Even as the extension of BSF jurisdiction snowballs into a states versus Centre slugfest, particularly in Punjab and West Bengal, another border guarding force, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), is struggling with limited reach that ends in the middle of nowhere.
The jurisdiction of the SSB, which is deployed along the India-Bhutan and India-Nepal borders, ends 15 km from the border into dense jungles in multiple states. The force is authorised to search, seize and arrest only within this 15-km range.
Unlike the border with Pakistan where the BSF operates, the SSB is deployed at open borders that have no fencing or demarcation, making them more prone to cross-border crimes.
Senior SSB officers and security experts that News18.com spoke to said the force has been rendered “toothless” in the last decade in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam that have vast forest cover and national parks in border areas. Given that the 15km jurisdiction ends in the middle of dense forests, the SSB hasn’t been able to build border outposts or carry out proper searches in such areas.
SSB officials added that such areas have become safe hunting grounds for poachers who manage to flee to beyond SSB jurisdiction when pursued. Officials cite the 2020 incident in which a poacher was nabbed from Manas National Park in Assam while trying to shoot a deer, but six of his accomplices managed to flee.
“In areas like Manas National Park, and some parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, 15-km limit from the international border is covered in dense forests. Here, these powers are useless as the SSB can’t deploy their men inside the forest. This problem has been there for many years and requires a solution,” former special DG Jyotirmoy Chakravarty told News18.
“If we take the example of Manas National Park, we have few posts in the outskirts of the forest area. The SSB posts are beyond 15km so the camp is beyond jurisdiction. Here, the SSB men can’t exercise powers of arrest, seizure or search,” Chakravarty explained.
The SSB is spread along the international borders in Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The force’s current charter of duties is to safeguard the security of assigned borders of India, promote a sense of security among the people living in these areas, prevent cross-border crimes like smuggling and any other illegal activities.
“The challenges of manning an open border are more daunting than securing a closed border. The 2,450km-long India-Nepal and India-Bhutan border is more challenging because the open border not only provides alluring encouragement to traffickers and smugglers, but also offers huge opportunities to militants trained on foreign soil to infiltrate and pose a serious threat to national security,” the SSB’s official website says on the force’s role.
Retired BSF additional D-G SK Sood pointed out that the SSB, too, should get extended jurisdiction. “SSB is also deployed in Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They guard open borders that Pakistan exploits frequently for smuggling. Similar powers (as the BSF) have not been given to SSB which is a matter of concern,” Sood told News18.
News18.com also spoke to SSB officials deployed in these areas who agreed that the 15-km jurisdiction served no purpose. “We can’t stay for long in forest areas without the help of forest officers. The area where we do have the authority to search, seize and arrest is jungle area or no man’s land. It’s been a long-pending demand to increase the limit, but nothing has been done,” a deputy commandment-rank SSB official told News18.com on condition of anonymity.