Raised as the Special Service Bureau to mobilise the border population against foreign aggression in 1963, the SSB was rechristened Sashastra Seema Bal in 2001 and mandated to guard the Indo-Nepal border. In 2004, it was also given the responsibility for the Indo-Bhutan border. Arun Chaudhary, Director General, SSB, spoke with Aloke Tikku about his plans for the force. Excerpts from the interview.
What is the total strength of SSB as of now?
The SSB presently has a strength of 73 battalions. Of these, 55 battalions are to be deployed on operational duties. That means guarding the borders with two friendly countries, Nepal and Bhutan. Another two battalions are with the National Disaster Response Force. But apart from that, there are 16 battalions which can be deployed to handle problems anywhere in the country. Other forces also have such reserve battalions.
So are SSB personnel deployed in the counter-insurgency grid too?
Yes, there are eight of them. Five of them were recently sent to Jammu & Kashmir and another three to naxal-affected states.
But there is this impression that the SSB hasn't been able to transform from an intelligence agency into a central armed police force?
We have our own intelligence wing. This is one force which has got an intelligence wing and an operational wing that can go into action. This is a good thing because we generate our own intelligence that is used in areas of operation that range from the border up to 15 km inside the country.
But it is an armed force. It is an armed fighting force because half your people are fighting terrorists and naxalites. But that was not the original mandate of the force. It is, however, as equipped as any other central armed force to be fighting any sort of terrorist activity or insurgency.
Equipped, yes, but is the force comfortable with the new mandate of an armed police?
If you don't give an opportunity to a baby to swim, how will it learn. The exposure is very important. It may not be comfortable but they are trained to do it. I am of the opinion that they should be sent to fight alongside with CRPF.
That will keep the force fit and keep it a live force. So we will take up the opportunity that presents itself. You should be prepared for any eventuality. The point is whether the force is prepared to take on the challenge. I think it is.
There was some reluctance on the part of the force. But once you make it absolutely clear to them that this is part of your duty, there is no problem. If charter and the character of force has changed, then you have to change too. This is a good growing forcing. It needs proper watering and pruning. It has to be nursed properly.