In the wake of the Chinese conflict in 1962, it was felt that the borders of the country could not be protected with the force of rifles alone. It required the backing and resolute will of a committed border population. In addition, it needed an in-depth understanding and familiarity of the terrain as well as the culture and ethos of the border population. A need was, therefore, realized for the creation of a unique, unconventional yet specialized organization, which would function in the far, flung, vulnerable, strategic, remote, climatically and topographically difficult border areas and motivate the border population across several states towards the cause of protecting our national sovereignty.
The Special Service Bureau (now Sashastra Seema Bal) was thus conceived in November 1962 and eventually created in March 1963 with the sole objective of achieving ‘Total security preparedness’ in the remote border areas for performing a ‘stay-behind’ role in the event of a war. SSB was started in North Assam, North Bengal, hill districts of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand), Himachal Pradesh, part of Punjab and Ladakh area of J&K. Shri B N Mullik took over as the first founder Director of Special Service Bureau and led the force from the front as the initial years were fraught with apprehensions on the prospects of another Chinese attack. The magnitude of responsibilities was such that each officer had to be constantly reassured of the value of his work in his own area of responsibility, so as to retain the motivation to continue to work towards the national objective, undeterred by the resistance encountered and the invisibility of the impact of the hard work put in. However, the appropriate support and cooperation came from the successive PMs, Dy PMs, Governors, CMs, etc., which bolstered the endeavour and morale of the SSB officers and staff, immensely.
Later, the jurisdiction of SSB was extended to Manipur, Tripura and Jammu (1965), Meghalaya (1975), Sikkim (1976), Rajasthan (1985), South Bengal, Nagaland and Mizoram (1989). Its area of coverage included 15 states. SSB in the erstwhile role was covering a population of more than 5.73 crores living in about 80,000 villages and about 9917 Kms of India’s international borders.
Since 1963, the main thrust of the SSB was on generating a sense of national belonging, security and vigilance. Village Level Training Programmes and Refresher Training Courses in civil defence were started to train villagers to defend their own villages and if the situation demanded, to participate in a ‘stay behind role’ for the nation. Villagers were trained in the use of small arms and the art of self defence to develop a spirit of resistance. In early 1970s we also started National Integration Programmes in a big way. All these bore fruit slowly but surely. However, the rifle training was a big draw and brought lakh of people into our fold. The trained volunteers became the eyes and ears of SSB, on the border and could be drawn on whenever required. As a result the number of Chinese intelligencers prodding our border reduced considerably.
In 1965, SSB introduced Civic Action to build micro-infrastructures for the benefit of the border population. The villagers were taught dignity of labour and construction of micro-infrastructure programmes in remote border villages was taken on in a big way, in an inclusive manner. The same was conducted under Shramdhan, Grant-in-Aid and shared expenditure which resulted in the border population coming forth in large numbers to assist the SSB in repairing roads, bridges and drains, cleaning up tanks and wells, laying water supply lines and building public toilets, sports grounds, school buildings, community centres, etc.
In 1965, the border areas had no Primary Health Centers. Hence, SSB took on the task of providing medical support to the villagers at their door step. This move turned the tide in favour of the Government as the border men felt they had much to gain from being a part and parcel of the Indian Union. Later, we added distribution of aids and appliances, sponsored gymnasiums and set up rehabilitation centres in the remote border villages. Workshops were conducted on drug abuse, AIDS, alcoholism, etc. In recent years, we have included free of cost cleft lip and cleft palate operations as well in addition to distribution of artificial limbs, etc.
As early as 1966, SSB led the way in women empowerment and women emancipation. We first trained border women in self defence and first aid and then went on to take on vocational training for them to make them self reliant, in seven exclusive training centres. The first Woman Advance Training School was then inaugurated at Pauri in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi. Keeping up with this tradition, SSB became the first border guarding force to induct women into the Force in June 2008 when seven Coys of women personnel were inducted for Border Guarding duties.
From 1966 onwards, SSB took on political education Publicity Campaigns in villages along the border villages for Perception Management. We used tape recorders, 16 mm film projectors and gramophones to educate and motivate. We lived in the villages and addressed the day to day issues of the village population. SSB also emphasized the need for unity and integrated action. We addressed women issues in Woman Awareness Generation Camps and, in due course, women volunteers began to associate in large numbers and augmented SSB’s endeavour, greatly. The role of I&B Ministry in these programmes was also immense.
In the year 1989, SSB boosted its services through a veterinary support system for the border population as they were wholly dependent on cattle and livestock for their livelihood. In later years we conducted over 100 farmers training programmes and study tours for the border villagers to understand the best agricultural practices.
SSB also contributed in the evolution of the National Security Guards, Special Protection Guards, Indian Coast Guard, Border Security Force (by raising a company in a week’s time before the 1965 War) and raising the Mahila Battalion of CRPF. To tackle the problem of insurgency in Manipur, SSB came up with an innovative idea of raising Village Volunteer Force (VVF) to protect the villages and deprive support for insurgents and also assisted in counter-insurgency operations of the Indian Army and Central Paramilitary forces.
SSB has always been guided by its motto of Service, Security and Brotherhood and played both its overt and covert roles in an exemplary manner and grew in strength as a people’s force. When epidemics or disaster struck in the form of earthquake, cloudburst, floods, landslides or riots, SSB was the first to reach for rescue and relief work for the border population. SSB evolved as a unique organization, which, not only promoted national integration and security consciousness among the border populace but also enriched the social fabric, embellished the secular milieu of the nation and rejuvenated dying arts in all the areas in which it was deployed. In fact, the spread of Hindi in Arunachal Pradesh is credited to SSB. By our work and efforts, we, not only successfully restrained many youngsters from falling into the hands of fissiparous elements, but also saved many more from falling prey to drugs and bad habits by making them aware of the fatal repercussions.
This Force endeared itself as people’s Force for five decades by focusing hard on the organisational objective, remaining on a low profile and self contented on the sanctimonious words of the founder Director of SSB, Shri B N Mullik, that is, “ Your work is your reward.”
Role of Sashastra Seema Bal
After the Kargil war, the K. Subramanayam Committee’s Report was considered by a Group of Ministers for relocation of all Para-military forces to achieve optimum efficiency by assigning one border for each force. SSB was declared as a Border Guarding Force in 15th January, 2001 under the Ministry of Home Affairs and renamed as “Sashastra Seema Bal” on 15th December, 2003. On 19 June, 2001 SSB was given the mandate to guard the Indo-Nepal Border (1751 Kms.) and was declared the Lead Intelligence Agency for that area. The added responsibility of guarding Indo – Bhutan Border was given to SSB on 12th March, 2004 along with being declared the Lead Intelligence Agency for that border.
The greatest moment of pride for the Organization came on 27th March, 2004 when it was awarded the President’s Colour. SSB also got the consent of the President of India, Smt Pratibha Devi Singh Patil on 20th December, 2007 for the SSB Act and Rule. A commemorative Cover (2007) and a Stamp were released by the Indian Postal Department on the occasion of SSBs Golden Jubilee Celebrations on 29th November, 2013.
SSB is now spread along the International border across Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. SSB’s present charter of duties is to:
- Safeguard the security of assigned borders of India and promote sense of security among the people living in border areas.
- Prevent trans-border crimes, smuggling and any other illegal activities.
- Prevent unauthorized entry into or exit from the territory of India.
- Carry out civic action programme in the area of responsibility.
- Perform any other duty assigned by the Central Government.(SSB is being deployed for Law & Order, Counter Insurgency Operations and Election duty)
The challenges of manning the open border are more daunting than securing a closed border. The 2450 kms long Indo- Nepal and Indo- Bhutan border is more challenging because the open border not only provides alluring encouragement to traffickers and smugglers but, also offers huge opportunities for militants/ ANEs trained on foreign soil to infiltrate and pose a serious threat to national security. It is extremely difficult to seal the entire border effectively owing to its porosity and visa free regime on one hand and social economic and cultural relationship of bordering countries on the other, but SSB, by virtue of its enormous past experience of working at grass root level in remote areas, is able to muster people’s support and cooperation besides physically guarding the border and maintaining its sanctity.
The transition of Special Service Bureau as an organization to Sashastra Seema Bal as a force has been very smooth, effective and is expected to have the desired impact on the security scenario on Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders.
For Wikipedia entry on SSB, click here.
For more articles in Policepedia, click here.