Explained: SPG Act amendment

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On 3rd December this year, the Special Protection Group Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed in the Parliament. The SPG (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was set in motion by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on November 25, 2019, in the lower house of the parliament in order to amend the Special Protections Group Act, 1988. 

While passing the bill, the Union Government asserted that the new amendment ought to be brought about to focus on the security of the Prime Minister, who is of prime importance for the national security and governance of the country. The Amendment also proposed to bring down the cost of maintaining the SPG security to the national treasury.

Prior to the formation of the group, a group of the municipality, the local police force, and other armed forces called the Special Task Force, provided security to the Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister and their families, handled by the Intelligence Bureau. However, there appeared to be poor coordination amongst the various forces.

History of the Act

On 8 April 1985, The SPG came first into existence, when S. Subramaniam, who was the Joint Director for VIP security at the time, in the Intelligence Bureau assumed office. The SPG which is the echeloned top-tier of security was set up in 1985 to protect the Prime Minister of India after the assassination of late PM Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards in October of 1984. 

After the incident, the government detected a need to form a force which would solely be dedicated and responsible to protect in-house and former PMs of India and their immediate family members. This was followed by an act passed by the parliament in 1988, to provide direct security to the PM and his immediate family members.  

The SPG worked as a security group solely based on an Executive Order for three years in the absence of any legislation, from April 1985 to June 1988. The SPG was created while keeping in mind the provisions sanctioned in the Blue Book which laid down principles for the protection of the Prime Minister(s) while at the same time also delimiting responsibility of different agencies pertaining with the safety of the Prime Minister.

However, the SPG Act was later amended to provide security cover to former PMs and their immediate families after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May,1991. The SPG was explicitly constituted and up skilled to provide protection to India’s former PM Rajiv Gandhi, after considering the threats encircling him.

Nevertheless, the body withdrew its services as soon as PM Rajiv Gandhi stopped holding the office after losing 1989 elections post the Bofors Scandal, which also intensified threats around him. His assassination in 1991, led to an amendment in the SPG Act, which broadened the act to promise security to the foregoing Prime Ministers and their immediate families.

Since then up-until now, the SPG has had only one task which was to provide protection to current Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers and their family for a period of 10 years from the day on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office.

The Special Protection Group appears to have grown to a 3,500-member strong force consisting of multiple wings like technical, administration, communication, etc. and the budget has increased from Rs 411.68 crores in 2018-19 to Rs. 535 crores for the fiscal year 2019-20.

According to an article dated in year 2012, Rs 1800 crore has been spent by the government on protecting five VVIPs namely, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, ex-prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


What do the recent amendments mean?

The amendments in the act will lead to three vital changes:

(A) – SPG will only provide security in-house Prime Minister and their immediate family members residing with him or her,

(B) – earlier, the former Prime Ministers was to be provided with SPG Cover till 10 years of him giving up the office which has now been revised down to them retaining the right to seek protection from SPG for a period of 5 years after handing over the office and

(C) – the instant family members of the former PMs would only be entitled to get security from SPG commandos as long as they reside with the former PM at the official allowed residence which essentially means that as soon as the former PM loses his right to security from SPG, his immediate family loses the same too. Thus, in the event of the death of a former Prime Minister, his family would no longer be provided security by the Special Protection Group. 

Therefore, former PM Manmohan Singh as well as the Gandhis would be protected by the ‘Z plus security cover of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Narendra Modi, being the Prime Minister of India, would be the sole protectee of the force as provided under the new amendment Act.

The Gandhi family and SPG

By way of the recently amended SPG Act, he Gandhi family would now be without protection by SPG commandos after 28 years. Sonia Gandhi along with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, were given the privilege of being protected by SPG protection even though none of them were members of parliament at one point because, two of their family members were assassinated.

The assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had earlier led to an intensified threat perception for the Gandhi family. However, On 8 November 2019, the Union Government decided to withdraw the SPG Cover from the three Gandhis after a thorough threat assessment. This meant that the three Gandhis who were the only people except for Mr. Modi who were listed to get protection from SPG are now on a 30 people list of VVIPs who get protection from Z+ security.

With SPG security, come various privileges which the Gandhi family has become routine to, such as the bungalows provided to Gandhis have continued to be occupied by them despite inconsistencies in their political career (no one from the Gandhi Family, was a Member of Parliament from 1991-1999), they have had been provided with special bulletproof or armed BMW 7-series cars.

Being under the SPG Cover also means that your security is of paramount importance to the government and it is bound to meet the security demands of the SPG. They are therefore, entitled to use ultra-modern equipment and rifles, special choppers and aircraft of the Indian Air Force. Therefore, losing SPG Cover would lead to Gandhis losing all these benefits too.

Not surprisingly, the amendment had been strongly opposed by the congress party calling the move to revoke SPG protection for the Gandhi family, a hidden RSS agenda. The issue was raised in the Indian parliament house and has been protested against by the congress party as they think that this move leaves the Gandhis prone to terror attacks.

The government has acknowledged the charges directly as of yet. However, the government had, in its original statement said that the new security cover was revised based on the latest threat assessment.

Conclusion

Therefore, only the Prime Minister would be entitled to the protection of the over 3,000 strong SPG force. The main objective behind the introducing the amendment was to cut down on the budget of SPG, ensure that the group continued to provide security to the Prime Minister effectively and efficiently.

The SPG amendment bill, 2019 restricts SPG cover only to the PM and his immediate family, and ex-PM and his family for 5 years and the benefits accruable to the Gandhi family have been revoked.

Author: Ojasvi Agarwal from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.

Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.

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