Secure and Afloat

BSF to get six floating BOPs for the Bangladesh border and three for Gujarat

Dilip Kumar Mekala

On April 30, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said that the government has sanctioned six floating Border Out Posts (BOPs) for the Sunderbans area on Bangladesh border, and three for Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. Singh was inaugurating a Border Security Force (BSF) seminar on border management. He said that secure borders are integral to India’s development and appreciated the BSF’s efforts in guarding not only the land borders but also the riverine and coastal borders along Bangladesh and Gujarat. He assured the BSF of the government’s commitment to provide the force with latest weaponry and equipment.

BSF’s floating border outpost in Sunderban area
BSF’s floating border outpost in Sunderban area

The BSF is the first Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) which has its own water and air wing. Even Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) recently came up with its water wing that operates in Pangong Lake and Indus River in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Brahmaputra River in Arunachal Pradesh. The water wing of the BSF operates in riverine borders of North Bengal and South Bengal, all along the Sunderbans region, Andaman & Nicobar frontier, Tripura, Mizoram and Cachhar frontier. It is also present in the Rann of Kutch area in Gujarat. There are also parts of Jammu and Punjab frontiers where the BSF uses its water wing.

Presently, the BSF operates nine vessels (floating BOPs), and with the latest sanction, nine more will join the service soon. Also, there are plans for constant upgradation of the existing vessels.

Each floating BOP could accommodate around 30-35 crew members (including water wing members and general duty staff). It could ideally fit four fast patrol vessels which could perform the daily administrative duties for the crew members. A host of surveillance equipment such as radars, communication devices like VHF radios and HF radios operate on the vessel, along with surveillance equipment to keep a check on illegal activities that happen in the forest areas. Since mobile signal is hardly available in the dense mangrove forests, the crew members use Inmarsat devices to speak to their family members.

Area domination exercises are a very challenging task in the forest. According to the state police figures, the Indian side of Sunderbans has 102 islands, out of which only eight are inhabited. The BSF has to rely extensively on high-tech surveillance devices. According to a senior BSF officer, the current floating BOPs are stretched much beyond their life-time. When asked this question, Anil Kumar, Inspector General (provisioning), BSF, said, “Addition of new vessels and the upgradation of the equipment inside the BOP will take care of most of these problems”.

Floating BOPs aside, the BSF is in need of upgradation for its current fleet of fast and medium crafts. “The water wing of the BSF is also in the process of acquiring four more fast crafts,” said Kumar.

FORCE had visited a medium craft, M.V. Akbar, in the Sunderbans area last year. The vessel, almost 40 years old, seemed in the need for immediate replacement. The area inside the vessel is hardly 10 square metres and has to be shared by eight commanders. The interiors are made of fibre, which makes the rooms extremely hot. Even in October, when FORCE visited, it was very hot, thus making it clear how unbearable summer would be.

The eastern sector is partly riverine and partly swampy with thick jungles. This area gets very heavy rainfall, posing great challenges. Many areas are inaccessible by road. The BSF has more than 30 posts in the eastern theatre which are maintained entirely by the air wing. In the Sunderbans forests, the BSF provides a security cover to forest officials who were under attack by pirates about seven-eight years ago. These duties are a change from the usual border guarding roles that the force has been entrusted with.