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SSB succeeds where others fail: IG Lucknow Frontier

SSB succeeds where others fail: IG Lucknow Frontier

By Raj Silvano Lucknow,

Oct 23 (UNI) A uniformed force raised primarily for guarding India’s borders with Nepal and Bhutan is going through a transformation process and very soon it might be saddled with multifarious tasks. The not-so-commonly-known Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), previously known as Special Services Bureau, was set up in 1961 in the wake of the Sino-Indian war with a view to keeping a tab on suspicious activities and movements along the border. In an exclusive interview with UNI, Alok Sharma, Inspector-General (Lucknow Frontier), described SSB as a “very people-friendly force.” “Where state government and central departments fail, SSB succeeds in getting things done for the welfare of the people. We are definitely the real representatives of the central government in border areas. That is our mandate,” he pointed out. “With SSB operating in the border areas, the local population has developed a sense of security. Petty crimes have been curbed to a large extent,” he added. “With us on the ground, we project the need of the population in border areas, such as the need for proper roads, electricity, schools, health centres etc. In the border areas, the district magistrate is the nodal authority for channeling funds for development programmes. So, when roads are being built right up to the border point, the road to development is opening up.” Mr Sharma claimed that the mere presence of SSB in the borders areas had changed the lifestyle of people in the border areas. “The forests that were depleting at an alarming pace, have been saved. To a great extent illegal tree cutting and smuggling of wood has been curbed. The forest department guards, though uniformed, were not very effective as they were not armed and were small in numbers. On the other hand, the SSB jawans are large in numbers and equipped with modern weaponry,” he said. Speaking about the role of SSB in policing the porous and contiguous India-Nepal border, an area where the presence of civil police is scant, Mr Sharma said, “The SSB plays a dual role. Firstly, we guard the border. Secondly, we build trust and confidence among the local population, local community,” the IG said. “One of our thrust areas is encouraging people living in border areas to give up criminal activities by providing skills for them to earn a livelihood. We organise skill development camps regularly,” Mr. Sharma pointed out. “Petty crimes are a sort of economic compulsion for the people, especially the youth, living in border areas. If we provide them some via media, we are confident that we can wean them away from criminal activities,” he said. “The local people are the best source of intelligence gathering for us,” said Mr. Sharma. “Whatever information and tip-offs we get, come from them only. We are mostly dependent on human intelligence because half the areas we serve in, are not covered by telecom operators and internet service providers. That’s a shadow area. In any case, human intelligence beats tech intelligence any day. Wherever required we take the help of local police,” he said. To keep the local population engaged, the SSB organises community welfare and awareness camps within the Indian territory. “But we also reach out to Nepalese people when we organise free medical camps on our soil. Our social welfare activities are open to people living on both sides of the border. We organise medical camps and veterinary camps on a monthly basis,” he explained. Policing a porous and contiguous border area is altogether a different ball game. Very often one wouldn’t know whether it’s Indian territory or Nepalese. Describing the topography and the challenges faced by SSB forces, Mr Sharma stated: “On the Nepalese side, it’s predominantly plains, which means the land is precious for them. On the Indian side, there are dense forests and the terrain is not very hospitable. At some places it’s a riverine terrain. Due to the Indo-Nepalese friendship treaty and visa-free regime, the movement of people and cattle is not restricted. The free movement is, obviously, exploited by criminal elements. A lot of trans-border crimes do happen, such as smuggling of narcotics and other prohibited items, human trafficking, wildlife crimes, illegal tree-felling and smuggling of wood for commercial purposes.” Pointing out that there are border outposts every 3-4 kilometres, and checkpoints are set up and mobile patrolling is done regularly, the IG Frontier said “still criminal elements do exploit loopholes in the system.” The SSB officer said, “Let’s not talk about religion or sects... the problem is economic. Those who are poor come to our camps, irrespective of their faith. In fact, they eagerly look forward to the camps of SSB. We are welcome into the houses of both Hindus and Muslims, because we don’t carry any symbol of religion with us. We carry the symbol of the State and we are there for everyone.” Mr Sharma told UNI, “Wildlife crimes are not so rampant, but in some parts of Kheri area there are certain villages and people living in those villages are traditional hunters. They take pride in being hunters. They also indulge in criminal activities. We keep a tab on them. Hunting has reduced because of our presence in the jungles. They know that during night time if they fire weapons they will be exposed. Our presence deters them. And we also keep visiting them and warning them that they are being watched. This is not to say that they have given up wildlife crimes totally. They might use other means to kill animals, such as laying traps.” Talking about the role of women in the SSB, Mr Sharma gave high marks by saying, “Women succeed where our male officers fail. During interrogation when the hard line breaks, softer line succeeds. They are very useful. Half the traffic that we handle is women. For checking, frisking and interacting they do a better job than men.” Mr Sharma said for better coordination and accountability, SSB is divided into six frontiers– Ranikhet, Lucknow, Patna, Siliguri, Guwahati and Tezpur. The Lucknow Frontier, of which Mr Sharma is in-charge, controls the 490-kilometre stretch along the India-Nepal border and eight battalions man the two sectors -- Gorakhpur and Lakhimpur Kheri – spread over six districts of Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich, Shrawasti, Balrampur, Siddharthnagar and Maharajganj. UNI RS PS SB 0917

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