The Special Protection Group (SPG) is the premier body that is entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the lives of VVIPs, followed by the NSG (National Security Guards), ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police), CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), and CISF (Central Industrial Security Force).
Depending on the threat perception to the person, there are four categories: Z+ (highest level), Z, Y, and X. To put it in context, individuals who merit this coverage include the President, Judges, Chiefs of Indian Armed Forces, Governors of State, Chief Ministers and Cabinet Ministers, high-profile celebrities and sportspersons. The NSG is used extensively to guard VIPs, especially those in the Z+ category, and several NSG commandos are also deputed to the Special Protection Group (SPG) which guards only the Prime Minister.
At the Z+ level, each NSG commando is armed with machine guns and modern communication equipment, and all guards are trained in armed and unarmed combat. Typically comprising 55 members, the detail includes both commandos and police personnel. The Z category security detail is made up of 22 personnel, Y category is an 11-member team with 4 or 5 NSG commandos and the X security detail has two armed police personnel. This heavy-duty cover comes at a cost. The Z+ security cover costs the exchequer around 20 lakh a month, while Z category comes at around Rs 15-16 lakh per month.
The need to provide armed and trained security has come under scrutiny several times, particularly due to the high cost of the service. There have been cases when the category of security cover provided was viewed as a status symbol and at other times, it appeared downright ridiculous. As was seen in 2014 when Z category security was given to a spiritual leader who had been declared clinically dead by doctors.
When P Chidambaram was Home Minister, he phased out the use of the NSG for VIP protection in all but the most serious cases. Ironically, in December 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah initiated the passing of the SPG Amendment Bill by Parliament to withdraw special security cover provided to three members of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s family. Despite vehement opposition by the Congress, who argued that the government was compromising the security of the Gandhi family who lost two family members to terror attacks, Amit Shah cited an operational clause which stated that SPG cover could be withdrawn from a former Prime Minister and his immediate family members five years after demitting office. The SPG cover of former prime minister Manmohan Singh too has been withdrawn.
And this is possibly why Amit Shah’s decision to extend a Y category security to actress Kangana Ranaut has been the subject of a bigger debate than the Twitter spat between her and Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, which sparked the need for protection for the actress. Social media tussles are neither new nor news where the actress is concerned, so does baiting and lashing on Twitter merit Y category security? If one were to consider that there are quite a few high-profile people, including industrialist Mukesh Ambani, who pay for their Z and Y class security, it may not be a bad idea for a well-to-do actress and producer like Ranaut to reimburse the Centre for her security cover. Else, the burden of her attention-seeking tactics will be borne by the Indian taxpayer, who may not enjoy this outcome of her histrionics.