As news of the government appointing Archana Ramasundaram as the next Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) director-general came on Monday evening, the 58-year-old Indian Police Service (IPS) officer decided to keep her fingers crossed.
She didn’t want anything going wrong this time, close friends said.
The appointments committee of the cabinet appointed Ramasundaram the next SSB chief, a decision that would make the 1980-batch officer the first woman to head any border guarding force, or for that matter, any central police force.
Monday’s announcement was the best news that the affable Ramasundaram had heard in a while.
She had celebrated too early in 2014 when the Centre had appointed her as the additional director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). First, the Tamil Nadu government refused to relieve her and when she acted on orders to join from Delhi, the J Jayalalithaa government suspended her. The suspension was revoked by the Centre last year, holding that the state had no business to suspend an officer on central deputation.
Ramasundaram had been caught in the cross-fire between the AIADMK and the Congress-led UPA at the Centre.
Her husband, an IAS officer of the 1979 batch, S Ramasundaram – who was perceived to be close to the DMK regime – had already taken voluntary retirement when the AIADMK came to power in 2011.
The appointment to the CBI was her second stint in the agency. In the first that lasted from 1999 to 2006, she is most widely credited for the probe against Abdul Karim Telgi, son of a Class IV railway employee who made counterfeiting stamp-papers a multi-crore enterprise across several states. Telgi was eventually convicted in 2006.
But Ramasundaram’s appointment as CBI additional director was challenged in the Supreme Court on grounds that the CVC had recommended someone else. The court told the premier investigating agency not to give her any work till it decides the case.
Ramasundaram remained without work for more than a year before she was moved out of the agency in June last year. She was posted to the National Crime Records Bureau, the home ministry’s arm that is better known for publishing crime statistics and, lately, for implementing a project to link all police stations.
There have been woman chiefs of state police forces but never at the Centre.
Kiran Bedi, the first woman IPS officer, came close many years ago but she didn’t have the trust of the government to hold this charge. Bedi quit the service as the Bureau of Police Research & Development chief when she missed the bus to become the Delhi Police commissioner, too.
Aruna M Bahuguna, an IPS officer a year senior to Ramasundaram, also had the seniority but was sent to lead the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy at Hyderabad that grooms officers for the job.
The SSB is one of four border guarding forces and is deployed along the 2,450-km boundary with Nepal and Bhutan. These are two borders that require tact rather than force to secure, a task that often proves tricky.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police is deployed at the Indo-China border. The Border Security Force mans the high-profile Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh borders. The Assam Rifles, the counter-insurgency force for the Northeast, protects the border with Myanmar.
The SSB was the first force to open its doors to women in 2008 after it figured gangs were using women as carriers to smuggle goods across the Indo-Nepal border as they were not frisked by security personnel. Initially, women were only tasked to perform frisking and search duties. Soon enough they were deployed to independently manage border outposts and patrol duties. By 2009, the BSF joined the league.