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Know Your Paramilitary | Part 5: SSB – India’s Vigilant Protectors on the Borders of Nepal and Bhutan

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After the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Indian government felt the need for a force that could mingle with civilians but function as an intelligence-gathering machine. The Special Services Bureau, now Sashastra Seema Bal, was born to lend a hand to India’s national intelligence agency. But now the force, which numbers almost 1 lakh jawan, is mainly tasked with guarding two borders: Nepal and Bhutan. The change of role took place after the Kargil War when the government decided to have a “one border, one force” concept.

After the Kargil War, the SSB was declared a border guard force under the Ministry of Interior and renamed Sashastra Seema Bal on 15 December 2003. It was tasked with guarding the Indo-Nepal border and after a year got the additional responsibility of securing the Indo-Bhutanese border also became the lead intelligence agency for that border. The SSB is now spread along the international border across Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Story

After the conflict with China in 1962, the Indian government felt that the borders also needed unarmed soldiers who would help the armed forces in case of movement on the enemy side. The Special Services Bureau (now Sashastra Seema Bal) was planned in November 1962 and officially established after four months with the main objective of having “total security readiness” in the border areas.

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The Special Services Bureau was initially launched in a few states including Assam, North Bengal, hill districts of Uttar Pradesh (which later became Uttarakhand), Himachal Pradesh, parts of Punjab and the Ladakh region of the then state of Jammu and Kashmir. Due to its success in border areas, SSB jurisdiction has been extended to Manipur, Tripura, Jammu, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Rajasthan, South Bengal, Nagaland and Mizoram.

The SSB was tasked with covering a population of nearly 6 million people living in 80,000 villages spread over 9,917 kilometers. These areas were cut into divisions which were further separated into zones and sub-zones, followed by circles. The SSB in its early days had 10 divisions each headed by a divisional commissioner, 49 areas run by area organizers, 117 sub-areas run by sub-area organizers, and 287 circles overseen by circle organizers. For combat, he also had two dozen battalions that were used to train volunteers in arms. The SSB has also opened various training centers to train these volunteers.

By 1990, the force had seven major training centers and seven advanced women’s training schools. Training was provided to the border population located in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, parts of J&K, UP, North Assam, North Bengal and South Bengal. The inhabitants were trained in the use of small arms as a process of self-defense during war situations or any attack. These volunteers also worked as the eyes and ears of the SSB.

But, after the Kargil war, the Indian government decided to change its border policy and finalized a plan based on “one force, one border”.

In 2001, the SSB was transferred from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) to the direct control of the Home Office. The force changed its main task and was deployed to guard the borders of Nepal and Bhutan. It was renamed Sashastra Seema Bal and became the newest paramilitary outfit.

With the change in role, the SSB was also declared the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and became the primary intelligence agency for the Indo-Nepal border in June 2001. The force was also tasked with guarding the Indo-Nepal border. Bhutanese stretching for 699 km in states like Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. He also decided to recruit women for his battalion for the first time in a central armed police force.

Stories of Valor

Due to the deployment of force in various sensitive areas, SSB jawans have been awarded many medals including Kirti Chakra, Shaurya Chakra, etc.

In 2009, as Assam faced tensions from the insurgency, the SSB played an important role. On April 9 of that year, an SSB team was heading towards Kalachand, where troops from another battalion were stationed. Their vehicle was ambushed and fired on either side of the road. Sub-Inspector (General Duty) or SI (GD) Bhupal Singh and his teammates fought off the insurgents and repelled the attack.

At first, the SSB used to develop volunteers in various border areas to gather intelligence. This strategy greatly helped the force. The SSB played an important role in bringing the insurgents to surrender. A Mizo gang in the late 1970s surrendered after the force intervened. It was the largest such Mizo gang at the time, led by Demkhosei Gangte, a so-called political adviser to the Mizo National Front. The gang included 53 other hardened Mizo rebels who carried sophisticated weaponry.

The SSB also played an important role during the Kargil War. His field officers were tasked with providing intelligence on enemies who were in contact with the locals.

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The force also eliminated Naxal commanders and various insurgents. In 2016, the SSB rescued 59 child victims of trafficking from Bihar and taken to Mumbai.

Budget

The SSB has been allocated Rs 7653.73 crore for the year 2022-23. In recent years, the government has increased the budget for the force as it is deployed in some strategic locations in Arunachal Pradesh.

Strength and structure

A senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer at Director General level leads the force, which has nearly a lakh staff. The DG oversees all Inspectors General (IGs) and an additional Director General grade officer. The force has various departments, including operations and intelligence, personnel and training, administration, etc., which work under IG level officers. The force is also divided into borders, which are Ranikhet, Lucknow, Patna, Siliguri, Guwahati and Tezpur, which also work under IG level officers. The SSB has 16 IGs and an ADG who work under the DG. The force from 1968 to 1972 had also worked under an IAS officer. In 2016, the SSB experienced a historic moment when, for the first time, a female senior IPS officer took charge of a central armed police force. Archana Ramasundram was DG SSB for almost a year.

Training

SSB jawans receive training in a variety of fields, including guerrilla warfare, counterinsurgency, intelligence, jungle and snow survival, and more. The force has one of the oldest training centers for jawans as well as civilian cadres. The SSB has an intelligence learning center in Delhi, as well as for jawans and officers.

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