SPG’s Blue Book covers all aspects of PM’s security, more to Punjab episode than meets the eye: Ex-IPS officer

A former IPS officer who served in SPG said that Blue Book clearly details how PM must be secured and that prolonged stranding of his convoy in proximity to a crowd in Punjab was highly surprising

SPG’s Blue Book covers all aspects of PM’s security, more to Punjab episode than meets the eye: Ex-IPS officer

Rahul Gul

The so-called security breach in PM Narendra Modi’s security on Wednesday while he was en route to the venue of an event in Ferozepur district of Punjab has led to a kerfuffle.

The PM’s remark, attributed to him by a news agency but not corroborated so far by either the PMO or the BJP, to officials at Bathinda airport that it was something of a miracle for him to have reached there unharmed, has, in particular, given grist to conspiracy theory mills about the entire episode.

Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi, on his part, has clarified that he regretted the incident, pointing out that he was ready to give up his own life to secure the PM if necessary, but that the PM’s life was never in danger. He also contended that PM Modi had decided to turn back after learning of poor turnout at a rally he was to address.

The Punjab govt has, since, constituted a panel chaired by former high court judge Justice Mehtab Singh Gill to enquire into the incident.

A former IPS officer who served at a senior position in the Special Protection Group (SPG) pointed out that the core issue is that the PM’s cavalcade was indeed seen perched on a flyby with a crowd in the proximity, a moment captured in several photographs, which cannot be dismissed lightly.

“Before moving to other issues, I am astonished that such photographs are in circulation in the first place. Who clicked them and why, and how were they leaked in the public domain? It was clearly not an accidental thing, as several photographs from all kinds of angles were taken,” he said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the incident and a bar on members of the SPG speaking to the media stipulated in the SPG Act although he’s no longer an active member.

“It wasn’t as if an official photographer would be present to chronicle a public event. Now, SPG personnel won’t be expected to click such pictures, and even if we assume for a moment that an onlooker or onlookers clicked them, it begs the question: how did the SPG allow anyone to breach the PM’s close proximity security? This itself indicates that there could be more to the episode than meets the eye,” he said.

He pointed out that the SPG’s Blue Book lays down exactly how the PM is to be secured at all times and in various situations, and no deviation is brooked.

“When the PM is scheduled to travel, the SPG prepares an itinerary which details his movement minute-to-minute, and this is made available to everyone responsible to ensure that the visit goes without a hitch, which among other things entails visualization and deployment of all necessary security measures. In this case, a copy would have been sent to the Punjab Chief Secretary, the senior-most bureaucrat who heads the state’s administrative machinery,” he said.

“I’m given to understand that in this case too, such a detailed document bearing the date January 4 was prepared and marked to the Punjab Chief Secretary. Now, this clearly mentioned that the PM would fly from Bathinda airport to Ferozepur in a Mi-17 helicopter. But as per the Blue Book, the meteorology department’s prior and detailed input on weather conditions in the area the PM is scheduled to visit must be taken. Such an input would have made it clear that the weather around Bathinda and Ferozepur would be inclement on Wednesday, something incidentally known to everyone who possesses a smart phone. So, it can’t be said that the SPG officers would have been taken aback at the last minute by the weather conditions,” he said.

“The Blue Book also mandates that contingency measures must be in place when a plan needs to be changed abruptly for any reason. As such, the SPG would have kept open the possibility of the PM travelling by road if he wasn’t able to fly. When this course of action was opted for, protocol dictates that they would have informed DGP, Punjab to ensure that the PM’s route was sanitized,” he said.

“The DGP, in turn, would be required to assure the SPG of the same and ensure that all necessary steps were taken to sanitise the route to be taken by the PM. The SPG was not supposed to move the PM even an inch without securing such an assurance. If the DGP’s team was informed and he failed to deploy sufficient measures to sanitise the route, he must be held accountable for it. Only a probe into the sequence of event will establish what really happened,” he added.

“The other thing that surprised me is that when the PM’s cavalcade moves, it is preceded by an ‘Advance Warning Pilot Vehicle’ at some distance. Such a vehicle would have noticed that the road ahead of the flyby was not open to movement, for whatever reason. If this was due to unexpected crowd movement, as apparently happened in this case, the vehicle needed to immediately alert the convoy to stop. Why was the PM’s vehicle allowed to climb the flyby and then wait there for a good 15-odd minutes, in close proximity and in clear line of sight to a large group of people?” he said.

“Even if contact with Punjab Police could not be established to clear the route, as they are reportedly saying, which in itself is surprising since the district SSP would have been part of the convoy, the PM’s car should have turned back immediately. Why did they wait for so long? What’s more, in the photographs in circulation, SPG personnel are seen holding positions on either side of the PM’s vehicle, with the front completely exposed. It is for the SPG to answer why all this happened,” he said.

Asked to comment on allegations that the Punjab Police enabled farmers to block the road by leaking the precise route taken by the PM, and that constables were seen sitting and sipping tea with such protesters, the former IPS officer said, "I don't think they had any option other than taking the Delhi-Bathinda-Ferozepur national highway no. 95, especially in bad weather. Also, the origin of the crowd is not very clear since BJP flags were spotted in footage aired by some TV channels and some sections of media have reported that protesters were already present on that stretch and did not in fact believe the police when told that the PM was arriving on that spot."

"But yes, if a probe unearths that information about the PM taking a land route instead of an aerial one was leaked, it would constitute a serious breach of norms. If it is established that Punjab Police brass and constabulary were indeed guilty of dereliction of duty, appropriate penal action as mandated by the rulebook must be taken against all such personnel," he said.

“Punjab Police was obligated to sanitise the route and ensure flawless overall security to the PM while he was in the state. Section 14 of the SPG Act makes it clear that every agency including the state government must act in in aid of the SPG’s director or member of a group whenever called upon to do so in furtherance of the duties and responsibilities assigned to such Director or member,” he added.

“However, if the SPG, which works on the motto of ‘zero error’ made any mistakes, errant officials must face the music. The 3000-member force, which has a budget of Rs 590 crore, is single-handedly responsible to keep the PM secure at all times. There's no room whatsoever for a compromise there,” he said.

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Published: 06 Jan 2022, 1:11 PM