue directions under Section 5A of Aircraft Act 1934 with respect to civil aviation security matters. He is also empowered to exercise all powers and duties conferred under the Aircraft Security Rules 2011. The security architecture laid down by the BCAS comprises of the National Civil Aviation Security Programme, Security Training Programme, Security Quality Control Programme and Bomb Threat Contingency Plan.

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While the BCAS frames the rules and regulations for civil aviation security, CISF acts as the implementing agency for the guidelines framed by the Bureau. The latter also draws up airport-wise Counter-Terrorism Contingency Plans, which are currently available only at Delhi and Mumbai airports.