New Delhi: The Narendra Modi-led government on Friday removed the Special Protection Group (SPG) security cover given to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, government sources told . The Gandhi family, however, will be accorded with Z+ security given by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). According to reports, the decision was taken during a Home Ministry meeting after several security agencies carried out a threat perception assessment and found there was no direct threat to them. In August this year, the government had removed SPG protection for former Prime Minister and Congress leader Manmohan Singh. He is now given the Z+ security cover.
The government sources have also said that removal of SPG cover does not mean security of Gandhi family will be compromised and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) will be deputed for their security. SPG cover is the highest tier of security in the country.
The SPG security will be withdrawn from their New Delhi residence after the CRPF takes over the responsibility, a Home Ministry official said. Terming the development as unfortunate, Congress has slammed the government for the same and said that the protection for Gandhi family has been removed under a political vengeance.
A force of about 3,000 active personnel, the SPG was formed in 1985 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards in 1984. As off now, the SPG force protected only four people in the country – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Reacting to the development, a government official said that security cover of all protectees is reviewed time to time and downgraded whenever required. Recently, the SPG cover given to Rahul Gandhi came under scrutiny after it was found that on 143 of his 156 trips abroad in the last four years, he did not take the SPG with him.
The decision to withdraw the SPG security cover of Manmohan Singh was taken after a three-month review involving the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Home Affairs with inputs from various intelligence agencies.
“The current security cover review is a periodical and professional exercise based on threat perception that is purely based on professional assessment by security agencies. Dr. Manmohan Singh continues to have Z+ security cover,” a home ministry spokesperson had said.
According to procedures laid down by the SPG Act, 1988, Singh was entitled to SPG cover for one year after he demitted office in 2014. His SPG security cover was renewed annually after a review of the threats faced by him and his wife Gursharan Kaur. Singh’s daughters, who were also given SPG cover, gave up the protection voluntarily in 2014.
After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991, the SPG Act was amended to offer SPG protection to all former prime ministers and their families for at least 10 years. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government conducted a review of the SPG’s functioning, and decided to withdraw the SPG protection given to former prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao, H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral.
In 2003, the Vajpayee government again amended the SPG Act to bring the period of automatic protection down from 10 years to “a period of one year from the date on which the former prime minister ceased to hold office” and beyond one year based on the level of threat as decided by the general government.