December 18, 2014
Filed by Times of India on December 18, 2014
To effectively counter terror activities mounted by Pakistan from Nepal, home ministry is working on a proposal to double the strength of the intelligence wing of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) [literally, “Armed Border Force”, one of India's Central Armed Police Forces] and give it state-of-the-art technical intelligence tools. SSB, which guards the porous Nepal and Bhutan borders with India, is the only paramilitary unit to have a full-fledged intelligence wing.
Sources said the idea is to shore up SSB's capabilities to effectively guard entry of ISI-backed terrorists and monitor the activity of the Pak spy agency in fast mushrooming madrasas on the border. It would also help the force counter activities of northeast insurgents on the Bhutan border.
In addition to this, the SSB is also introducing non-lethal weapons among the troops in a big way and a proposal is in the works. Sources argue that since Bhutan and Nepal are friendly countries use of lethal weapons is not recommended and this emboldens smugglers and militants who know they would not be fired upon unless forces are challenged. Non-lethal weapons, conversely, can prove more effective as a deterrent.
SSB director general B D Sharma said, "Intelligence is our biggest weapon when it comes to securing the open and porous borders with Nepal and Bhutan. These are sensitive borders. We have sent to the government a proposal in this regard as we seek to revamp our snooping infrastructure."
"We want to excel in intelligence-related works because at these two unfenced frontiers it is only 'good information' that can help secure the area from illegal elements," he said.
Sharma said the government has accorded the 70,000 personnel-strong SSB a Rs 658 crore modernization budget which the force is utilizing to procure surveillance equipment and other gadgets and weapons.
SSB officials elaborated that under the intelligence revamp proposal, the force wants to double the number of its personnel designated for this job and it wants to procure a number of gadgets that provide technical snoop data with the help of imagery and biometrics.
However, increased vigil on the border is also annoying VIPs in Nepal. Sharma said added security measures along the Nepal border has also led to complaints from the leaders and VIPs on the other side as he got communications from "MPs and other important people from Nepal who say they were being frisked or stopped by SSB troops before entering India".
"People on both the sides have to get used to frisking and other security drills. We cannot compromise on security," he said.
The "snoop" wing of the force, designated as the lead agency on these two borders, has an estimated 4,000 people. The force, the DG said, will also send a proposal to the home ministry soon with an intention to acquire non-lethal weapons to be deployed along these two borders, on line similar to what BSF does along the Bangladesh frontier.
"There are numerous benefits of having non-lethal weapons on these borders as this would better allow our troopers to deal with illegal elements active here. Being an open border, it is not always advisable for our troops to use their standard weapons which are lethal in nature," he said.
The DG also said that the force, along with its counterpart paramilitary in Nepal, has also decided to strengthen mechanisms to curb instances of human trafficking along the 1,751 km Indo-Nepal border.
Sharma said illegal smuggling of narcotics along Nepal border is a real challenge for his troops as he conceded that the force was "not able to catch everything" that was being transported across this frontier.
He said the force has initiated some new steps to increase vigil along the Nepal border by operationalizing five helpline numbers in Ranikhet, Patna, Guwahati, Lucknow and Siliguri which can be used by the public to inform it about any smuggling or illegal activities in the border areas.
SSB will also enhance the number of its border posts along Nepal from the current 470 to 539 and along Bhutan from the current 150 to 195 by the year 2016. It will also raise six more battalions (1,000 personnel in each) by 2018.
The DG said the force has sought approval of the home ministry to begin an annual exchange and meeting of its top brass with the Royal Bhutan Police as is prevalent with its Nepalese counterparts. India shares a 699-km border with Bhutan.
The DG said illegal operatives along the Bhutan border are functioning from camps on the Indian side and they take benefit of the dense jungles and difficult terrain to carry out their activities.