In a first, India’s faceless, nameless agents to get excellence awards
For the first time in 132 years of existence, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), India’s internal intelligence agency, is recognising its officers and those in the state intelligence wings for exceptional performance with a medal of its own – Asadharan Aasuchna Kushalta Padak (medal for extraordinary intelligence gathering).
Three Indian Police Service (IPS) officers and 34 other intelligence officers were the first recipients of the gallantry medal, awarded for exceptional counter-terror operations, services in Jammu and Kashmir, cracking down on terror funding, and operations against Maoists and militant groups in the north-east, said a senior official who didn’t want to be named.
Apart from the three IPS officers, 14 officers from the state intelligence wings and 23 officers from IB cadre too were awarded for “exceptional operations,” the officer said.
The officers cannot be named because of the confidential nature of the work they do.
This is the second attempt to recognise the contribution of the covert hand of the state to national security and policy. In December 2012, IB quietly put up a small memorial inside its South Delhi headquarters in memory of officers killed in the line of duty. Over the years, scores have died in secret operations conducted by the bureau.
The intelligence community has been flagging to the government the need to recognise the work done by its officers. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) formed a committee in 2016 to look into the demand.
“Intelligence officers put their lives in harm’s way. Besides, how do you encourage specialisation in critical fields if they are not recognised,” a senior MHA official said, explaining the decision to institute the medal.
In July, with minimal hype, the government decided to institute the medal. “Promote excellence,” is one of its stated goals. Unlike the service and gallantry medals of the military, an individual can get the Asadharan Aasuchna Kushalta Padak only once during his/her entire career.
“Restricted to the background by the nature of our work, the contribution of intelligence to state policy remains buried in the labyrinth. How does one motivate officers?” Avinash Mohananey, who spent many years in IB handling counter-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir, said. “Importantly, in the states, bright and capable officers do not want to do intelligence work because it’s dreary by nature and anonymous by the requirement. Recognising them within the community will help break this indifference,” Mohananney said.
Until the new medal was instituted, recognition to intelligence officers was limited to police medals only. “There were restrictions because only a certain number of police medals could be given away and the entire police community had to be accommodated,” a second senior officer in the security establishment said.
The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) – India’s external intelligence agency — already has its own set of medals to recognise officers for exceptional work.
R&AW awards the Aashadaran Seva Padak for gallantry and exceptional service and the Uttam Seva Padak for long and distinguished service with the agency. Officers from disciplines like finance, science and technology, computer science, languages and cryptography, among others, are recognised by R&AW for their performance.
“Recognitions, medals otherwise given by the government weren’t applicable to them; therefore in the 1980s, the R&AW started the process of internally recognising officers for exceptional work,” a third senior official, who didn’t want to be named, said.