What is the Sashastra Seema Bal?
The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) is a paramilitary police force under the Ministry of Home affairs responsible for guarding India’s international borders with Nepal and Bhutan. It is one of India’s Central Armed Police Forces, which includes ITBP, BSF, CRPF and CISF. When it was created in 1963, it was called Special Services Bureau. The name was changed to Sashatra Seema Bal in 2001 after it was given charge of the Nepal border. Besides this, the force is also deployed in Jammu and Kashmir for counter insurgency operations and anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. It also provides internal security during elections in various states.
Why was the force created?
After the 1962 Indo-China war, the Indian strategic think tank conceived a plan to raise a force that will would train the local border population in guerilla tactics and instill in them a sense of security. This was done so that when the time comes they would be prepared to defend themselves and the nation in case of any foreign aggression. In such a situation, the local border population along with SSB personnel, who would don civil attires, would employ guerilla tactics and make use of weapons already cached in secret locations to harass the enemy force with the ultimate goal of running a parallel government.
Post Kargil conflict, the Indian government, decided to implement one border, one force policy. Meanwhile, the advent of Maoist activities in neighbouring Nepal and the likelihood of anti-national elements trying to infiltrate the Nepal border, the Indian government decided to deploy a people-friendly force on the Indo-Nepal border so that the relations with Nepal are not jeopardised. In 2001, SSB was given the charge of managing the Nepal border and in 2004, the Bhutan border. The more than 1800 km of open border with Nepal is inhabited by people who have had close “Roti- Beti” relationship since centuries. This border is the homeland of ancient tribes such as the Tharus, who have deep cross border relationships. Nepal is also a poor country completely landlocked and largely dependant for its daily needs on India. A huge chunk of Nepalese population is migrant labour in India. Almost 50 per cent of the border is covered by thick forests and a rich source of bio diversity. Thus, SSB; which is said to be a people-friendly force, was deployed on the border.
What is the primary role of the SSB?
It’s primary role is to physically guard and manage the international border thereby promoting a sense of security and pride amongst the local border population. SSB is the lead intelligence unit for Nepal and Bhutan borders and the coordination agency for national security activities. Besides this, SSB undertakes construction of schools, buildings, toilets, roads under border area developmental plan. It also gives regular guidance and training to unemployed youth in general studies and physical training. In border villages, SSB teaches the border population the best agricultural practices, horticulture, pisiculture etc. SSB has also taken up a unique and important task to adopt and fund the education of the girl child in poor villages along the border and teach them unarmed combat training. This is done to eliminate rampant human trafficking of women across the border. For example the hilly reaches of Uttrakhand are extremely remotely located and the population reeling under extreme poverty. Unscrupulous elements based in Delhi and Haryana have been regularly selling young girls on the pretext of marriage to work as prostitutes in brothels and bonded labour in affluent houses. SSB has a wide network of posts in the hill state and along with police and NGO’s can impart a positive impact. Moreover SSB has a sizeable strength of female officials who understand the local female specific concerns efficiently.
What are some of the routine defence activities they undertake?
There are two defence manuevres: strategic and tactical. Strategic is usually long term depending upon the policies of the government, while tactical is area-specific and largely governed by the terrain. It’s flexible in nature. With the improvements in the technology and fighting capabilities of the Indian armed forces, the army did away with the age old policy of ‘withdrawal’. However, with more advancements in technologies, the nuclearisation of the neighbourhood and the primacy of economic needs, it has been seen that future wars will not be about advancements deep inside enemy territory and occupation. It will be much more about precision attacks through use of force multipliers such as UAVS. In such a scenario, holding of present positions along the border becomes most important. Herein comes the role of a paramilitary force like SSB. To further the above role on the border, the SSB carries out various activities such as patrolling the border physically during the day, laying nakas at night (deploying armed men in most likely routes of infiltration), carrying out people friendly activities to garner support and deploying observation posts.
What are some of their new initiatives in the pipeline?
The 11th Battalion SSB Didihat has planned four new initiatives for 2016. Firstly, they will undertake an aptitude test of students from border villages and prepare them for admissions into engineering colleges. Second, since the whole state of Uttarakhand is suffering from the problem of girl trafficking, the battalion is planning to impart unarmed combat training like judo to teach young girls to be self-reliant. The unit has also actively involved many local NGO’s who often act as its eyes and ears. Thirdly, organise mountain cycling activities which will involve local villagers from border areas to spread awareness about eco friendly ways of commuting. Lastly, SSB is likely to give exercise in development of tourism-related activities in border areas so the local population can earn a source of livelihood and make use of manpower in the most productive way.