New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has decided to withdraw the Special Protection Group (SPG) from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s security detail.
The force, consisting of 3000 officers, is meant for the protection of the Prime Minister, former Prime Ministers and their families. The Hindu reported Monday that the decision has been communicated to the former prime minister orally.
The Ministry if Home Affairs has said Singh “continues to have Z+ security cover”.
ThePrint explains what the Special Protection Group (SPG) cover means, and why its removal from Manmohan Singh’s security detail is of relevance.
What the Special Protection Group Act says
The Special Protection Group (SPG) was set up in 1985 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi. The SPG Act was enacted by Parliament in 1988. Initially, the Act did not include protection to former prime ministers and their families. In 1989, when V.P. Singh became the prime minister, his government removed SPG protection from outgoing PM Rajiv Gandhi’s security detail. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 and that triggered an amendment to the SPG Act to include protection to all former PMs and their families for a minimum period of 10 years.
In 1999, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government decided to conduct a thorough review of the SPG’s operations, and withdrew protection from former prime ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda, and I.K. Gujral. The Vajpayee government, in 2003, went ahead and amended the SPG Act, and reduced the period of protection to former PMs from a minimum of 10 years to a period of one year, which can be extended following a review of the threat level.
The amended Act reads: “There shall be an armed force of the Union called the Special Protection Group for providing proximate security to: the Prime Minister and the members of his immediate family; and any former Prime Minister or to the members of his immediate family: for a period of one year from the date on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office and beyond one year based on the level of threat as decided by the Central Government, so however that not more than twelve months shall elapse between two consecutive assessments made in regard to the need for proximate security: Provided that while deciding the level of threat, the Central Government shall take into account, among other things, the following factors, namely: that the threat emanates from any militant or terrorist organisation or any other source; and that the threat is of a grave and continuing nature; on their visits abroad, based on entitlement to proximate security and the level of threat as assessed by the Central Government.”
An expensive security cover
The central government can annually review and assess the level and nature of threat faced by an individual under SPG protection. Interestingly, former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who demitted office in 2004, had SPG protection — under both the UPA and the NDA governments — until he passed away in 2018.
It has been reported that the then UPA government spent Rs 1,800 crore to protect members of the Gandhi family, Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 2004 and 2013.
The current government increased the budget allocation for the SPG to Rs 535 crore in 2019-20, from Rs 411.68 crore in the previous fiscal.
Why is the removal of SPG cover controversial?
Till now, the SPG cover was extended to only six people in India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former PM Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, and Congress leaders and slain former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s family members — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Singh’s daughters were also eligible for the cover as the family of a former PM, but they voluntarily gave it up in 2014.
The Act states, “Any former Prime Minister or any member of the immediate family of the Prime Minister or of a former Prime Minister may decline proximate security.”
On May 25 this year, the government reportedly decided to not renew Manmohan Singh’s SPG cover and ordered a three-month review process, which ended Sunday.
Z-plus security for Manmohan Singh
The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed Monday that Manmohan Singh will be provided with Z+ security. “The current security cover review is a periodical and professional exercise based on threat perception that is purely based on professional assessment by security agencies. Dr. Manmohan Singh continues to have a Z+ security cover,” a statement from the ministry said.
A Z+ security involves 55 security officers from the CRPF, ITBP and 10 NSG commandos along with the local police. It consists of escort vehicles as well. On the other hand, SPG is trained as per the guidelines of the Secret Service of America and are equipped with modern weapons such as the FNF-2000 Assault Rifle, Automatic Gun and 17 M revolvers.
An annual professional exercise
A retired SPG official told ThePrint that it is a “professional exercise” to review the threat perception annually and then take a decision to either keep the SPG cover or withdraw it.
“It will be wrong to say that the security cover was taken away without proper analysis. It is a yearly exercise and all stakeholders are consulted before taking such a decision. In the last five years, since PM Manmohan Singh left office in 2014, the threat perception analysis was done for him annually and the SPG protection renewed accordingly,” he said.
“This time the government may have not felt the need to extend it, so it was withdrawn,” he added.
A former SPG director said the annual review of the cover is done based on the guidelines of the Act. “The SPG security cover is renewed, only if found absolutely necessary. The committee that may have sat down to study the threat perception for the former PM, would have concluded that it is not needed, so it was withdrawn,” he said.
(With inputs from Ananya Bhardwaj)