Even as governments across the world have been scrambling to deal with new threats to passenger aircraft which emerged through 2014 — lethal liquid explosives, anti-aircraft missiles, and crew members-turned-terrorists — India’s own civil aviation security agency, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), has been headless for more than two years, government documents accessed by The Indian Express show.
Last month, the documents also show, the Ministry of Civil Aviation scrapped rules mandating that the BCAS’s head, the Commissioner of Security, Civil Aviation, be chosen from among Directors-General of Police with hands-on security expertise. The BCAS lays down security guidelines, and audits their implementation by government agencies and airlines.
Instead, highly placed sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said, the Ministry of Civil Aviation now plans to invite applications for the position from additional-secretary rank bureaucrats or police officers with just three years security-related experience. Interestingly, rules require that the BCAS chief’s two deputies have at least 10 years security-related experience.
A senior civil aviation official confirmed that the ministry had scrapped the earlier job requirements for the BCAS chief, but declined to give further details. He added, though, that “security should remain with the police”.
The decision, made without consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, has left officials there fuming. “Protecting civil aviation is a highly technical job and ought to be handled by people who’ve served in organisations like the National Security Guard or Special Protection Group,” a senior MHA official told The Indian Express.
Founded in 1978 in response to the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet to Lahore two years earlier, BCAS began its life as a cell within the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation. The 1987 bombing of the Air India Boeing 747 jet Kanishka , however, underlined the need for a more professional organisation. The BCAS was upgraded to a department within the Civil Aviation Ministry, to be led by a DGP who was to be picked in consultation with the Union Public Services Commission.
In September 2010, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) decided to review the appointment process, after disputes between the home and civil aviation ministries and the UPSC left the BCAS headless for several months. The ACC decided that “the provision for consultation with the UPSC be removed”, and the job be assigned like “a normal ACC positing, following ACC procedure”.
Following the November 2012 retirement of G S Malhi, the BCAS’s last chief, disputes over the next appointment broke out between the home and civil aviation ministries. “Each time we’d send a panel of probables to the MCA they’d stonewall us for one reason or the other,” a senior MHA official said.
At a November 18 meeting this year, Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju ordered that the rules governing the appointment of the BCAS chief be scrapped. MHA officials said they were not consulted before the decision, which, as it impacts the Indian Police Service, is mandatory under the government’s transaction of business rules. “The BCAS has a vital national security function and any decision affecting its character should have gone before the Cabinet Committee on Security,” said an officer.
Experts said the crisis at BCAS stems from lack of a legal framework for the organisation, since India has no specific civil aviation safety legislation. In 2004, the Committee on Civil Aviation Policy, set up by the then minister Praful Patel, had recommended that “it would be prudent to have special powers for the BCAS and the security forces providing aviation-related security”. “For this, the BCAS should be vested with adequate powers by amending the relevant Acts and Rules.”