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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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Sashastra Seema Bal  
 
 

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) came under the Ministry of Home Affairs in January 2001 and assumed the mandate of guarding the Indo-Nepal border in June 2001 as a Centrally Administered Police Force. In 2004, it was also entrusted with the additional task of guarding the Indo-Bhutan border. It has been designated as the Lead Intelligence Agency for the Indo-Nepal Border. The SSB became an independent Border Guarding Force by virtue of the Sashastra Seema Bal Act, 2007. Not many will, however, know or remember today that the SSB actually came into being long ago in the year 1963 as the "Special Service Bureau." It is worthwhile to look into the past and recount the years of glory of this organisation before we visualize the challenges of the future.

The SSB was originally an unconventional, low profile and relatively unknown organisation functioning within the Directorate General of Security in the Cabinet Secretariat. It is hardly possible for people who are young today to comprehend or visualize the national trauma following the humiliating defeat of the Indian Army during the Chinese aggression in 1962. The civilian administration in the affected areas in India's North-East had totally collapsed. The local population was completely demoralized in those areas which were overrun by the invading Chinese Army. Subsequently, the government discovered with shock that the people living in the border areas were not only confused and alienated from the mainstream India, they were not mentally or physically prepared to resist the enemy. Shri B.N. Mallick, Director, Intelligence Bureau at that time, wrote later in his book that the people of NEFA remained indifferent about the respective positions of the Indian and Chinese armies and did not go out of their way to make it difficult for the invaders to stay and operate on Indian soil. The SSB was conceived in the aftermath of nation wide shock and took shape as a unique organisation to prepare the population in the remote border areas by generating a true sense of national belonging and motivate them through carefully crafted peacetime package of rallies, publicity campaigns and civic action programmes. The objective was to improve the living condition of people in the vulnerable border areas through welfare and developmental activities while preparing them to offer resistance to invading foreign armies during any similar eventuality in future.

 
     
 

From 1963 till 2001, the role and charter of the SSB can be summed up as follows:—

 
 
Inculcating a sense of security and spirit of resistance amongst people living in the border areas.
Generating mass support in the border areas through National Integration Programmes and welfare activities.
Organizing and preparing border population to resist foreign enemy and perform 'Stay Behind' role during future invasion / occupation.
Winning the hearts and minds of people by making the benign presence of government felt through welfare, development, cultural and other activities.
 
     
 

Initially the SSB began to function in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, North Bengal and the hill districts, of UP, HP, Parts of Punjab and Ladakh area of J&K. Its operations gradually extended to other states, such as Manipur, Tripura, Jammu, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Rajasthan, South Bengal, Nagaland & Mizoram. At the last count, it covered as many as 15 states. From time to time, however, this unique organisation went through several high level reviews to evaluate its role and its continued relevance in the context of the changing security scenario. A review by the Committee of Secretaries in August 1986 recorded that this unconventional organisation had been able to win the confidence of the people living in the border areas and had more or less succeeded in integrating them into the national mainstream through its programmes. The Committee decided that henceforward the role of the SSB should be reoriented with greater emphasis on developmental, welfare and motivational activities on the one hand and counter-infiltration and anti-subversion work on the other. This meeting marked a significant stage in the organization’s history in that it was decided that the "stay behind" role of the SSB to work as a guerrilla force in the event of a future war need no longer be emphasized. In other words, it was acknowledged for the first time that the defence related role of the SSB was not quite relevant in the altered security scenario. Baring occasional tensions, the Sino-Indian border has remained more or less tranquil since 1962 with no imminent threat of war in the Northern border. Besides, the Indian Defence forces are today well entrenched with much improved border management capabilities as compared to 1962. The effectiveness of the SSB for any military related task was therefore called into question in 1986. But neither then, nor at any time thereafter, the SSB's performance as a peace time agency for developmental and motivational activities in remote far flung border areas was ever found wanting or deemed irrelevant. On the contrary, in the insurgency affected vulnerable border states, the SSB continued to spread the message of national integration and win over the hearts and minds of the people. In many of these areas, the machinery of the state government was either not well-prepared or its programmes failed to reach the beneficiaries at the grass roots level for various reasons. It is a sad truth that the prime contribution of the SSB could not be adequately evaluated as its core activities in the hostile environment of insurgency affected states were difficult to quantify or assess by any known yardstick or benchmark.

The history of this organisation entered a new phase in 1997 when a high-level three-member committee (which included the present author) was appointed to evaluate the role of the SSB and determine need for change, if any. The Committee advised that the main role should continue to be to motivate the border population along the Sino-Indian border for "total security preparedness" because China would continue to be a long term threat to India in the foreseeable future. In all other border areas, it could focus on motivational and developmental programmes with a revised charter for collection of intelligence and anti-subversion and anti-infiltration activities. However, before the recommendations of this Committee could be implemented, the government soon appointed another committee to review border management following the Kargil War. This Committee advised that the SSB should be entrusted with the task of guarding the Indo-Nepal border and function under the Ministry of Home Affairs like other para-military organizations. The Group of Ministers accepted the report and in pursuance of their recommendations, the SSB was renamed and designated as a Border Guarding Force. A new chapter thus began in the chequered history of the SSB. Having the privilege of closely watching this organisation for many years, I have good reason to hope that the SSB will no doubt justify the decision to reorient and re-deploy it for effective border management.

What are the challenges that lie ahead? Out of more than 14000 km long border India shares with its neighbours, the 1751 km long India-Nepal border is the weakest link because this open border not only provides alluring encouragement to traffickers and smugglers, it also offers huge opportunities for ISI-trained infiltrators to enter India and pose serious threats to national security. The hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft in December 2000 brought into sharp focus ISI's anti Indian activities in Nepal. The border is porous at innumerable points and is virtually impossible to seal effectively. To make matters worse, the Bihar-UP border has sizable pockets of minority population who are targeted by ISI operatives on the assumption that they are susceptible to false propaganda and subversion. The phenomenon of mushrooming madrassas along the Nepal border has assumed alarming proportions because many of these foreign-funded institutions are becoming training ground for a generation of youths who imbibe lessons in religious fanaticism and communal hatred. Similar problems exist in the 699 km long Indo-Bhutan border also.

A major problem is the growing incidence of trans-border trafficking in women and smuggling of goods which can be checked through determined efforts on both sides of the border. Since movement of people across international borders is largely a result of socio-economic factors, relatively low level of economic development and lack of opportunities on the other side of the India-Nepal border will continue to operate as 'push factors' for trans-border migration. This has dangerous potential for creating ethnic, communal and demographic imbalance in the long run with serious implications for national security. The SSB, by virtue of its enormous experience of working at the grass-roots level in remote border areas, is uniquely qualified for collection of intelligence and counter-subversion activities in the vulnerable border where ISI agents and foreign trained saboteurs are trying to alienate the people through propaganda and subversive operations. Besides, the SSB is ideally suited for developmental activities and community participation campaigns which ought to be major plank of an integrated border management strategy.

In the final analysis, the effectiveness of any border police will depend not only on the professional ability of the members of the force, but also on solid public cooperation and support. In order to enlist public support, it is necessary to have meaningful interaction with local people. If the organisation is seen only as the coercive arm of the union government, then the desired community support will not be forthcoming. There is urgent need to devise integrated strategies for counter-active management of border crimes in collaboration with local population and non-governmental agencies. Our national security establishment must realize that social engineering and community cooperation has to go hand in hand with law enforcement.

The Maoist insurgency in Nepal and its nexus with armed Naxal groups in India to carve out a 'Compact Revolutionary Zone' from Nepal through Bihar, M.P. to India's deep South has added a new ominous dimension to India's internal security. The Bhutan border, though peaceful now, had in the past, been used by United Liberation Front of Bodoland for shelter and base. For the last few years, the Maoists of Nepal have been turning their attention to Bhutan and have encouraged the formation of the Communist Party of Bhutan. The possibility of frustrated Bhutanese youths in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal taking up arms against the monarchy in Bhutan can not be ruled out. This has the potential of destabilising Bhutan with grave implications for India.

India has the closest ties of geography, history, culture and religion with Nepal. Nevertheless, latent anti-India sentiments surface from time to time in Nepal and tend to mar the cordial state to state relationship between the two countries. The main problem is to make Nepal understand India's genuine security concerns and acknowledge that Nepal has to be a part of India's security perimeter both for its own sake as well as India's. India cannot help watching the ever growing Maoist groups in Nepal which the new ruling elite seem unwilling to counter effectively. Most of all, India has reasons to be alarmed at the extent of ISI activities and growing influence of China in Nepal. Not that the government in Nepal is insincere about meeting our concerns. The truth is that it does not have the capability to fully cooperate with India. Therefore, India must necessarily revamp and tighten security on its side of the India-Nepal border. The SSB, in its new role of guarding the sensitive Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan border, will not only have to prevent trans-border crimes but also promote a sense of security among the people living in the border areas.

 
     
 

Since 2001 the new role and charter of the SSB are as follows:

 
 
To promote a sense of security among the people living in the border areas.
To prevent transborder crimes and unauthorized entry into or exit from the territory of India.
To prevent smuggling, trafficking and other illegal activities.
To collect intelligence in the vulnerable border areas.
 
     
 

The organisation has 41 Battalions as of now. The magnitude of the task of guarding the 1571 km long Indo-Nepal border and 699 km long Indo-Bhutan border is huge. The porous and vulnerable Indo-Nepal border extends over the states of Uttarakhand (275 km), Uttar Pradesh (551 km) Bihar (726 km) West Bengal (100 km) and Sikkim (99 km). The Indo-Bhutan border goes across West Bengal (183 km), Sikkim (32 km) Assam (267 km) and Arunachal Pradesh (217 km). The force, in order to succeed as a Border Guarding Force, needs much greater strength of around 100,000 as against the present strength of 55000 or so. This means that the government will need to sanction nearly 40 more battalions in the years to come.

Let us hope that the Ministry of Home Affairs will, in due course, strengthen and equip this organisation so that it will be able to meet the challenges of the new role assigned it since the dawn of the 21st century as a Centrally Administered Police Force.

 
  Kalyan K. Mitra
Former Principal Director,
DG Security,
Cabinet Secretaria
t
 
 

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

 
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