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In the wake of the Chinese conflict in 1962, it was felt that the borders of the country could not be protected with the force of rifles alone. It required the backing and resolute will of a committed border population. In addition, it needed an in-depth understanding and familiarity of the terrain as well as the culture and ethos of the border population. A  need was, therefore,  realized for the creation of a unique, unconventional yet specialized organization, which would function in the far, flung, vulnerable, strategic, remote, climatically and topographically difficult border areas and motivate the border population across several states towards the cause of protecting our national sovereignty.

 

The Special Service Bureau (now Sashastra Seema Bal) was thus conceived in November 1962 and eventually created in March 1963 with the sole objective of achieving ‘Total security preparedness’ in the remote border areas for performing a ‘stay-behind’ role in the event of a war. SSB was started in North Assam, North Bengal, hill districts of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand), Himachal Pradesh, part of Punjab and Ladakh area of J&K. Shri B N Mullik took over as the first founder Director of Special Service Bureau and led the force from the front as the initial years were fraught with apprehensions on the prospects of another Chinese attack. The magnitude of responsibilities was such that each officer had to be constantly reassured of the value of his work in his own area of responsibility, so as to retain the motivation to continue to work towards the national objective, undeterred by the resistance encountered and the invisibility of the impact of the hard work put in. However, the appropriate support and cooperation came from the successive PMs, Dy PMs, Governors, CMs, etc., which bolstered the endeavour and morale of the SSB officers and staff, immensely.

 

 

 

Later, the jurisdiction of SSB was extended to Manipur, Tripura and Jammu (1965), Meghalaya (1975), Sikkim (1976), Rajasthan (1985), South Bengal, Nagaland and Mizoram (1989). Its area of coverage included 15 states. SSB in the erstwhile role was covering a population of more than 5.73 crores living in about 80,000 villages and about 9917 Kms of India’s international borders.

 

The area covered by SSB was distributed into 10 SSB Divisions, each headed by a Divisional Commissioner, 49 Areas headed by Area Organisers, 117 Sub Areas headed by Sub Area Organisers and 287 Circles headed by Circle Organisers. These units were key centres, coordinating and supervising all activities to fulfill their respective obligations. It also had 25 battalions of combatised personnel that provided arms training to volunteers who formed the core of the armed village resistance, in case of another war. These personnel were spread out across 32 Group Centres, 14 Training Centres and 3 Storage Depots. Training Schools were set up in various parts of the country starting with Frontier Administrative Officers’ Training Centre at Mahabaleshwar in October, 1963. Besides this, one Group Leaders Training School was opened in Gwaldam (then a part of Uttar Pradesh, now Uttarakhand).Two Advanced Training Schools were started for volunteers in Sarahan (HP) and Haflong (Assam). A High Altitude Training Centre was set up in Didihat, which was later shifted to Frontier Academy Gwaldam where a dedicated Mountaineering wing still conducts various rock climbing, snow survival and mountaineering courses. By 1990, SSB had seven Major Training Centres and seven Women’s Advanced Training Schools. Training was imparted to the population in the border areas of HP, Punjab, part of J&K, UP, North Assam, North Bengal and South Bengal and NEFA region.

 

Since 1963, the main thrust of the SSB was on generating a sense of national belonging, security and vigilance. Village Level Training Programmes and Refresher Training Courses in civil defence were started to train villagers to defend their own villages and if the situation demanded, to participate in a ‘stay behind role’ for the nation. Villagers were trained in the use of small arms and the art of self defence to develop a spirit of resistance. In early 1970s we also started National Integration Programmes in a big way. All these bore fruit slowly but surely. However, the rifle training was a big draw and brought lakh of people into our fold. The trained volunteers became the eyes and ears of SSB, on the border and could be drawn on whenever required. As a result the number of Chinese intelligencers prodding our border reduced considerably.

In 1965, SSB introduced Civic Action to build micro-infrastructures for the benefit of the border population. The villagers were taught dignity of labour and construction of micro-infrastructure programmes in remote border villages was taken on in a big way, in an inclusive manner. The same was conducted under Shramdhan, Grant-in-Aid and shared expenditure which resulted in the border population coming forth in large numbers to assist the SSB in repairing roads, bridges and drains, cleaning up tanks and wells, laying water supply lines and building public toilets, sports grounds, school buildings, community centres, etc.

 

In 1965, the border areas had no Primary Health Centers. Hence, SSB took on the task of providing medical support to the villagers at their door step. This move turned the tide in favour of the Government as the border men felt they had much to gain from being a part and parcel of the Indian Union. Later, we added distribution of aids and appliances, sponsored gymnasiums and set up rehabilitation centres in the remote border villages. Workshops were conducted on drug abuse, AIDS, alcoholism, etc. In recent years, we have included free of cost cleft lip and cleft palate operations as well in addition to distribution of artificial limbs, etc.

 

As early as 1966, SSB led the way in women empowerment and women emancipation. We first trained border women in self defence and first aid and then went on to take on vocational training for them to make them self reliant, in seven exclusive training centres. The first Woman Advance Training School was then inaugurated at Pauri in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi. Keeping up with this tradition, SSB became the first border guarding force to induct women into the Force in June 2008 when seven Coys of women personnel were inducted for Border Guarding duties.

 

From 1966 onwards, SSB took on political education Publicity Campaigns in villages along the border villages for Perception Management. We used tape recorders, 16 mm film projectors and gramophones to educate and motivate. We lived in the villages and addressed the day to day issues of the village population. SSB also emphasized the need for unity and integrated action. We addressed women issues in Woman Awareness Generation Camps and, in due course, women volunteers began to associate in large numbers and augmented SSB’s endeavour, greatly. The role of I&B Ministry in these programmes was also immense.

 

In the year 1989, SSB boosted its services through a veterinary support system for the border population as they were wholly dependent on cattle and livestock for their livelihood. In later years we conducted over 100 farmers training programmes and study tours for the border villagers to understand the best agricultural practices.

 

SSB also contributed in the evolution of the National Security Guards, Special Protection Guards, Indian Coast Guard, Border Security Force (by raising a company in a week’s time before the 1965 War) and raising the Mahila Battalion of CRPF. To tackle the problem of insurgency in Manipur, SSB came up with an innovative idea of raising Village Volunteer Force (VVF) to protect the villages and deprive support for insurgents and also assisted in counter-insurgency operations of the Indian Army and Central Paramilitary forces.

 

SSB has always been guided by its motto of Service, Security and Brotherhood and played both its overt and covert roles in an exemplary manner and grew in strength as a people’s force. When epidemics or disaster struck in the form of earthquake, cloudburst, floods, landslides or riots, SSB was the first to reach for rescue and relief work for the border population. SSB evolved as a unique organization, which, not only promoted national integration and security consciousness among the border populace but also enriched the social fabric, embellished the secular milieu of the nation and rejuvenated dying arts in all the areas in which it was deployed. In fact, the spread of Hindi in Arunachal Pradesh is credited to SSB. By our work and efforts, we, not only successfully restrained many youngsters from falling into the hands of fissiparous elements, but also saved many more from falling prey to drugs and bad habits by making them aware of the fatal repercussions.

 

This Force endeared itself as people’s Force for five decades by focusing hard on the organisational objective, remaining on a low profile and self contented on the sanctimonious words of the founder Director of SSB, Shri B N Mullik, that is, “ Your work is your reward.”  

 

 

Achievements of Special Service Bureau

 

SSB employed unique methodologies to connect with the border population in order to empower them. It’s achievements before 2001 were more qualitative than quantitative:

·   SSB followed the dictum of ‘recruit locally, train locally and deploy locally.’

·       A ‘DGS Study Group’ was started in which Officers from SSB, SFF and ARC presented scholarly domain knowledge papers on professional interest of the Force. A hundred Study papers were presented. Through these papers and brainstorming sessions the Forces evolved robust strategies.

In all, SSB trained 57.66 lakh border villagers in civil defence which included 18.60 lakh women at the Village Level Training programmes. They were in readiness to launch resistance operations, in an exigency.

Nearly a thousand Operational Groups were always ready for stay behind role at short notice.

              SSB’s High Altitude Training School was founded by Everester, Shri HCS Rawat. The institute trained thousands of personnel from almost all the forces including, Indian army, R&AW, IB, State Police and Central Police. Our mountaineers scaled 250 peaks in organizational or joint mountaineering expeditions within and outside the country and participated in several high altitude operations too. 

     By 1998, eighty SSB Medical Officers and 819 Para Medical Staff were treating an average of 16 lakh patients, every year. They also responded during manmade disasters and natural disasters in a commensurate manner.

·                SSB was the first force to take on empowerment and emancipation of women (1966) and to deploy women on Border Guarding duties (June 2008) after becoming a Border Guarding Force.

    SSB played a prominent role in the Indo-Pak War in 1965, in East Pakistan Operations in 1971 by also raising the Mukti Bahini Fauj and against Pakistan in the Kargil operations.

·                We participated or were deployed in important Operations including, in Sri Lanka.

·               SSB also guarded high value and strategic installations and conducted onerous internal security duties in several states including, in Punjab (until 1996) and in Assam (including oil installations from 1980-83). We also guarded IB Check Posts, ARC and R&AW establishments in remote and isolated high altitude border areas.

    More than 5000 SSB Volunteers joined the ranks of CRPF, BSF and State Police, as they were highly trained. 200 odd women have been recruited to CRPF when they started the Mahila Battalion. Amongst our illustrious volunteers are Shri Gegong Apang (former CM of Arunachal Pradesh) and Everester Ms Bachendri Pal.

·               The VVF was instrumental in the surrender of 654 hostiles, apprehension of 261 insurgents, neutralization of 44 hostiles and recovery of considerable quantity of arms and ammunition and other stores.

Twenty nine SSB Veterinary doctors and 211 Para-Vetys were annually treating five lakh livestock’s and birds in far-flung border villages. From 1989-96, SSB treated 57.96 lakh livestock’s and vaccinated 1.72 lakh animals.

 

SSB performed Rescue and Relief works from the worst West Bengal Floods in 1968 onwards in most tsunamis, floods, tornados, earthquakes and pest invasions.  During the 1971War, SSB performed a sterling role in J&K and all around East Pakistan on the battle front during the War.  It also helped the state administration in the management of East Pakistan refugees who came in millions.

·         SSB conducted 166 Publicity Campaigns annually (1998), to educate people on various social evils, national security matters, environment and self help matters.

After Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi saw the robust grass root relationship of SSB with the border population he expressed the confidence that the last rupee would be best utilized if the Government of India Welfare programmes were dovetailed through SSB in the frontier areas. Hence, spontaneously he advised the Cabinet Secretary in 1986, to order the Secretaries’ of various Ministries to do the needful. Accordingly, SSB became the Nodal agency for implementing a dozen Ministries works. By 1998, SSB diligently implemented 3800 odd civic action programmes which included micro-infrastructure projects and distribution of effects to the tune of Rs 4.00 crores in remote border villages.