Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday flagged the use of social media and bulk SMSs to aggravate social tensions as the new challenge before the government and security forces, even as he expressed concern over the increase in communal violence and ethnic strife.
On the last day of a three-day national conference of chiefs of police forces here, Manmohan Singh also warned that the nation's vulnerability to cyber crime is escalating, even as he pointed out that terrorists groups still have capability to strike through the sea route, just like the Mumbai attacks of November 2008.
"The increase in communal incidents in the country in the past few months and the revival of ethnic tensions in the Northeast in recent weeks have been particular causes of concern for all of us," Manmohan Singh said, addressing the directors general and inspectors generals of state and central police forces at the meet hosted by the Intelligence Bureau.
The prime minister's remarks come in the backdrop of the ethnic clashes in Assam that left nearly 100 dead and another four lakh displaced, which also had a spin-off effect when rumours spread across social media triggered an exodus of people of northeastern origin from Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and other cities.
"The use of bulk SMSes and social media to aggravate the communal situation is a new challenge that the recent disturbances have thrown before us. We need to fully understand how these new media are used by miscreants," he said.
"We also need to devise strategies to counter the propaganda that is carried out by these new means. Any measure to control the use of such media must be carefully weighed against the need for freedom to express and communicate," he said.
"Our country's vulnerability to cyber crime is escalating as our economy and critical infrastructure become increasingly reliant on interdependent computer networks and the Internet," Manmohan Singh said.
"Large-scale computer attacks on our critical infrastructure and economy can have potentially devastating results," he warned the police chiefs.
The prime minister said the government is working on a robust cyber security structure that addresses "threat management and mitigation, assurance and certification, capacity building and research".
Cyber security breaches were reported in recent months from the Visakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command. Regular attacks on key defence and critical networks by hackers are also reported.
Warning that terror groups continued to maintain their ability to use the sea route for strikes, the prime minister expressed confidence that the maritime domain awareness scheme led by the Indian Navy would strengthen coastal security.
"There are also indications about terrorist groups maintaining their ability to use the sea route," Manmohan Singh said.
"The comprehensive scheme of maritime domain awareness to be led by the navy would help strengthen coastal vigilance," he said.
The Mumbai attacks had left 166 people including some foreign nationals dead. Since then, the Indian security forces have initiated several measures to ensure a secure 7,500-km India coastline.
"We are still in the process of developing capabilities to take preemptive action in respect of terrorist threats. Realignment of operational approaches, training of police personnel and more effective collaboration among states and between states and the centre should form part of our overall strategy of dealing with the menace of terrorism," he added.
Returning to the issue communal tensions, the prime minister said, "the erosion of inter-community relations is something that should worry us all."
"The capacity of the administrative set-up to check such deterioration seems to have weakened," he said, adding that this would be true of the police administration too.
"Advance identification of potential troublemakers, timely use of preventive sections of the law, alongside seeking cooperation of the community for maintaining peace should be the first instrument to be deployed, well before the situation deteriorates," he added.
Batting for obtaining the assistance of saner elements of society to marginalise those who are overly intolerant and aggressive, Manmohan Singh called for training the police to develop soft skills.
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