The concept of border management assumed greater importance in the government lexicon only in the wake of the Kargil conflict of 1999, and the subsequent report submitted by the Kargil Review Committee. Based on the recommendations of the Review Committee, the Government of India, in April 2001, set up a ‘task force’ on border management under the chairmanship of Madhav Godbole.
This task force was part of a Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to review the national security system as a whole and the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee in particular. The task force’s objective was to ‘consider measures for border management and, in particular, to consider the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee in this regard and formulate specific proposals for the GoM’s consideration’.
The report observed that the country’s borders cannot be effectively managed because of certain inherent problems, such as their disputed nature, artificiality and porosity, which according to it give rise to multiple problems like illegal migration, smuggling, drugs trafficking, and trans-border movement of insurgents. In addition, the multiplicity of forces employed to guard the same border, their repeated withdrawal from the borders for other duties, the lack of adequate infrastructure along the border, etc., prevent them from efficiently guarding the border.
To address these vital issues the GoM recommended:
i. Concerted efforts are to be made to settle border disputes and demarcate the borders at the earliest opportunity
ii. ‘Department of Border Management’ be created
iii. One border guarding force should be deployed on one border and it should not be distracted from its principal task and deployed for other internal security duties
iv. Establishment of a marine police force, strengthening of Coast Guard and setting up of an apex institution for coordinating various maritime issues
v. Accelerated development of infrastructure along the border, especially to wean away the border population from illegal activities
India’s neighbourhood is in turmoil. Several of India’s neighbours are undergoing political and economic instability. India also has continuing border disputes with several of her neighbours. Uncertain borders not only raise bilateral tensions but also facilitate cross-border infiltration, illegal migration, smuggling and crime. Of these, illegal migration has emerged as one of the major national security challenges.
The Group of Ministers undertook a thorough review of border management issues and made several recommendations in 2001. Many of these recommendations are being implemented. One of the major recommendations was the setting up of a separate Department of Border Management within the Ministry of Home Affairs. This has been done. Yet, other major recommendations like the early settlement of our maritime borders and the demarcation of land boundaries has not yet been fully implemented.
The GoM had strongly recommended the principle of ‘one border one force’ for better accountability. It emphasised the imperative of not deploying the border guarding forces for law and order duties and counter insurgencies. It made some recommendations specific to better management of India-Pakistan, India-Nepal and other borders.
It lamented the neglect of maritime borders and island territories and made recommendations to strengthen coast guard and police. As a result of these recommendations, border management has got more attention but the Mumbai terrorist attacks have once again shown that a lot more needs to be done to improve border management.
In the last two years, India has built several thousand kilometres of fences on India-Bangladesh and India-Pakistan borders. Border guarding forces have been augmented. Several thousand crores of rupees have been spent on their modernisation and expansion. The Government has announced a policy of setting up 13 modern integrated check posts to improve border management. Technology will play a major role in improving border management.
Approach to Border Management:
The approach as employed by the Government towards managing the borders has four important elements, viz. (a) guarding, (b) regulation, (c) development of border areas, and (d) constituting bilateral institutional mechanisms for resolving disputes and ironing out conflicts with neighbours.
We shall examine each one of the above elements:
The BSF has been assigned responsibility for the India-Pakistan and India- Bangladesh borders, Assam Rifles (AR) for the India-Myanmar border, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) for the India-China border, and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) for the India-Nepal and India-Bhutan borders.
For managing the borders effectively, it is important to have better surveillance. Surveillance is carried out by conducting regular patrols by the personnel guarding our borders. To house these personnel and to send regular patrols and to interact with the nearby villages, border out posts (BOP) have been set up all along the borders. The inter-BOP distances along various borders are far greater than the recommended 2.5 km.
For securing the riverine and creek areas along the India-Bangladesh and India-Pakistan borders, the water wing of the BSF is deployed.
In addition, several electronic surveillance equipment like Night Vision Devices, Hand Held Thermal Imagers, Battle Field Surveillance Radars, Direction Finders, Unattended Ground Sensors, High Powered Telescope, etc. are used by the border guarding forces as force multipliers for greater surveillance.
Efficient regulation of movement of people and goods is the hallmark of an effective border management strategy. For this, the government has to facilitate legitimate trade and travel while simultaneously checking illegal migration, infiltration of insurgents and terrorists and prevent smuggling. Building barriers is an effective means and for this fencing is employed but it is not an easy task.
Some problem areas are:
i. Acquisition of land
ii. Inordinate delay due to non-cooperation by local bodies
iii. In many instances, vested interests and state governments try to halt the process due to vote bank politics by illegal migrants.
Another method of regulation is issuance of multi-purpose national identity cards and construction of Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) to facilitate legal trade and movement.
c. Development of Border Areas:
Border areas remain inaccessible and underdeveloped due to difficult terrain and lack of facilities like proper roads, educational institutions and hospitals. Lack of economic opportunities makes the border population more susceptible to take up smuggling and trafficking.
Keeping in mind these problems, the Union government initiated the ‘border area development programme’ (BADP) in 1987 to provide adequate social and economic infrastructure, promote participation in development, eliminate sense of alienation, and instil a sense of security among the border people.
BADP schemes comprise of development of community based infrastructure like forestry, pasture land, fishery ponds, floriculture parks, community centres, mobile dispensaries, mini marketing yards, etc. Over the years, the nature of the programme has changed from a schematic one with emphasis on education to a state-level programme with emphasis on balanced development of border areas. Grass-root level institutions such as panchayati raj institutions, district councils/traditional councils are encouraged to participate in deciding the priority schemes for their areas.
North-east India, which shares 98 per cent of its borders with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, has been plagued by insurgency and under-development. Its strategic location as a gateway to South East Asia has propelled the government to undertake various developmental programmes in recent years. To study the situation of the North-east region and suggest suitable projects for its development, the Government constituted the L C Jain Committee and the high level commission under the chairmanship of S P Shukla in the 1990s.
The Commission in its report titled Transforming the Northeast’ noted the inadequate infrastructure in the region and strongly advocated the need to develop them, especially road networks. Consequently, a series of schemes were initiated to develop the road network in the region. Among these, the three most important schemes are National Highway Development Programme Phase II, National Highway Development Programme Phase III B and Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the North-east Region (SARDP-NE) 2007-2008.
d. Constituting Bilateral Institutional Mechanisms:
To facilitate bilateral dialogue on matters of mutual concern regarding border management, the Government of India has constituted a system of institutionalised interaction through the meetings of home secretaries, area commanders of border guarding forces and the joint working group on border management.
For instance, to discuss issues of insurgency and smuggling along the Indo-Myanmar border, foreign office consultations (FOC) at the level of Foreign Secretary on the Indian side and Deputy Foreign Minister on Myanmar’s side take place regularly.
National level meetings (NLMs) and sectoral level meetings (SLM) also take place under the Home Secretary and the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, respectively. The primary objective of these meetings is ‘to maintain peace and tranquility all along the border’ and to attain this objective, the two sides have agreed to ‘prevent inadvertent violations of each other’s’ territories by their security forces’ and also to ‘monitor and curb effectively all illegal and negative activities such as trans-border movement of insurgents, narco-traffickers and others involved in nefarious activities’. Border liaison meetings (BLMs) take place between local Area Army Commanders at designated places every six months.
The Surveyor Generals of India and Myanmar also meet to discuss the work plan for joint inspection, repairs, restoration and maintenance of boundary pillars on the border. India has also constituted similar institutional mechanisms with Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan.
On Indo-Bangladesh border, several bilateral mechanisms with BGB (Border Guards of Bangladesh) exist, such as Company Commander level meeting, Commandant level meeting, Sector Commander level meeting, Inspector General BSF-Deputy Director General BGB level meeting, Nodal officer level meetings and Director General BSF-Director General BGB level Border Coordination Conference. A similar layered bilateral mechanism with Pakistan Rangers also exists.
These bilateral mechanisms have been helpful in sensitizing each other about their respective security concerns and formulating strategies for better management of the border.