Updated: January 7, 2022 9:01:15 am
With the Prime Minister’s cavalcade stranded on a flyover in Punjab’s Ferozepur district for over 15 minutes due to a protest by farmers on Wednesday (January 5), the Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a report from Punjab government on what it called “a major lapse in the security of the PM”.
How is the Prime Minister’s security planned?
Planning of the PM’s security during any visit is an elaborate exercise that involves both central agencies and state police forces. Broad guidelines are laid down in what is called the SPG’s ‘Blue Book’.
Three days before any planned visit, the Special Protection Group (SPG), which is responsible for the PM’s security, holds a mandatory Advance Security Liaison (ASL) with everyone involved in securing the event, including SPG officials, Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials in the state concerned, state police officials, and the district magistrate concerned.
Every minute detail of the visit and required security arrangements are discussed among the officials. Once the meeting is over, an ASL report is prepared, and it is signed by all those who attended. Based on this report, all security arrangements are made.
What is chalked out during the meeting?
Generally, a PM’s visit is supposed to be planned out to the very last detail, and the itinerary that is planned thereafter is expected to stick to it.
Thus, the meeting discusses how the PM would arrive (by air, road, or rail) and, once he lands, how he would reach the venue of his programme (generally by helicopter or road). In planning this, intelligence inputs of central agencies and the local intelligence unit are taken into consideration.
Then the security of the venue — which involves aspects such as entry and exit, frisking of those coming to the venue, and placing of door frame metal detectors — is discussed. The structural stability of the dais is checked as well. (There have been incidents of the stage at public meetings collapsing while leaders are on it.)
“Fire safety of the venue is also audited. Even the weather report for the day is taken into consideration. If the PM is likely to take a boat to reach any place, the functional readiness and safety of the boat is authorised on a certificate.
“If there are bushes on the route the PM is likely to take, the SPG may ask them to be cut down. Narrow patches of the route are mapped, and more men are asked to be posted there for route security,” a senior police officer who has managed the security of multiple visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi told The Indian Express.
What happens if plans change suddenly?
A contingency plan is always made in advance. That is why, sources said, the weather report is taken into consideration. “What if because of bad weather, the PM can’t fly to the venue. So an alternative route by road is planned in advance, the route sanitised and security placed on the road even if the PM is supposed to fly. You can’t arrange security at the last minute,” the officer said.
This, in fact, can happen quite often, sources said. A helicopter requires a visibility of at least 1,000 metres to fly safely, which is sometimes a constraint.
“A lot of times during winter, the PM has to take the road because of fog. Those routes are planned and secured in advance. If for any reason the route is found to be not clear, the state police does not give the go-ahead. The visit is cancelled,” the officer said.
“The SPG only provides proximate security to the PM. When the PM is travelling to any state, it is the responsibility of the state police to ensure overall security. They have the responsibility of intelligence gathering, route clearance, venue sanitisation, and crowd management,” former UP DGP O P Singh, who has also served with the SPG, said.
Central intelligence agencies are responsible for providing inputs about any threat to security. However, it is the SPG that takes the final call on how the PM’s security is to be arranged. Sources said the SPG never allows the PM’s movement until the local police gives the go-ahead.
Sources said the state police are also supposed to conduct anti-sabotage checks and to secure the route by placing not only men on the roads but also snipers on rooftops.
The state police also provide a pilot vehicle that leads the PM’s cavalcade and, if the PM is likely to stay at a place, an officer of the level of superintendent of police (SP) is deputed as camp commandant to ensure security.
What happens during public events where the PM is expected to go close to crowds of people?
During public meetings, rallies, and road shows, apart from policemen, an SP-level officer is deputed to post men in plainclothes for security.
“During rallies, leaders do not want to be surrounded by uniformed men. But the leaders also can’t be left to be on their own. So men in plainclothes, sometimes even masquerading as party workers, are deputed,” another officer said.
Sources said that in political events the political team of the PM, or even the PM personally, can put pressure on his security personnel to deviate from protocol. “But that’s the time the SPG has to take a stand and say no if it is not sure of ensuring security,” a former SPG chief said.
Former Maharashtra DGP Sanjeev Dayal, during his tenure as SPG chief, had famously delayed then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cavalcade by more than half an hour during his 1999 Lahore visit.
“Dayal was not sure of the route clearance given by local police there (in Pakistan) to reach Lahore fort. He wanted some crowds en route to be cleared. The diplomats were putting pressure on Dayal to let the PM go as it was such an important event. But Dayal stood his ground and did not allow the PM to leave until the crowds had been cleared,” said the former SPG chief.
But what if there are spontaneous or unexpected protests that have not been anticipated during the planning?
The sources said protests are always a threat to any VIP’s visit and thus, elaborate advance planning factors in ways for the state police to thwart them. Generally, local intelligence has inputs on which groups are planning a protest, and preventive action is taken.
“There is list of suspicious people or potential protesters with the local police. They are picketed in advance. Both physical and electronic surveillance is mounted to gather information on such surprises. If there is a planned protest that cannot be stalled, then the route is avoided,” the officer said.
So what exactly happened in Punjab on January 5?
While Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has said that the PM had a sudden change of plan, the Home Ministry has claimed the PM’s programme had been communicated in advance.
“He proceeded to travel by road after necessary confirmation of necessary security arrangements by the DGP Punjab Police,” the Ministry said in a statement.
Former officer O P Singh laid the blame on the door of the Punjab Police.
“In the case of Punjab, when the PM chose to travel by road because of bad weather, it was the responsibility of the local police to sanitise the entire route, place snipers on rooftops… SPG never allows the PM to move unless it has got the go-ahead from the local police about the security of the route,” Singh said.
In this case, Singh said, the PM was totally exposed atop a flyover for over 15 minutes.
“This was not even a road cross-section. It simply means that the local police failed to secure the entry and exit of the flyover. Let’s remember, Punjab is a state bordering Pakistan. This was a serious security lapse,” he said.
However, another officer said it was important to determine what conversation took place between the Punjab DGP and the SPG after the PM decided to go by road.
“If the Punjab DGP told the SPG that there were inputs of farmers planning protests, or there was some brewing unrest in the area, the SPG should have taken the call to avoid going,” said a former SPG chief who declined to be identified.
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