Much has already been written about the Ministry of Home Affairs agreeing to provide round-the-clock “Z category security” to Mukesh Ambani. Even the Supreme Court frowned upon and raised questions over the issue.
Let’s consider the facts. A terror outfit threatened Mukesh Ambani’s life. In response, the government made a threat perception assessment and found the threat to be credible. After following due process, the government decided to provide “Z category security” to Ambani. Following protests on Twitter and Facebook, Mukesh Ambani agreed to pay for the security cover provided to him amounting to about INR 15 lakh per month.
Should the government be offering “Z category security” privilege to Ambani? If he is offered, should Ambani be made to pay for this service?
Mukesh Ambani is worth US$ 21.5 billion (about INR 115,000 crores) making him India’s richest person. He lives in a billion dollar house. He owns Indian Premier League’s most glamorous franchise in Mumbai Indians. So why can’t he hire commandos and arrange for his own security. Well, he can’t because Indian laws don’t allow private security guards to carry high-calibre weapons that security forces use.
On the other hand, Reliance Industries Ltd. paid US$5.5 billion to the national exchequer in the form of various taxes and duties, contributing 5.5% to the Government of India’s total indirect tax revenue. This is not to say that this entitles Ambani and Reliance Industries to US$5.5 billion worth of public goods and services. But shouldn’t he be free to arrange for his safety the way he deem fit?
Furthermore, one of the first things we need our government to do, is to keep us safe from any internal or external aggressors against our body and property.
So, if a) government has forbidden Ambani to arrange for his own protection, b) government has taxed him a hell-lot of money, and c) government’s primary duty/promise is to provide protection to its citizens (taxpayers), well, you can figure out for yourself who I think should be paying for Ambani’s protection.
But is it unfair that he receive more security resources than others? One might question: how can the limited resources of the state be diverted for the protection of an individual, while the rising cases of crime clearly demonstrate the inability of the government to provide adequate security to the general public? (Prof. Ajay Shah has a great discussion on the issue as an attempt to find a public policy solution on his blog here and here).
One issue is whether we all have an equal need for protection and whether we are already equally well provided with security.
Security is unequally available to all of us. Someone living in Lutyen’s Delhi is safer than someone who lives close to the ‘line of control‘ in Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, someone living in a cantonment area or closer to a police station or living across the road from Manmohan Singh (like my uncle used to) is less likely to be robbed of their belongings than someone who lives in say, Vasant Kunj, an affluent residential colony in south-west Delhi, where personal stories recount that theirs is a theft-prone neighbourhood.
Similarly, threat to life is not equal to everyone. A terrorist organisation that wants to make global headlines will fail to do so if they successfully attempt to kill someone known only to his friends and family (like me). However, any attempt to harm a person like Ambani is sure to make global headlines, create doubts in the mind of other businessmen, businesses will shift out of this country, investments will dry up. This is not to say that one life is more important than another, just that the level of threat to life is different for different people.
Resources are scarce, including resources for security like police personnel, armed forces, border security force, jails, courts, etc. Some people have a greater access to these services than others. First this is an argument for letting people defend themselves when they can, letting them lawfully obtain means of self-defence. But especially if this is not allowed, and as long as the government demands huge taxes in the name of providing security (among other things) and does a poor job of it, it is only fair that a small fraction of the tax money paid by Mukesh Ambani goes on to pay for his security in the case of a credible threat issued against his life by a terrorist organisation.