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SPG (Amend) Bill on PM, ex-PM, kin protection passed in LS

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SPG (Amend) Bill on PM, ex-PM, kin protection passed in LSNew Delhi, Nov 28 (IANS) The Special Protection Group (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday with Congress and other political parties terming the move a “vindictive approach” and “political vendetta” against the Gandhi family.

As per the amendment, the elite force will now only protect the Prime Minister and his immediate family residing with him at his official residence and also former PM and his kin living with him at the residence allotted to him for a period of five years from the date he demits office.

Rejecting the Opposition’s allegation, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the Centre’s purpose behind the SPG (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was not vindictive. “It is not the way of the Bharatiya Janata Party, but it is the approach of Congress,” he said.

He said the reality is that the Bill, which seeks an amendment to the SPG Act, 1988, does not aim to remove the SPG protection of the Gandhi family. It only restores the original intent of the Act, he added.

Shah clarified that the Gandhi family’s security has not been “withdrawn but has been changed”. “Gandhi family has been provided Z plus security cover under Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) with ASL (Advance Security Liaison) and ambulance facility”.

Shah’s remarks came while responding to the members who participated in the discussion on the Bill which provides for constitution and regulation of an armed force of the Union for providing “proximate security” to the Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers and members of their immediate families and for matters connected therewith.

As per the Bill, family members of a former prime minister who don’t reside with him at his official residence will not be guarded by the SPG commandos anymore and those who reside with him at his allotted accommodation will get security cover by the elite force only for five years.

The Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday by Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy, proximate security will be given by the force only to the Prime Minister and members of his immediate family if they live with him at his official residence.

The Bill came days after the government withdrew the SPG security cover provided to members of the Gandhi family – Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka.

Unhappy with Amit Shah’s reply on the Bill, Congress boycotted the proceedings. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhry alleged that the government is bringing this Bill for pursuing its political vendetta against a family which has sacrificed the life of its two members for the country.

Initiating the debate, Congress’ Manish Tewari said the reason given to remove SPG protection provided to former Prime Ministers is “number of individuals to be provided SPG cover can potentially become quite large”.

“Same reason was given to remove security cover of former PM Rajiv Gandhi,” Tewari said.

DMK’s A. Raja said the objective of the security assessment of threat perception is missing in this Bill.

The Act was amended in 1991, 1994, 1999 and 2003 to extend SPG cover to the former Prime Ministers and their immediate family members also, for different periods.

Shah said the security of Gandhi family was changed on the basis of threat assessment. They were given CRPF’s ‘Z plus’ security cover a day before withdrawal of SPG cover and addition ASL and ambulance facility across the country.

Shah said that ASL facility is being provided to Gandhi family under which security assessment is done in advance before the visit of the protectee.

Clarifying that CRPF is not a small agency, the Minister said it is a Central agency with presenc in every state.

On SPG, he said, its security personnel do not come from “heaven”, they are the personnel who are selected from CRPF, Border Security Force (BSF) and other agencies. “The SPG is a Special Protection Group under which personnel from various security forces are taken.”

The SPG is only dedicated to the security of the Prime Minister and his office.

Referring to earlier amendments in the Bill, Shah said “all amendments were done considering these families (Gandhi family)”. “This is the first time when the amendment is being done considering threat perception to Prime Minister’s security”.

Criticising the Congress, the Minister said the SPG cover of former Prime Ministers such as Chandra Shekhar, P.V. Narasimha Rao and I.K. Gujral was removed after a review of the assessment of threat perception, but none in the Congress said anything. “Whose security is important — the head of a country, VIP or a particular family?” he asked.

Shah said no one raised the issue when the security of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was changed recently.

“Is Dr Manmohan Singh not a former Prime Minister? He is from your (Congress) party. Narasimha Rao was also from your party. Why did you not express your concern for them?”

He asserted if the security of anyone has been curtailed, it is of Narendra Modi as his security will be automatically removed in the sixth year after he would demit office.

The Minister said that the security of Chandra Shekhar’s two sons, Narsimha Rao’s eight family members, I.K. Gujral’s three family members and Manmohan Singh’s three family members was withdrawn after the assessment of threat perception.

Before changing Manmohan Singh’s security, Shah said Director Intelligence Bureau personally met him and informed him about it. “A similar approach was made by Director IB who telephoned the Gandhi family seeking time to meet them, but they said ‘you do what you have decided’.”

Despite that a meeting was held between the SPG and CRPF officials and threat perception was assessed more than twice in which it was found that Z plus cover is enough, he said.

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