Days after the Gandhi family was stripped of SPG cover, the government on Monday introduced a Bill that will not only deprive immediate families of Prime Ministers of security — unless they stay in the official residence — but also restrict the cover to former PMs and their families to five years.
The Special Protection Group (SPG) (Amendment) Bill proposes to also rescind protection provided to family members of former PMs soon as they lose the SPG cover.
The Bill says SPG will provide security to “the Prime Minister and members of his immediate family residing with him at his official residence; and any former Prime Minister and such members of his immediate family as are residing with him at the residence allotted to him, for a period of five years from the date he ceases to hold office of Prime Minister.”
In the existing law, the provision concerned limits itself to protection for “immediate family members” and does not speak about where they should reside. It also guarantees protection for only one year after demitting office, and then continuation of the SPG cover beyond that period based on threat perception reports given by central intelligence agencies.
The Bill, in that sense, guarantees SPG protection to former PMs for five years.
The other amendment proposed relates to withdrawal of SPG security from a former PM and his/her family. The Bill says, “Where the proximate security is withdrawn from a former Prime Minister, such proximate security shall also stand withdrawn from members of immediate family of such Prime Minister.”
The existing Act has the same provision but adds that the family members may continue to enjoy SPG security in case there is threat to their life. In that sense, the proposed legislation does away with SPG cover to family members irrespective of the threat perception.
The state of objective attached to the Bill states: “In the Act, there is no cut off period for providing SPG protection to former Prime Ministers or members of their immediate families. Thus, the number of individuals to be provided SPG cover can potentially become quite large. In such a scenario, there can be severe constraint on resources, training and related infrastructure of SPG. This can also impact the effectiveness of SPG in providing adequate cover to the principle protectee, the Prime Minister in office.”
It argues that the Bill is being amended “to focus on core mandate, as the security of the Prime Minister…is of paramount importance for Government, governance and national security.”
It states that the amendments assume “special significance in the given geo-political context of the country, its hostile neighbourhood and the multi-layered dimensions of threat the country is exposed to.”
According to the Bill, the Special Protection Group Act, I988, was enacted to provide for constitution and regulation of SPG as an armed force of the Union for providing proximate security to the Prime Minister and his/her immediate family members. The Act was amended in I991, I994, 1999 and 2003 to extend SPG cover to former Prime Ministers and their immediate family members also, for different periods from demitting office of the Prime Minister.
The SPG was set up in 1985, after assassination of Indira Gandhi the year before. Parliament passed the SPG Act in 1988, dedicating the group to protecting the Prime Minister. At the time, the Act did not include former PMs or family members. The V P Singh government withdrew SPG protection given to his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi.
After Rajiv’s assassination in 1991, the law was amended to offer SPG protection to all former PMs and their families for at least 10 years.