Family members of former prime ministers will not be guarded by the top level Special Protection Group commandos, according to the amendments approved by the Union cabinet to the SPG Act. The move comes a couple of weeks after the SPG cover of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was revoked. The Home Ministry is all set to introduce the SPG Act (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha next week.
"The new Act will provide security to the sitting Prime Minister only," a senior functionary in the government said.
According to him, the provision of including former prime ministers and their family members was introduced after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 by LTTE terrorists. "Before that also it was only the PM who was guarded by the elite force now same has been reintroduced in the bill," the senior functionary added.
After the government's move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the lone SPG protectee in the country.
According to officials in the Home Ministry, the strength of the SPG would also be reduced. As of now, there are 3,500 men in the SPG but now with their duties all set to be curtailed, the organisation is become leaner in strength.
"Most of the men in the SPG would be repatriated to their organisations and in need basis the SPG would expand or shrink its strength," explains an official.
"If the PM is travelling more, then we would need more people to protect him. The strength is in-need basis," states another official in the Cabinet Secretariat. The SPG reports to the Cabinet Secretariat.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal told the Lok Sabha on Friday that the SPG Act (Amendment) Bill had been listed in the government's business for next week.
"The matter is closed as far as government is concerned. No matter how much opposition demands, SPG will only protect PM," a senior minister in the Modi cabinet has said.
Earlier this month, the government withdrew the SPG protection given to the Gandhis and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, basing it on a reassessment of their threat perception. The Gandhis have now been assigned Z Plus category security, which means they will be guarded by far less security personnel and the Delhi Police.
"The government has already withdrawn security from all former PMs and their family members but now by introducing a legislation they are formalising their decision," adds an officer.
Though there have been protests by the Congress in the ongoing winter session of parliament against the move, the Home Ministry has reportedly said the "matter is closed".
The Gandhi family is now without SPG protection after 28 years. They were included in the list of elite protectees following an amendment in September 1991 in the SPG Act of 1988.
SPG, a crack commando force, comes with armoured vehicles, 24-hour protection at home and an Advance Liaison Team that screens places that the protectees will visit.