Director General, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)
“The goal of the SSB is to not only guard the nation’s frontiers, but also to bring the border population closer to the heart of the nation,” says Arun Chaudhary
What is the mandate of the Sashastra Seema Bal? What work Sashastra Seema Bal is doing?
It was in early 1963 in the wake of Indo- China conflict of 1962 that the SSB was set up. Earlier SSB was deployed in NEFA, North Assam, North Bengal, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, parts of Punjab, and in the Ladakh area of Jammu & Kashmir. Now deployment has been further extended to Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura, Mizoram, Rajasthan, parts of West Bengal, and Gujarat. The basic mandate of SSB in the present form is to guard the borders of Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan. We are here to ensure that nobody sneaks in from these borders and cause harm to our national security.
India has good relation with Nepal, people come and go, so kind of monitoring that is being done in Nepal border would be different from monitoring that is being done in our borders with some other countries. What kinds of special training is being provided to the personnel of SSB?
After the Kargil War, it was decided that the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders, which were not manned earlier, have become very active. Malicious elements were using these borders to gain an easy entry into our country. Many cases have come to light when arms and ammunitions have been smuggled into the country through these porous borders. So after the Kargil War, the Group of Ministers gave SSB the new mandate of managing the borders of Nepal and Bhutan. Now both Nepal and Bhutan are very friendly countries, we have excellent relationship with them as far as their governments are concerned. We have excellent relations with the people of these countries living in the border areas. The SSB people have got the training to manage the border population. Our men are able to intermingle with the locals to gather local intelligence and to ensure that there are no subversion activities in the border areas. We are here to inculcate a sense of security and spirit of resistance in border population. We work for promotion of national awareness and security consciousness. We are devoted to organising and preparing border population to resist enemy. What we insist in our training is that we have to be present there in such a way that we are able to provide unobtrusive type of security so that the people’s natural activity is not hindered in anyway.
Can you provide us with some insight into the actual training that is being provided to anyone joining the SSB?
There are two or three tiers in the training that we give. The first tier is the basic recruit training or the preliminary training. Whenever a person enters the force at the level of constable, subinspector and even at the level of assistant commandant, who are gazette officers appointed by UPSC, they have to go through the basic training. The primary focus of the basic training is to inculcate a sense of discipline in the candidates. He is also trained in the usage of arms. He is taught about the law of the land, about the laws under which he has to work. Apart from all this, the SSB also lays emphasis on various aspects of intelligence collection, intelligence generation. The ways of generating intelligence wherever we are working is also taught. The personnel have to be taught about the diverse problems that are being faced by the people residing in the border areas, so that they can better understand the local people, amongst whom they have to work. We are also emphasising on community development programmes. It is a matter of pride for us that our doctors are very popular in the border areas. We are providing both doctors and veterinary doctors in the border areas. People arrive in quite big numbers and with our limited resources we are able to provide them with the best possible treatment.
What is the total strength of SSB as of now?
It is around 70,000, but the strength of the force will go up to 82,000. The SSB is divided into battalions. Currently we have around 48 battalions and some reserved battalions. The reserved battalions have been created in other forces also, so that the Government of India can use them during the time of elections and also for combating internal security problems and dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. We are now moving three battalions in the Naxalite-infected areas and five battalions in the Jammu & Kashmir region. Very recently after the problems erupted in Assam, we have rushed two battalions there.
Can you tell us about the technology and systems that are being used in SSB for better communication?
There are two aspects of using this kind of technologies – one is surveillance and the other is communication. How fast we can communicate with the border outposts, what could be the response of the border outpost to an incident, which has happened in and out of the AOR (Area of Responsibility). Mandated AOR of the SSB is 15 kms from the border. In the vicinity of 15 kms, the SSB is authorised to take action against any anti-national elements who are indulging in human trafficking, in arms smuggling, in drug pedalling and other such anti-national activities. We try our best to prevent anti-national forces from operating, and once we capture anyone, we turn them over to the local police, or to the customs, and in case of drugs-related crimes we turn the suspects over to the NIA. The thing is that we have a very close association with the other organisations, which are doing part of the job as far as border revenue activity is concerned. The SSB is also contributing to the welfare of the border areas by helping in the creation of infrastructure.
Please tell us about the initiatives you are taking for creation of roads and other assets?
We are building roads and small bridges for helping people in the border areas. For girls and boys, we have started fitness training programmes. Such programmes have become very popular with the border population. Human trafficking is the big problem on the Indo-Nepal border and we are very conscious of that. We are trying to solve this problem through better patrolling of the border areas and by involving local NGOs that are active in this area. It has often been seen that the railway stations become the hub of human trafficking, so we are trying work with railway officials to prevent human traffickers from operating. We are being well received in all parts of the country. Recently, I went to the border areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There people came up to me and told me that the presence of SSB has brought a sense of security into their lives. Due to the SSB, they are able to sleep peacefully at night.
You are also providing some of healthcare facilities in these areas. Tell us about it.
With our limited resource of doctors and veterinary doctors, we hold healthcare camps in villages. Here we provide OPD kind of healthcare services to the people. We also look after the cattle and suggest the kind of vaccination that will be effective. If we have the vaccination, we provide it to the villager. I would also like to point out the Indian Border Area Development Program launched by the Government of India. We are participating in this programme and handling quite a few village level projects. We are also providing solar lamps to the people in border areas, where the electricity supply is not good. We have distributed computers, sewing machines, sports material and much else to the villages. The goal of the SSB is to not only guard the nation’s frontiers, but also to bring the border
population closer to the heart of the nation.