Intelligent Moves

Human trafficking continues to pose a challenge to the SSB, which achieved quite bit in the last year

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Director General Banshi Dhar SharmaIn his mandatory press conference, a prelude to the 51st Raising Day celebrations of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), Director General Banshi Dhar Sharma listed the achievements of his force in the year gone by. While the incidences of illegal activities like smuggling arms and ammunition, human trafficking, illegal migration increased last year (according to the statistics provided by the SSB), the DG was confident that the measures taken were equally efficient to curb them.

The most important achievement of the force was the enhanced tactical cooperation between the armed forces of Nepal and Bhutan. The troops regularly carry out joint patrolling along the border. There is also a proposal to conduct military exercise with Nepal and Bhutan police forces; however, that proposal is yet to be approved by the ministry of home affairs (MHA). In 2014, SSB and the armed police force of Nepal started the annual DG level meetings. “New beginnings have been made,” said Sharma while referring to the annual talks. A similar initiative on the Bhutan side is also awaited. “The MHA has already approved the annual DG level meeting between SSB and Royal Bhutan Police,” added Sharma.

He acknowledges that his previous stint with the Border Security Force (BSF) have prepared him to handle challenges at the Indo-Nepal and Bhutan borders, and also the internal security roles in Jammu and Kashmir. He had served in the BSF as DIG at Jaisalmer and IG in Jammu and Kashmir, both on Indo-Pak border and ADG of the Eastern theatre of the BSF. “There are many similarities between Bangladesh border and that of Nepal and Bhutan,” he said, adding that “similarities don’t end with the porous nature of the border but extends to the demography as well”.

Drawing experiences from his previous roles, Sharma emphasised on non-lethal weapons during the operations. Since the SSB is deployed in friendly, open borders, lethal weapons are essentially a liability. “There are instances where criminals enter the country from areas where the troops operate with lethal weapons. They can be sure that the troops won’t fire at them easily”, he said. With non-lethal weapons, the troops wouldn’t hesitate much before firing at the suspects. Even in those cases, the troops rely heavily on the intelligence to avoid any untoward incident as the non-lethal weapons if fired from close range could lead to casualties. “The biggest weapon for our troops in these areas is intelligence,” he emphasised. “We have sent proposal for the government to adopt new methods for intelligence,” he added further. In 2014, SSB had arrested 2,255 smugglers, and also many other illegal infiltrators from countries like Tibet, China, Israel, Bangladesh etc.

Special Services Bureau, the previous avatar of the SSB was originally an intelligence based organisation. Their primary focus was to engage with the locals in the border areas to gather intelligence information. Many civic action programmes were initiated in this respect. The SSB maintains that sort of engagement with the border villages even now. In 2014, the SSB spent more than Rs 4.5 crore for various civic action programmes like Samajik Chetna Abhiyan, medical civic action, publicity campaign and other community welfare programmes. Recently, the force adopted 309 schools under the Clean India campaign.

Recently, in an initiative to involve local populace in border management, the SSB launched toll-free numbers to encourage reporting of any anti-national activities or corruption on the border. The five toll-free numbers in the frontier headquarters - Ranikhet, Lucknow, Patna, Siliguri, Guwahati - are believed to be receiving encouraging inputs from the locals. “These numbers can also be used as helplines in case of any emergencies. The frontier headquarter will alert the concerned BOP to assist the locals in such cases,” proudly stated Sharma.

Human trafficking has been one of the major challenges in these border areas. Last year, the SSB rescued 45 victims of human trafficking and arrested nine people involved in this illegal activity. The SSB works with various non-governmental organisations active in the field of human trafficking. The DG cited the example of Maiti Nepal, an NGO whose women volunteers were once victims of trafficking, with whom the SSB had tied up because of their expertise in the area. On December 26, the SSB organised a national seminar on human trafficking and discussed the international ramifications of this activity. The event saw the participation of eminent speakers and experts who expressed their views on the subject. The proceedings of the seminar would act as guidelines to the force; the SSB also plans to improve its strategies in curbing trafficking along the border.

To strengthen relations and coordination between Indians and Nepalese and Indians and Bhutanese, nine ambulances have been deployed on remote border outposts (BOPs) to facilitate access for people of both the countries to emergency medical aid.

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