We often hear voices of protest about the public inconvenience caused by the extensive security cover for those who enjoy state protection. Last month, eminent jurist Harish Salve urged the Supreme Court to intervene to reduce the inconvenience caused by VIP motorcades, which hold up traffic. Public anger surged again after the gangrape of a 23-year-old in a moving bus in Delhi. The refrain was that security for politicians and bureaucrats had eaten into meagre police resources, at the cost of basic policing.
Let’s look at the genesis of the problem. The assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 was a watershed for the VIP security systems in our country. The archaic “Blue Book” containing rules and guidelines for the protection of the prime minister was found wanting, especially given the heightened threat perception from various terrorist groups at the time. Rattled by the assassination, the country’s security establishment went into overdrive. Thus was born the Special Protection Group (SPG), more or less replicating the US Secret Service. The threat from terrorists extended to all those who had played a role in fighting them. Therefore, the need was felt to protect them too. This gave birth to the X, Y, Z categories ( Z+ was added later) of protected persons. The guidelines were compiled in a booklet and issued by the ministry of home affairs to all state governments and police forces. This came to be called the “Yellow Book”. It also spelt out the philosophy behind providing security to certain individuals who faced a threat from terrorists, either by virtue of the office they held or by their involvement in the state’s counter-terrorism operations.
Over the years, the system of providing security to individuals by the police degenerated, more in the states than at the Centre, into the distribution of political patronage by chief ministers, who more often than not, also held the home portfolios. The abuse of this system has reached such depths in certain states that personal security officers (PSOs) are known to have committed crimes like kidnapping and extortion at the behest of their protectees. The recent double murder of the Chadha brothers in a farm house in the capital bears testimony to this ugly phenomenon.
The Yellow Book also provides for a periodic review of state protectees by state and Central agencies. The idea was to keep the number of persons enjoying state protection to a minimum, strictly in conformity with the level of threat faced by each. Such meetings, I am sure, are being held, and the exercise is being gone through mostly at a professional level. But the final orders in such matters are issued by the respective home departments, which continue to merrily add to the lists at the bidding of their political masters.
Our approach to VIP security also needs to shift from a numerical to a qualitative response. Instead of a large posse of over-visible Black Cat commandos and the like surrounding the protected persons, only plain clothes PSOs with concealed small arms should be deployed. More emphasis needs to be laid on creating clusters of secure locations, rather than on providing security on an individual basis. Here, the government will have to overcome the resistance likely to be encountered from large sections of our leadership, which unfortunately sees the number of armed commandos/policemen surrounding them at public functions as a status symbol.
In many countries, the arrangements are made in a much less obtrusive manner and designed to cause minimum inconvenience to other road users. In London and New York, the stopping of traffic is momentary, managed dexterously by leap-frogging motorcycle police outriders. But will this work in the chaotic traffic conditions on the roads of our national capital?
While the legislative leadership continued to swell the number of protected persons, the higher judiciary did not help. Sometime in the mid-1990s, the members of our apex court passed a resolution that the government should provide adequate security to each one of them. Instead of explaining to the higher judiciary that security is provided on the basis of threat assessment and that such a step would lead to a depletion in the strength of the capital’s police force to the detriment of the law and order situation, the government gave in and decided to provide Y category security to all sitting judges of the Supreme Court, whether they faced a threat from terrorists or not. The higher judiciary having shown the way, the lower judiciary followed suit.
Given the persisting anger over the recent rape in the capital, should we expect a change in the mindset of our political masters in this critical area affecting the security of the common man? The public expressions of sorrow and promises of drastic steps to improve law and order made by our leaders need to be translated into action. This includes giving up some of the undue privileges they have enjoyed so far.
The writer is former secretary, internal security, ministry of home affairs