THE GOVERNMENT recently downgraded the security cover of former PM Manomhan Singh, from Special Protection Group (SPG) to Z plus of the CRPF. The security cover of several other VIPs too has been downgraded.
How does the government decide the level of protection an individual needs?
The Home Ministry takes the decision based on inputs from intelligence agencies, which include the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing. They largely give a subjective measure of threat to life or injury to a person from terrorists or any other group, based on information from their sources.
Certain individuals, by dint of their position in government, are automatically entitled to security cover. These include the Prime Minister and his immediate family. The Home Minister and officials such as the National Security Adviser too generally get security cover on the basis of their position.
Since none of the intelligence agencies in India is accountable to any statutory body, barring the internal oversight of the Home and External Affairs Ministries, VIP security is sometimes seen as open to manipulation. A number of protectees, it has been alleged, are under security cover for political reasons and not necessarily due to any real threat.
What are the various protection levels?
There are largely six types of security covers: X, Y, Y plus, Z, Z plus and SPG. While SPG is meant only for the PM and his immediate family, other categories can be provided to anyone about whom the Centre or state governments have inputs about facing a threat.
The X category on an average entails just one gunman protecting the individual; Y has one gunman for mobile security and one (plus four on rotation) for static security; Y plus has two policemen on rotation for security and one (plus four on rotation) for residence security; Z has six gunmen for mobile security and two (plus eight) for residence security; Z plus has 10 security personnel for mobile security and two (plus eight) for residence security.
There are various kinds of cover within these levels. These include security of residence, mobile security, office security and inter-state security. Different VIPs are given different kinds of cover depending on threat perception. For example, if the Chhattisgarh CM is assessed to be facing a threat from Maoists only in his state, the Centre may chose to give him residence and mobile security only in his state, and appropriate security by the concerned state police when he travels out. Similarly, some may have a threat only when they travel, so they are given an escort force.
Then, different forces may be engaged for residence and mobile security. Many protectees get residence security from state police and mobile security from a Central Armed Police Force (CAPF).
Who are SPG? Whom do they protect?
The SPG is a force raised specifically for the protection of the PM, former PMs and their immediate family. The force is currently 3,000 strong and protects only four people —PM Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi.
The elite force is highly trained in physical efficiency, marksmanship, combat and proximate protection tactics and is assisted by all central and state agencies to ensure foolproof security. SPG Special Agents assigned to the PM security detail wear black, Western-style formal business suits, with sunglasses, and carry a two-way encrypted communication earpiece, and concealed handguns. They wear safari suits on occasions.
Then there are special operations commandos who carry ultra-modern assault rifles, and wear dark-visor sunglasses with inbuilt communication earpieces, bulletproof vests, gloves and elbow/knee pads.
The SPG was raised in 1985 in the wake of the killing of PM Indira Gandhi in 1984. Earlier, Delhi police (before 1981) and Special Task Force (raised by the Intelligence Bureau in 1981) provided residence and proximate security to the PM.
Following Indira Gandhi’s killing, a review committee of secretaries recommended formation of a special group under a designated officer and for STF to provide immediate security cover both in New Delhi and outside as a short-term measure.
In 1985, the Birbal Nath Committee set up by the Home Ministry recommended raising a Special Protection Unit (SPU), and 819 posts were created under the Cabinet Secretariat. The SPU was then re-christened SPG and the post of Inspector General of Police was re-designated as director.
For three years , SPG functioned under executive orders. In 1988, Parliament passed the SPG Act. Then, the Act did not include former prime ministers. When V P Singh came to power in 1989, his government withdrew SPG protection given to his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi. After Rajiv’s assassination in 1991, Singh faced much criticism and the SPG Act was amended to offer protection to all former PMs and their families for at least 10 years.
In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government again amended the SPG Act to bring the period of automatic protection down from 10 years to “a period of one year from the date on which the former prime minister ceased to hold office” and beyond one year based on the level of threat as decided by the government. During the Vajpayee regime, the SPG cover of former PMs such as H D Deve Gowda, I K Gujaral and P V Narasimha Rao were withdrawn.
Vajpayee himself enjoyed SPG protection until his death last year. Under the current SPG Act, family members of an incumbent or former PM can decline security cover. Manmohan Singh’s daughters declined SPG cover after his tenure ended.
And who are the National Security Guard?
The NSG was founded as a special commando unit for surgical strikes against organised terrorist attacks within the country. It was envisaged in the wake of high casualties and damage during Operation Blue Star in 1984.
According to NSG’s website, it is a “Federal Contingency World Class Zero Error Force” to deal with terrorism. It says it is a force “specially trained and equipped to deal with specific situations and therefore to be used only in exceptional circumstances to thwart serious acts of terrorism”.
Yet its mandate of the force has been diluted over the years with the burden of VIP security. NSG has two groups of personnel and officers: Special Action Group (SAG) and Special Ranger Group (SRG). SAG is drawn from the Army and focuses on counter-terror training and action; SRG is used for VIP security.
NSG personnel have always been in high demand among politicians. The force has often argued that Black Cat commandos, as NSG personnel are popularly known on account of their combat dress, has become a status symbol and the government must take it off VIP security duties. That has not happened. NSG is not a protection unit; its core ability is in handling terror, hijacking etc.
How do these protection levels compare with VIP protection in other countries?
In the US, the security of the President and his family is handled by the Secret Service, which also looks after the safety of the vice president, his immediate family, former presidents, their spouses, and their minor children under age 16. It also provides security to major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses, and foreign heads of state; security for the White House, the Treasury Department building, the vice president’s residence, and foreign diplomatic missions in Washington, DC.
In the UK, VIP security, including of the PM, is handled by the Protection Command under London’s Metropolitan Police Service. It has two branches: Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP), providing protection to the Royal Family, the PM and government officials, and Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP), providing security to government buildings, officials and diplomats.