After withdrawing the Special Protection Group (SPG) cover from the Gandhis, the Centre has decided to completely remove National Security Guard (NSG) commandos from the task of providing security to VIPs, official sources said.
The NSG is a counter-terrorism establishment under the Ministry of Home Affairs that was brought into force in 1984 after the Akshardham temple attack and the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The force provides proximate and mobile security cover commandos, armed with sophisticated assault weapons under the top Z+ category, to 13 high-risk VIPs that entails about two dozen personnel for each one of them.
The removal of NSG commandos from VIP protection duties is being done after over three decades of the counter-terror force’s establishment. The task was originally not charted for the NSG when the force was conceptualised and raised in 1984.
Officials in the security establishment said that the protection duties of NSG, which include giving security to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, will soon be transferred to paramilitary forces.
The other NSG protectees include former chief ministers Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Chandrababu Naidu, Parkash Singh Badal, Farooq Abdullah, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and BJP leader and former deputy prime minister LK Advani.
Official sources said the Union Home Ministry “is of the view” that the National Security Guard (NSG) should concentrate on its original charter of handling specific tasks of counter-terrorist and anti-hijack operations and that the task of securing high-risk VIPs was proving to be a “burden” on its limited and special capabilities.
“The NSG needs to go back to its original mandate of counter-terror and anti-hijack duties. That is the reason behind the latest move,” a senior official in the security establishment said.
The removal of VIP security duties from the NSG will result in freeing about 450 commandos, who will be used to enhance fighting components of the force that is spread across five hubs in the country and the main garrison in Gurugram near Delhi, officials said.
As per a plan being worked out, the security of the VIPs under NSG cover could be handed over to paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which already provide security to about 130 prominent persons jointly.
The CRPF was recently handed over the security of five ex-SPG protectees – former prime minister Manmohan Singh and his wife and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Priyanka and Rahul, as well as Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.
The CRPF is well suited for handling the new task, officials said. The CISF protects VIPs like NSA Ajit Doval and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat among others, they added.
The plan to relieve NSG from VIP security tasks has been in the making since 2012 when NSG commanders foresaw an event where simultaneous terror attacks could be witnessed at one time in multiple centres across the country, and the commandos will have to be rushed in different directions.
“The 26/11 Mumbai attack involved some 400 NSG commandos over three days. Considering we have multiple terror hits at one go, NSG needs to have a good number of fighting commandos and some in the strike reserves to replace them,” a senior official had then said.
After a major security review by the Modi 2.0 government in July last year, 1,300 commandos had been removed from VIP protection duties as the Centre removed or scaled down the security cover of as many as 350 politicians and former and present lawmakers.
The charter of the elite force states that it is a combat unit “specially equipped and trained to deal with specific situations and is, therefore, to be used only in exceptional circumstances to thwart serious acts of terrorism.”
(With inputs from agencies)