The Centre has decided to withdraw Special Protection Group security cover to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha member Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The three Gandhis will be protected by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), people familiar with the development said.
The decision was taken on the recommendation of a top security review panel that carries out a threat perception analysis of protected persons. A formal order to accept this panel’s recommendation was issued on Thursday.
“The threat perception of each of those protected by the SPG is reviewed every year. The current review indicates a reduced threat perception for Gandhi’s and their security can be handled by other forces,” the senior government official said. He said the assessments did not indicate any new threat either.
The Union Home Ministry has refused to comment on the development.
The Special Protection Group was raised in 1985 – after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - to protect the Prime Minister and their immediate family members. Former Prime Minister and their family members were brought under the SPG cover after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1992.
The security review panel has, however, told the government to quickly upgrade Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s security cover after intelligence agencies reported renewed threats to him.
As home minister, Shah piloted the change in law to effectively scrap Article 370 of the Constitution in August that had extended special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir.
“There are inputs that Islamists want to target him”, a second senior official who did not want to be named, said.
Home Minister Amit Shah security arrangements are now categorized as “Z Special” – a notch higher from Z plus. Among other things, there will be traffic regulations when Amit Shah moves from one place to another.
Recently, the security cover of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also downgraded after a security review. Singh’s SPG cover was withdrawn after assessments indicated reduced threat perceptions. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) now protects him.
Rahul Gandhi, in particular, recently has come in for criticism for not letting SPG accompany him in foreign visits.
The SPG provides proximity security for the protectees. The outer security ring comprises the local police. Apart from this, restrictions are imposed on traffic when an SPG protectee like the Prime Minister moves from one place to another. There are, however, no security restrictions for other SPG protectees.
Besides, there is also a team of officers – Advanced Security Liaison ASL)- who scrutinize and clear venues and security arrangements before the visit of the protectee. Also, when an SPG protectee moves the security component is led by an officer of a certain rank.