2,000 SSB staffers to go to IB; Govt nod to border snoop plan
New Delhi: Over 2,000 personnel of a "dying" paramilitary cadre will be "transferred" to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to boost the on-ground presence of the agency on the eastern borders, where India is bolstering its defences by building roads and other military infrastructure. A total of 2,765 posts of the civilian cadre of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) will be shifted to the IB command over the next year. Of these posts, 2,039 are operational.
"The civil wing of the SSB should be transferred to the IB lock, stock and barrel, including land, physical infrastructure, equipment among others," a government blueprint said.
A top security official privy to the "ambitious" plan said a 300-page proposal for the transfer of the assets -- both manpower and infrastructure -- had been prepared at the SSB headquarters here and had been vetted by the home ministry and the office of the national security advisor (NSA) for final implementation. He added that the manpower of the civil wing of the SSB, which is termed as "dying" as it does not have promotional and work avenues, would be deployed to bolster the IB's presence in the eastern border areas, where these officials have worked for long.
The average age of the cadre, the official said, was above 50 years and the personnel had done a lot of work with the people living along the Nepal and Bhutan borders.
They not only helped them integrate with the mainstream, but also acted as the "eyes and ears" of the SSB, the designated lead intelligence agency on the two borders.
The cadre was first raised in 1963, in the aftermath of the Chinese aggression of the previous year, to work in the border areas and promote a sense of national belonging and pro-India feelings among the local population.
It worked under the external intelligence agency -- Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) -- till 2001, under the name Special Service Bureau.
The name of the force was changed to Sashastra Seema Bal in 2003, following the 1999 Kargil conflict. It was then tasked with guarding the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders on the country's eastern flank. "The transfer of the civilian SSB cadre will begin once the long-awaited cadre restructuring of the force is approved and implemented. All this will take about a year to take shape," the official said.
The blueprint envisages that once these officials are transferred to the IB, they will be "utilised for different activities related to intelligence, keeping in view the expertise and proficiency of the incumbents".
"These personnel have only been doing civic action work and publicity of government schemes in the far-flung border areas and anti-Naxal operation zones for close to two decades now. "After the SSB was declared an armed force of the Union in 2001, they became a dying cadre as they were not uniformed personnel. Now, their experience and knowledge of the locals, languages and natural features of the border areas will be used to aid the hardcore intelligence work of the IB," the official said.
He added that as per the blueprint, the cadre, after the proposed transfer, "will be treated at par with the IB employees" and some of them might even be retained post retirement considering their expertise and knowledge of the field areas.
The cadre, for the last over 50 years, has been working in insurgency-hit areas along the border and Naxal-hit states, undertaking civic welfare programmes such as teaching children in schools, conducting medical camps and organising vocational training courses.
The men and women of this cadre were seen as fast losing their sheen as they were not getting timely promotions and could not opt for combat posts as their physical fitness did not allow them to perform arduous tasks and their recruitment rules were different from those of the uniformed staffers.
The SSB, with a strength of about 70,000 personnel, has been guarding the 1,751-km Indo-Nepal border since 2001 and the 699-km Indo-Bhutan border since 2004. It is deployed along the international border in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, with many of its posts located close to the Sino-India border.