The Parliament has passed the historic SPG (Amendment) Bill that seeks to curtail the number of people entitled to the top-grade Special Protection Group (SPG) security cover. The Upper House of the Parliament passed the Bill amidst ab uproar by Congress in the Parliament and a walkout by several opposition parties including the Congress.
The Amendment Bill provides for SPG cover to the Prime Minister and his immediate family members residing with him at his official residence. Moreover, the Bill also provides that the SPG will give security cover to the former Prime Minister and his immediate family members residing with him at the residence allotted to him, for a period of five years from the date he ceases to hold the office. As of now, the SPG Act, 1988 provides that the Prime Minister, former Prime Ministers and his immediate family members shall be entitled to SPG security. In case of former Prime Ministers and their immediate family members, there is a provision for security cover up to a period of one year, and beyond that on the level of threat based on an assessment by the Central Government on an annual basis. This provision had scope for political bias and misuse, as is clear from the manner in which the Nehru-Gandhi family was provided the elite SPG cover for a period of 28 years under this clause. Moreover, the original Act has no requirement of the immediate family members residing with the Prime Minister at his official residence which will be added once the President gives his assent to this Bill passed by the Parliament. Such provisions had the tendency of reducing the elite cover into more or a status symbol.
The Amendment Act also provides that where SPG cover is withdrawn from a former Prime Minister, it shall also stand withdrawn from his immediate family members. Therefore, in the case of the death of a former Prime Minister, the SPG cover would also stand withdrawn from his immediate family members. The original Act as amended from time to time has created a proviso to this provision which states that where the level of threat faced by any such immediate family member of a former Prime Minister whose security has been withdrawn warrants proximate security or any other security, such security shall be provided to him. However, the 2019 Amendment seeks to remove this proviso. The effect of this Amendment would be that that where the security of a former Prime Minister is withdrawn, or the former Prime Minister passes away, the SPG cover will not be extended to the immediate family members of such former Prime Minister in any situation.
The Amendment has unsurprisingly not gone down well with the Congress, which has raised the allegations of political vendetta against the Modi government. However, amidst the tumult and commotion created by the opposition including the Congress within the Parliament, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has made some compelling arguments and spoken some harsh truths that are clearly too hot to handle for the Congress. Exposing how the Congress was concerned just about the Nehru-Gandhi family, Shah stated that no discussion took place when security review was undertaken with respect to the former prime ministers including PV Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and recently Manmohan Singh.
He also said, “Security cover must not be treated as a status symbol by individuals. The SPG security cover is meant specifically for the Prime Minister and must not be enjoyed by any other individual.” Asking the Congress not to insist on SPG security cover, Shah added, “SPG cover should be for the head of the State. That is Government’s approach. After five years, Modi will also not get SPG security if he is not the Prime Minister.” He embarrassed the Congress by exposing how the grand old party was furthering dynastic politics, and said, “Are we in a democracy or in Middle Ages? Law should be same to one and all.”
During his speech in the Rajya Sabha, the Union Home Minister also exposed how the SPG Act was amended four times in the past for “one family”. He thus took an indirect jibe at how the Act was amended from time to time in order to extend the elite security cover to the Nehru-Gandhi family members. Apart from the amendments carried out in the Act for Congress’ first family, there has been a history of abuse of the top-grade security cover by the Nehru-Gandhi family. According to sources, Rahul Gandhi has violated SPG security rules several times. Sources say, “Out of total 156 foreign visits that he undertook since 1991, he did not take SPG officers on 143 visits. In most of these 143 foreign visits he shared the travel itinerary at eleventh hours preventing the SPG officers from accompanying him on the tours.”
Similarly, sources also say that Sonia Gandhi also did not take SPG cover on 24 of her foreign visits since 2015. Priyanka Gandhi also refused to take SPG cover on 78 of her foreign visits. Moreover, the Nehru-Gandhi family members. The official gave this data for the period till May 2019. Similarly, there have been several cases of the Nehru-Gandhi family using non-bullet proof vehicles against the advice of the SPG.
The manner in which SPG security rules have been repeatedly violated by the family, it seems that the elite security cover is nothing more than a matter of status symbol emanating out of a sense of entitlement for the family. The Congress does not understand the simple fact that the security cover is a privilege, and not a matter of right. Taking a cue out of the manner in which the Nehru-Gandhi family was provided SPG cover for a long period of 28 years under the present provisions of the Act, and also the manner in which the family repeatedly violated the SPG security rules, the Modi government seems to have understood that the Act in its present shape is vulnerable of being misused. Therefore, the present Amendment proposed by the recent Bill passed in the Parliament will make the legislation immune from potential misuse and manipulation.