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Operational Control of Assam Rifles

April 19, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By PIB
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


Assam Rifles marching contingent on the occasion of Republic Day

Media reports of April 15, 2019, state that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has conveyed to the Delhi High Court that it, along with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), will abide by any decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on the dual control over Assam Rifles. Over the past decades, the Assam Rifles (which has expanded from 17 battalions in 1960 to 46 battalions with more than 46,000 personnel) has been functioning under the administrative control of MHA, while the operational control lies with the Amy who in turn is under MoD.

The affidavit filed by MHA with Delhi High Court states that Rajiv Gauba, Home Secretary has held a meeting with Sanjay Mitra, Defence Secretary to discuss the issue on April 4; the meeting reportedly discussed a note moved by the MHA for the CCS on March 20 for resolving the issue of dual control over Assam Rifles. The media report further states that the affidavit conveyed to the Court that MHA and MoD will abide by the decision of the CCS. Delhi High Court has issued a notice to the Cabinet Secretary to inform it as to what decision the CCS had taken on the note forwarded to it by the MHA. The Court was reportedly hearing a petition filed by the Assam Rifles Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association through lawyer Neha Rathi on the difficulties faced by the retired personnel of the force with regard to the payment of pension due to the dual control of the force. Both the meeting between the Home and Defence Secretaries and the petition filed by the Assam Rifles Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association are latest initiatives to take away the Assam Rifles from the operational control of the Army – something the MHA has tried repeatedly over the years. Difficulties in payment of pensions are not insurmountable that need to be linked with operational control and neither should the Court in anyway be fiddling with operational control especially with the mounting internal and external threats to India's national security.

The meeting between Gauba and Mitra may have already resulted in a mutual decision, with CCS nod reduced to mere formality consider that reverting Assam Rifles operational control to MHA is also in line with the policeisation policy of the Modi Government in terms of national security; sidelining the Armed Forces without due thought to its repercussions. Taking away the operational control of Assam Rifles from the Army cannot also be linked to removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas of northeast, as is being projected, as these separate issues. The crux of the matter is the narcotics and smuggling, and consequential money-making that is ongoing in the northeast.

India was dubbed recently by the United Nation as the highest user of heroin in South Asia. According to the UN report, "One million heroin addicts are registered in India, and unofficially there are as many as five million". Not many are aware that the amount of narcotics entering India from its eastern borders are equal, if not more than what comes through our western borders. It is for this reason that despite the Assam Rifles being under operational control of the Army, successive Indian Governments have not permitted the Assam Rifles to be deployed bang on the Indo-Myanmar border but positioned them somewhat behind under pretext of facilitating cross-border move of civilians because of common ethnicity on both sides; this being absurd rather than channelising same move through integrated check posts. It is for the very same reasons of taking control of the narcotics and smuggling that the MHA in year 2010 had strongly taken up for the BSF to man the Indo-Myanmar border. Fortunately, that did not work out but now with the Modi-government stance of marginalising the Army, the fresh initiative of MHA is to take full control of Assam Rifles under the lame excuse of difficulties in payment of pensions to Assam Rifles veterans, as if this is a new occurrence and veterans of Armed Forces themselves face no difficulties.

Ironically, we fail to learn even from China, whose Border Guards Divisions are under the PLA. Conversely, even the ITBP deployed in Depsang Plains and Chumar in Eastern Ladakh are not placed under command the Army, in contravention to recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee and the follow up Group of Ministers that Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) may be deployed on international borders to relieve pressure on the Army but they must be placed under command the Army.

India has consistently defied the rule of 'One Border, One Force' by giving international borders to variety of CAPF independently. The Indian Coast Guards are also planned to be placed under MHA, taking away the control of MoD since past decades. Government appears to be in a hurry to force the CCS decision before the next government is formed. For the present political hierarchy, police is as good as the Army, if not better. But reverting operational control of Assam Rifles from Army to MHA will have serious repercussions for the northeast region. That the move will gladden Beijing is undoubted. China was behind the recent unrest in Arunachal Pradesh and has plenty up her sleeve with USWA and ARSA as her proxies, with latter moving in to areas along Myanmar's borders with Mizoram and Manipur. Yet the 'deep state' within India appears to be on a winning spree.