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Ministry of all things secret: UP’s Confidential department gets fresh thrust under Yogi 2.0

Dept collects 'secret' information and intelligence inputs from police. In a first, UP govt Tuesday said it would have its own additional chief secretary-level officer in charge.

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Lucknow: Till now, not many were aware that the full name of the UP Home department was the Department of Home and Confidential. The ‘confidential’ part seems to have done its job well over the decades, because it has managed to keep a very low profile.

Its job includes gathering “secret information” and intelligence inputs from police departments and officers across the state. But under Yogi Adityanath’s second government, it’s getting an unprecedented thrust.

Now, for the first time, the Confidential department will have its own additional chief secretary (ACS)-grade officer in charge. The new state cabinet made the decision in its second meeting Tuesday.

The department is divided into different sections that address a multitude of areas such as National Security Act (NSA) cases, economic offences, harassment of journalists, activities of foreign secret agencies, general elections, political protests, the internal security of the state secretariat, anti-corruption investigations, security arrangements of VIPs, and work related to the governor’s, among other things.

Addressing a press conference after the cabinet meeting, UP Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak hinted that the significance of the Confidential department had been growing under the Yogi government.

“So far, you would see, that the names of the designated post varied from undersecretary, secretary…  Now, there is a post of additional chief secretary, for which people have been working for a long time,” he said.

So far, though, no new appointments have been made. But speaking to ThePrint, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi said that he would oversee the Confidential department.

The minister in charge of the Home and Vigilance departments, along with more than 30 others, is CM Yogi Adityanath himself.

ThePrint spoke to current and former officials and experts to understand the functions of the Confidential department and the implications of this week’s change.

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Surveillance inputs, ‘dossiers on politicians, bureaucrats’

The Confidential department receives “secret” information from police departments and officers across the state.

“Like the name suggests, it works in a secretive manner. It deals with gathering of intelligence inputs, Official Secrets Act, cases under the NSA, and also other confidential work,” an ex-Director General of Police (DGP) in UP told ThePrint.

“Usually, the DGP’s office deals with the Home department, but the Confidential department receives reports from local police officers directly, too, without any interference,” he added.

While police officers usually send their confidential reports to the DGP’s office, these are also often marked to the Home and Confidential departments—and in some instance, only the latter.

The former DGP said any attempts to effect changes in the department were likely geared towards strengthening it and to avoid the possibility of “leakages”.

Another former UP police officer, who has served at the top levels of the force, said that the Confidential department has a “repository” of information collected from different state and central agencies, and also deals with surveillance data.

“The information and material derived from surveillance lands here…but it is very different from the state intelligence agencies,” this former officer said.

Speaking to ThePrint, Ramesh Dixit, a senior political analyst and retired head of the political science department at the University of Lucknow, claimed that the Confidential department also continues the “colonial tradition” of maintaining dossiers of information about politicians, bureaucrats, and various “suspects”.

According to a significant body of scholarship on the subject, colonial states, via their administrative apparatus, also functioned as “intelligence states” that amassed information not just about the local populations but also kept intelligence files about politicians and other elites.

‘Dilution’ of Home department

Through successive governments, the Confidential department has always functioned directly under the home minister, but in effect this has meant the chief minister, since consecutive CMs — from Mayawati to Akhilesh Yadav to Yogi Adityanath — have also held the crucial Home portfolio, which controls the internal security and police of the state.

According to Dixit, this represents a “dilution” of the once-powerful Home department. “The chief secretary would handle Home technically, but the CM has the last say,” he said.

In previous non-BJP governments, the administration of the Confidential department also came under the purview of the chief secretary, the state’s topmost bureaucrat. However, to unburden the chief secretary, the work would effectively be overseen by a junior-level secretary or undersecretary.

Since the Yogi 1.0 government, the Confidential department’s operations have been overseen by the ACS (Home), but it is only now that the post of an ACS (Confidential) has been instituted.

While previous governments have been operating and effecting changes in the Confidential department “silently” too, the current dispensation has been more “blatant” in this regard, Dixit added.

“Several experiments were witnessed as the Home department was diluted… The previous governments also used to change the nomenclature of posts. Some would use undersecretary, some would use secretary. The Mayawati government had introduced the post of cabinet secretary. The current government is doing it more blatantly,” Dixit said.

A retired deputy superintendent of the UP Police also remarked on the higher profile accorded to the Confidential department.

“It used to operate in a totally confidential manner, and we would hardly know about who was posted there and who looks after which section,” he recalled.

How Confidential department operates

The Confidential department is divided into eight sections, a former bureaucrat who has served in multiple governments explained.

The first section deals with work related to ministers, such as work allocations, issuing instructions to the cabinet, approving foreign visits, and so on; it also deals with matters like medical reimbursements for high court judges.

The other seven sections come under the direct ambit of the Home department, the former official said.

“Three of these sections look after cases under the National Security Act,” he added.

Invoking the NSA, which allows for the detention of a person for up to a year without any charge, falls under the purview of the state government. The role of the confidential department is to examine cases recommended for the invocation of the NSA by district magistrates and police chiefs.

Each of the three sections dealing with the NSA focusses on specific geographic regions in UP, as well as different aspects of the law.

The remaining sections of the department, the retired bureaucrat said, include one dedicated to cases related to the economic offences wing, and others that are concerned with the “governor’s office, budget-related work, surveillance, and protocol, etc”.

Throwing further light on the staffing of these departments, the retired bureaucrat said, “Each section would have seven or eight people, sometimes less, presided over by a section officer. The section officers would report to the deputy secretary, secretary, etc.”

A “special wing” under the economic offences section, he added, deals with “cybercrimes”.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

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