A slugfest between the home and defence ministries that started during the Chinese incursion in Ladakh last month has reached the Indo-Myanmar border.
Having staved off the defence ministry's plan to get operational control over the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the home ministry now wants the defence establishment to loosen its grip over the Assam Rifles, that guards the Indo-Myanmar border.
Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde also wants the Border Security Force rather than Assam Rifles – that has evolved as an anti-insurgency force rather than a border guarding force – to stand guard at the 1,643km long border with Myanmar border.
A government source told HT that home secretary RK Singh had taken the demand for control over AR and posting the BSF at the Myanmar border to cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth. “The cabinet secretary has convened a meeting for June 5 to try and resolve the dispute,” the source said.
The defence establishment has raised the pitch for operational control over the ITBP in the backdrop of the Chinese incursion, insisting that guarding the border was a nightmare due to coordination problems. The ITBP reports to the home ministry.
On Wednesday, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde made it clear this plan had been junked.
“ITBP home department ke paas hee rahegi (ITBP will stay with the home ministry)," Shinde declared at a press conference on Wednesday. Instead, Shinde pointed out that Assam Rifles - that was under the army’s operational control – should be handed over.
The Assam Rifles, Shinde argued, was deployed 20-25km behind the international border. "We are demanding control".
A home ministry official said this is the only border force in the country that is not deployed at the border. The AR is deployed in counter-insurgency grids some distance from the border, which leaves scope for easy movement across the border.
Officials said it was natural to seek complete control over the force when border management was the mandate of the home ministry.
An anti-insurgency force that traces its lineage to the Cachar Levy that was raised in 1835 as a paramilitary force, primarily to guard the alluvial plains of Assam from the wild and unruly tribes inhabiting the surrounding hill tracts.
The force was entrusted with the responsibility of guarding the Indo-Myanmar border in 2002 as part of the "single-border single-force" policy.
Assam Rifles comes under the administrative control of the home ministry but reports to the defence ministry on operational issues. The jawans are recruited along with other paramilitary personnel but the officers come from the army on deputation.