Article as appeared on the front page of the MAIL TODAY Newspaper, New Delhi on April 19, 2013
New Delhi: India’s famed Black Cats seem to have lost their bite in the four-and-a-half years since the Mumbai terror attacks. The National Security Guard (NSG), the nation’s much vaunted counter-terror arm that so heroically brought the curtain down on the 26/11 outrage, stands compromised in the critical areas of manpower and training, a Mail Today investigation has found out.
Governmental neglect and apathy have so hobbled this sword arm of the security apparatus that the top hierarchy of the NSG has been moved to say as much to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), its controller and administrator. The NSG wants officers, and it wants helicopters to train its men. Both are in short supply.
One of the vital components of the force’s training is its helicopter-borne operations, one happy result of which the entire nation saw unfold at Mumbai in 2008. NSG commandos are trained to rappel down a line from a hovering helicopter at an enemy location, thus effecting a quick insertion of highly trained fighters into the heart of the action. Since May 2012, however, the NSG has barely had any helicopter training. Why? Because there are no helicopters, that’s why.
Says one source, “The norm is that a helicopter be made available to us once in two months, if not more. But the frequency has dropped sharply.” It is to the NSG’s credit that it has improvised by erecting platforms atop tall structures at its hubs and bases to simulate helicopter operations. “But nothing can beat the original. Should a force like the NSG be forced in this way to seek alternatives and compromises?” asks an officer.
DG asks for more
The NSG’s copter situation deteriorated to the extent that its then Director General (DG)- now the DG of the Border Security Force-Subhash Joshi on November 29, 2012 was constrained to bring it to the attention of Minister of State (MoS) Home RPN Singh. Minutes of that meeting, available with Mail Today, show the DG as saying, “During the last six months no heliborne training could be conducted due to non-availability of helicopter. DG NSG requested to expedite the process of taking over one helicopter of NSG, which is presently with the Aviation Research Centre (ARC).”
The DG went on to tell the minister about the manpower shortage affecting the force. This shortage, according to the note, was coming from the side of the Army, “in the rank of Team Commander (rank of Major/Captain) level in the NSG and requested that these vacancies may be filled by the officers of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) for the time being. JS (P-II) informed that MHA has already agreed for the same in principle.”
The main reason for the lack of availability of helicopters is that dismal state of the MHA’s Air Wing which has six Russian-made Mi-17 1V helicopters purchased in 2004, operated by the BSF. These machines require heavy maintenance; making them available often in a situation of increasing deployment in anti-Naxal operations is easier said than done. That the ARC helicopter sought by the NSG chief is an older version of the Mi17 only shows how desperate the situation is.
The manpower crunch has its origin in the Army and the CAPFs not being able to chip in with their prescribed quota. The sudden expansion of the NSG, with new hubs in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai has only amplified the problem. Explains a source, “There is a shortage of 25 officers in each of the hubs that have been set up. Apart from the Army, Central Reserve Police Force and BSF, other forces have not been able to provide us manpower.
And the Army, CRPF and BSF have their own requirement and thus can’t be making up for what the others don’t deliver.” A senior officer in the NSG counters this argument. He says: “There is a shortage. But as a special force, we are quite well-numbered as compared to other special forces of the world.” It is learnt that government is writing to state police forces to send volunteers to the NSG and to fill the gaps in the force’s ranks. MoS RPN Singh acknowledges the November 2012 meeting, and says the NSG’s needs are being looked into.
Lt. Gen (Retd) P.C. Katoch, who served with the Army’s elite Parachute Regiment has no kind words for the government. “The force is being compromised. Helicopters are a must for the NSG, especially when you talk of the operations they are to do,” he says. “It is highly disturbing that the government has agreed to replace men from the Army with those from the paramilitary and state forces.”
Former NSG chief Rajan K Medhekar says, “A force like the NSG should have it own fleet of helicopters or a dedicated squadron. Historically, the Special Action Group (SAG) which has always been an all-Army group, and Special Rangers Group (SRG) which is largely staffed by men from BSF and CRPF and is used for protection duties, have till date never been mixed the way this proposal plans to. It won’t be good.”