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X, Y, Z and SPG: A look at the various levels of VIP protection in India

Topics VIP security

In August this year, the Narendra Modi government decided to withdraw the SPG security cover provided to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and reduce his protection level to a Z-plus cover instead. 

What is Special Protection Group cover?

On October 31, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards and her son Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in to replace her. While the popular Prime Minister’s assassination caused massive political upheaval, it also brought to focus the gaps in security of one of India’s most important constitutional functionaries.

Till 1981, the security of the Prime Minister of India vested with the Special Security District of the Delhi Police. In 1981, the Intelligence Bureau raised a Special Task Force to take over that job.

After the Rajiv Gandhi government was re-elected to power in 1984 and a security review drew lessons from the former PM’s assassination, it was decided to raise a special protection unit for protecting the Prime Minister. This unit, which came into being in 1985, was named the Special Protection Group (SPG) with its task being to insulate the Prime Minister and his family members from attacks. The SPG continued to function without legislative sanction till 1988, when the SPG Act came into force.

After Rajiv Gandhi demitted office in 1989, his SPG cover was withdrawn in 1990 when the then Cabinet Secretary moved a note recommending that the former PM’s security outside Delhi ought to be the responsibility of state governments, as SPG personnel couldn’t be spared. Moreover, the SPG Act did not provide for securing former Prime Ministers. A year later, on 21 May, 1991, the former Prime Minister was assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber in Tamil Nadu.

This assassination led to an amendment of the SPG Act that extended such protection to former Prime Ministers and their families for ten years after demitting office, and could be extended on an annual basis, subject to a threat review. A thorough security review in 1999 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee government led to another amendment that brought down the minimum period of providing security from ten years after demitting office to one year, subject to annual reviews.

The SPG now consists of more than 3,000 officers and at present protects Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. The SPG Act allows designated protectees (except the Prime Minister) to decline proximate security cover. Such a cover was declined by former PM Manmohan Singh’s daughters after he demitted office.

A sum of Rs 535 crore was allocated by the government in FY20 for the SPG. This was up from Rs 411 crore in the previous fiscal.

Equipped with advanced weaponry and communication tools, the SPG is the most elite protection force in the country.

National Security Guard

The NSG website describes the force as “a federal contingency force specially equipped and trained to deal with specific situations and is therefore, to be used only in exceptional circumstances to thwart acts of terrorism.”

The NSG was raised in 1984 following Operation Blue Star and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Its personnel are divided into two sub-groups. While the smaller sub-group (Special Ranger Group) is involved in handling VIP security, the other (Special Action Group) is focused on anti-terror or special operations. NSG doesn’t constitute a protection level but provides commandos to different protectees under various protection levels.

Other types of protection levels

While SPG is designated to protect present and former Prime Ministers and their families, there are four other protection levels for VIPs in India. These are X, Y, Z and Z-plus. Protection levels for any protectee are determined by the Centre or state governments.

Z-plus category: This is the highest security cover in India (except for present and former PMs and their families). A Z-plus category security detail brings with it 36 personnel that includes 10 National Security Guard commandos (also known as Black Cats) and other personnel from the state police, ITBP, CISF, CRPF. The NSG commandos are equipped with the most modern equipment and they are experts in unarmed combat skills.

Z category: Under this category, a protectee is assigned 22 personnel, including four or five NSG commandos, while the other personnel are provided by state police, ITBP or CRPF.

X and Y categories: In the X category, a protectee is assigned one gunman for personal protection. Under Y category, the protectee is assigned 11 personnel (including one or two commandos).

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