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Assam Rifles unhappy over ITBP merger plan

This would devoid it of the option of using Assam Rifles in conventional operations along the eastern frontier with China. The ministry has given 7 proposals to the army to get the operational control of the Assam Rifles and merge it with the ITBP.

Last Updated: Oct 24, 2019, 08.30 AM IST|Original: Oct 24, 2019, 07.02 AM IST
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Army sources said Assam Rifles’ director general Lieutenant General Sukhdeep Sangwan has recently raised the matter of the merger with the home ministry.
NEW DELHI: The brass of Assam Rifles has raised concerns with the Union home ministry over the latter’s proposed merger of the force with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

According to the army, the move would devoid it of the option of using the Assam Rifles in conventional operations along the eastern frontier with China. The army has also pointed out that the move could affect its good coordination in joint operations with Myanmar in flushing out insurgents from across the border. “We have vast operational experience. The ITBP is well trained and equipped as is the army. We are sister forces and are working in a coordinated manner and this situation will continue,” said ITBP director general S S Deswal when asked about the army’s demand on taking operational control of police force.

Army sources said Assam Rifles’ director general Lieutenant General Sukhdeep Sangwan has recently raised the matter of the merger with the home ministry. This has been a long drawn issue between the defence and home ministries. The home ministry has given seven proposals to the army to get the operational control of the Assam Rifles and merge it with the ITBP (which comes under the ministry). Currently, the Assam Rifles is under the administrative control of the home ministry and operational control of the army. The Assam Rifles, which undertakes counter-insurgency operations in conjunction with the army in the northeast and guards the 1,643 km long India-Myanmar border, draws 80% of its officers from the army. Its director general is an army officer. If it is merged with the ITBP, then the latter will be deployed at the Myanmar border.

In 2017, the home ministry sent a proposal (one of the seven) on dividing the Assam Rifles between the army and ITBP. The army had responded that the proposal was ‘unworkable’, because it would drastically affect the counter-insurgency grid and security of the Myanmar border. The latest proposal was in December 2018, of wanting all the 46 battalions (about 65,000 troops) of the Assam Rifles to come under the home ministry and be merged with the ITBP. But the army replied that the status quo should be maintained and giving away operational control of the force is not an option.

Officials aware of the response sent earlier this year said the army reasoned that the Assam Rifles is the only true paramilitary force in the country and is a second line of defence. “The Rashtriya Rifles (read as involved in counter-terrorist operations in J&K) releases forces for conventional operations across the western border. Similarly, the Assam Rifles also provides the army with such options along the eastern front with China, which will not remain if it becomes part of the ITBP,” officials said.

The Assam Rifles has a training structure similar to that of the army. The army also proposed that the ITBP deployments along the Line of Actual Control with China should come under its operational control.

The home ministry, on the other hand, has pointed out that Myanmar border is not being guarded properly. It has suggested that instead of having Company Operating Bases, there should be nakkas. The army has said that current deployment exists due to the terrain and is working well.

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