There was a hue and cry raised after the Centre decided to withdraw the Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to the Gandhis.

The Congress alleged that it was political vendetta and the BJP shot back by saying such decisions are taken based on threat assessments and not as per the whims and fancies of 10 Janpath.

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Over the years, the SPG cover has become more of a status symbol. It is no doubt a heavy burden on the expenditure and as the process demands, a review is conducted by top security officials of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau every six months.

A bit of convenience, status and a nightmare:

The SPG is a very specialised force and it provides solid protection. An officer in the home ministry told MyNation that there is no doubt that this sort of protection imposes a lot of restrictions. However, its effectiveness is gone when it is not used properly, the officer explainer.

"Many a time, those under SPG cover tend to brush aside the suggestions given by us," said the officer. This is when the effectiveness of the entire exercise goes down. The staff painstakingly work day and night, conduct reconnaissance of the places the VIP visits. When all this is not considered and suggestions are brushed aside, it is in fact an irritant, the officer explained.

Along with the SPG cover, come a couple of perks. It adds to the status symbol and the guards at times are asked to undertake some personal jobs. All this becomes a matter of convenience for the VIP.

The officer said that there are several instances when other officers have complained about the services not being used correctly. It is a 360 degree cover, which we provide and if not used then the effectiveness is lost. 

Over a period of time for some VIPs, the entire exercise had become a farce. Some of them do not want the SPG to accompany them to foreign countries as they fear snooping. When Rahul Gandhi was studying, he said that he did not need the SPG. He went to London and the SPG did not go with him. The entire exercise had become a questionable one. 

What is the point of spending such a huge amount of money and burdening the exchequer when the service is not used right. It is six times the cost of Z Plus security. Further the government has clearly taken into account the threat perception, the official explained.

Gandhis avoided the SPG:

There is a protocol that needs to be followed by those under SPG cover. It cannot remain there as a status symbol. For instance, Rahul Gandhi made nearly 150 foreign visits since 1991. He did not take the SPG along with him on at least 140 of them. The VIP is required to share the travel itinerary well in advance, so that the SPG can work on it. However in the case of Rahul Gandhi, he had shared the same several times at the last minute.

There is another decision that has irked the security force. The SPG pointed out that Rahul Gandhi, despite being advised, travelled in a non-bullet vehicle at least 1,800 times between 2005 and 2014. He also travelled on the roof of the vehicle, which is against security protocol and also in violation of the Motor Vehicles Act.

The case was similar in the case of Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Sonia Gandhi ignored SPG protocol of using a bullet proof vehicle at least on 50 occasions. She did not take the SPG on 24 foreign visits and had even unscheduled travels 13 times.

To make matters worse, both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have levelled allegations claiming that the SPG was being used to collect their personal information and pass it on to unauthorised personnel. The SPG being made into a political debate had not gone down well with the force at all.

Priyanka, on the other hand, used a non-bullet proof vehicle 339 times and of the 99 foreign visits since 1991, she took the SPG along only 21 times. 

SPG withdrawn, not security:

Government sources say that there are a variety of issues that are taken into account before the SPG cover is withdrawn. The threat perception was taken into account. In fact a review on this is done every six months and it is on this basis that the security is either enhanced or downgraded.

The Congress was quick to state that the government is playing with the lives of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. However the fact of the matter is that the SPG cover has been withdrawn and not security.

Now, they are under the Z plus category and would be protected by 100 CRPF personnel. With this decision, the SPG cover is now available only to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The SPG is an elite force of 3,000 people. 

Officials say that those crying foul over the decision must first question their leaders, if they were using the SPG correctly. If there are violations 9 of every 10 times, what is the use of such security. Security cannot be provided as a status symbol at the cost of the tax payers’ money, the official stated.

Under the Z plus cover, the Gandhis will lose certain privileges. They can be frisked at airports. This means that they will not be exempted from being frisked at airports. Till some time back, even Robert Vadra was on this list. While his name was removed from the list, he was not required to undergo pre-embarkation security checks when he was with his wife Priyanka.

What is SPG cover:

The SPG cover was set up in 1985 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The force was required to protect Prime Ministers and their families. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the SPG Act was amended to provide security to former PMs and their families.

In 2003, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the act was amended again. The automatic protection of 10 years was brought down to one year and it was decided that the threat perception would be reviewed from time to time.

The head of the SPG is called a director, who is designated as secretary in the Cabinet secretariat. The officer is from the Indian Police Force. The uniformed officers use the 

FN Herstal F2000, while the FN Herstal Five-Seven is used by the special agents. The uniformed officers and special agents also use the Block 17 or Block 19. The special agents also use the FN Herstal P90.

The special agents assigned to the Prime Minister wear black western style formal business suits with dark sunglasses, a 2-way encrypted communication earpiece along with a concealed handgun. On rare occasions, they wear the safari suit to blend into the environment. 

The uniformed officers are dressed like special operations commandos. Their personal equipment includes an ultra modern assault rifle, dark visor sunglasses with inbuilt communication earpieces, bullet proof vests and elbow/knee pads.

It may be recalled that the allocation for the SPG had been increased. The same was increased to Rs 535 crore in 2019-20 from Rs 411.68 crore in the previous fiscal. Between 2004 and 2013, the amount spent on SPG cover to protect the members of the Gandhi family, Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee stood at Rs 1,800 crore.