The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) is effectively using IT applications to prepare people along the borders against any possible aggression and enhance communication within the force, says Banshi Dhar Sharma, the Director General, in conversation with Souvik Goswami of Elets News Network (ENN)
Give us a brief history and evolution of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
The Sashastra Seema Bal is a border guarding force under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. It is a special force created in 1963, in the aftermath of Chinese attack on India. Initially, it was known as the Special Service Bureau. The idea behind its creation was to prepare the populations along the borders (all over the northern and north-eastern border), so as to enable them to fight any future aggression better. In the process, we cultivated the beautiful culture of working along with the local people. Various activities, such as civic action programme, including initiatives to empower the border populations and providing them training in various defence activities, were started by us. SSB also focused on integration of the border area population with the mainstream of the country effectively in regions like Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. In these areas, SSB is still loved by the population for its role.
Pursuant to the recommendations of the Group of Ministers on reforming the National Security System, SSB was declared a border guarding force and Lead Intelligence Agency (LIA) for Indo-Nepal border (in January 2001) and for Indo-Bhutan border (in March 2004). SSB saw a shift from its traditional role to a border guarding force. As common people by then knew us as ‘SSB’ better, the acronym was retained and it was renamed as Sashastra Seema Bal.
As most of the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan bordering areas are quite porous, what is SSB’s modus operandi to tackle problems in these areas?
As I said, the main objective and mission of SSB are to promote a sense of security among the people living along borders, to prevent trans-border crimes and unauthorised entry into or exit from the territory of India, and to prevent smuggling and other illegal activities. But, as you know both the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders are quite open and in fact, in some areas, there is no marked border, guarding these borders is a challenging task.
In these areas, people are not used to checking and frisking, which also makes it easy for the forces inimical to our country to carry out all kinds of anti-India activities there. So, we cannot be complacent, but have to be vigilant. Moreover, we cannot use firearms because of the special nature of these borders and the friendly relations among the peoples of India, Nepal and Bhutan.
SSB has kept pace with the growing IT culture and evolved itself accordingly. The major IT initiatives undertaken so far include:
- Connecting units up to border outposts (BOPs) through Wide Area Network (WAN) for seamless transmission of video/voice/data.
- Personnel Information Management System (PIMS) has been implemented in SSB with updated information of each employee.
- e-Service books can be accessed by all force personnel through WAN.
- A centralised payroll software is being used to manage the salaries of the personnel through central database at the force’s headquarters.
- e-Payslips are available to the force personnel on WAN.
- Inventory management for all provisioning items has been issued to the force personnel. The system keeps track of the quantity of items in stock, etc.
- Intelligence analytics software, ‘PRAGYA’ takes care of submission of daily intelligence reports, their consolidation and analysis and generation of monthly reports etc.
- e-Surveillance is being managed through CCTV cameras at Trade/Transit points along the border.
- e-Recruitment has been initiated to bring transparency in the recruitment system and to minimise the human error angle during physical efficiency test and others.
Also, an IT training centre was established at Faridabad in 2006 for imparting training to the force’s personnel and its sister agencies.
What are the proposed initiatives of SSB in the field of IT?
The MHA has envisioned an ICT roadmap. Its aim is to enable an IT-secured environment in a phased manner by providing real-time information access and availability across locations to improve operational planning of the force, and enhance management of inventory, human resources and finance for informed decision-making through advanced and innovative technologies in an integrated and comprehensive manner.
How is your organisation tackling the problem of cyber security?
The IT infrastructure is under a continuous threat from the cyber world. It gains all the more importance since most of the information about the force and its personnel/ deployment is available through our application software. Therefore, care has to be taken while selecting the media and hardware for WAN. We are also working on the issue in conjunction with National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NClIPC).
Please share your vision for Sashastra Seema Bal.
I want SSB to emerge as a futuristic organisation. My personal opinion is that the world over, physical borders are gradually disappearing or getting more and more relaxed. In Indian subcontinent also, except the India-Pakistan border, other borders are relaxed ones, though the Indo- Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh borders are porous. In this context, SSB is preparing itself to meet the challenges of ensuring nation’s security on the Nepal and Bhutan border. And our main weapon will be effective intelligence. We have to use this weapon constantly and continuously.
I want SSB to create its own niche in securing porous and open borders, which can become a model for other border guarding forces across the world.