The Centre’s decision to provide Z security to Mukesh Ambani drew flak from the Supreme Court on Thursday which asked why such persons are given security cover by the government when the common man is feeling unsafe.
“We read in newspapers that Ministry of Home has directed providing for CISF security to an individual. Why is state providing security to such person,” a bench headed by Justice GS Singhvi said without taking the name of Ambani.
But a deeper look, tells a story of inconsistent and irrational allocations across the political spectrum, that certainly surprised us.
A bed-ridden politician who hasn't been seen in public for seven years. A party chief, her son and son-in-law who hold no public office. Politicians currently facing trials for various crimes.
Do these people deserve to be protected at the cost of several hundred crores to taxpayers? Especially when their own personal wealth and their parties' incomes are capable of providing adequate protection to their leaders?
Given the Indian state's poor record in protecting ordinary citizens, there is a strong moral case for asking rich politicians to either pay for their own security or get their parties to bear the costs.
Under the Central government, 400 VVIPs get different levels of security on the basis of their `positions’ or threat perceptions. The list of such VVIPs is fattening each day, as Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is apparently sanctioning security at the drop of a hat to MPs from Kashmir and those who come from the Naxal-affected areas on the ground that there is a threat to their lives.
SPG cover, however, is not only for the PM. Every year, the Parliamentary Committee on Security passes and ratifies a resolution to provide SPG cover to Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi as exceptions.
According to the law, SPG is only meant for the PM. Until 2003, SPG cover was also provided to former prime ministers up to 10 years after they left office. The UPA government withdrew the SPG from providing security to all previous PMs, but it still continues for the ailing Vajpayee, who has not been seen in public for nearly seven years now. What is the logical threat perception in case of Vajpayee, who is more or less bed-ridden? He did not even come out for political campaigning during the last Parliamentary elections. Why is SPG cover required to secure an ailing person and shouldn't the Z+ security be revoked in Vajpayee’s case?
This defensive approach legitimises the UPA government’s own efforts to sanction SPG cover for Sonia Gandhi and her immediate family – Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. Her son-in-law Robert Vadra, a millionaire property sepculator, also gets Z+.
Why can't Vadra, a millionaire property speculator, and rich political parties – BJP and the Congress - fund their own security and that of their top leaders? Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Vajpayee holds any Constitutional position.
The Congress received Rs 2,008 crore during the last seven years and the BJP Rs 994 crore through political donations. Even Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati can use party funds to pay for her security; BSP had got Rs 484 crore through political donations.
Mayawati is worth Rs 100 crore worth and has Rs 15 crore cash in bank deposits. Sukhbir Singh Badal has Rs 25 crore stashed in bonds, debentures and shares in companies. He earns Rs 73 lakh every year and is worth Rs 91 crore, while his wife makes Rs 3.85 crore a year.
The common thing among these rich politicians is that all of them enjoy 'Z+' category security at taxpayers’ expense. In fact, there are 34 such VVIPs enjoying Z+ security.
Forty-five security personnel drawn from premier para-military forces provide each of them and their family members round-the-clock escort and static security at their respective houses. Each one of them is provided a BMW bulletproof car along with escort cars wherever they travel in the country. Earlier the VVIPs with Z+ security used to get Ambassador cars. But Atal Behari Vajpayee replaced them with BMWs during his stint as the Prime Minister.
If each of these 45 personnel is paid Rs 25,000 a month on average, the total cost to taxpayers come to Rs 11.25 lakh. To this you can comfortably add another Rs 5 lakh for security paraphernalia, including the hiring/financing cost of BMW bulletproof car, then we, the taxpayers, pay a minimum of Rs 16 lakh every month towards the security of each of these 34 VVIPs!
Do they deserve such costly security at taxpayers’ expense? There is a provision in every state police act, that you can avail yourself of police protection at your personal expense. But none of the state governments invoke it.
Many of these VVIPs are super rich and can pay for their security. Mayawati’s income tax returns for 2010-2011 were Rs 6.51 crore. In fact, the interest our politicians earn on their fortunes is enough to pay for their security. Yet the high-profile security provided to them is given absolutely free of cost.
To look at it another way, the aggregate cost of the security budget for 2013-14 is Rs 400 crore. To this, if the budget of the Special Protection Group (SPG), which is exclusively meant for the PM's security (though it is not) is added, the 'free' security expenditure escalates to Rs 679 crore (SPG’s budget was Rs 279 crore for 2011-12).
The VVIPs security apparatus, with its headquarters at Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, has drawn 7,500 personnel from the Delhi Police alone. And in addition, they borrow manpower from para-military forces, like CRPF, ITBP and even BSF and special police forces like Tamil Nadu Special Police and Rajasthan Armed Constabulary.
Not only this, state governments have to provide territorial security to all these VVIPs, when they visit their states. Besides, the prestige attached to the presence of commandos around you, has a trickle down affect on these states, who have drawn their own list of VVIPs. Uttar Pradesh has a list of 1,500 VVIPs for high level security, while Andhra Pradesh has 900 VVIPs. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the Rajasthan government came out as the number one state spending on VVIP security (Rs 1,056 crore). Bihar spends Rs 492 crore, Madhya Pradesh Rs 252 crore, Jharkhand Rs 864 crore, Chhattisgarh Rs 636 crore and Delhi Rs 234 crore.
A lot of the money goes to protecting 'invisible' people who no longer appear in public life. In addition to Vajpayee, there are two more such 'invisible' political or social leaders, who have not been seen in public for the past many years and who still get disproportionate security. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi of the Congress, and former international president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Ashok Singhal, continue to get Z and Z+ cover respectively.
Munshi had a stroke in 2008 and has been terminally ill since then. He is completely bed-ridden and doesn’t recognise anyone. But politically, his name is important in West Bengal and his wife Deepa has taken over his mantle by contesting and winning the Lok Sabha election from Raniganj in 2009.
Ashok Singhal isn't active in the VHP due to ill health and has not been seen much in public since 2011. But he still has 45 police personnel around him! If it can spend Rs 22 crore on the Ram Temple, why can't it take care of its former boss' security?
George Fernandes, another ailing politician who is completely bed-ridden, has 'Y' security cover.
Interestingly, most of the 34 VVIPs with Z+ security do not even hold any ministerial or chief ministerial post. It is also not known what kind of threat perception each one of them has, excepting in the case of the PM’s son-in-law Ashok Patnaik, who gets Z+ cover because of his father-in-law being the PM.
Among the 34 VVIPs are former Presidents Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil, Baba Hardev Singh Nirankari, Beni Prasad Verma, Army Chief Bikram Singh, BSP MPs (Rajya Sabha) Brajesh Pathak and SC Mishra, Buta Singh, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar of the Congress, Union Minister and Kashmir MP Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister P Chidambaram, MS Bitta, KPS Gill, LK Advani and MM Joshi of the BJP, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah and his son Zahir Abdhullah, NSCL (National Socialist Council of Nagalim) Leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Isak Muivah, the ex-president of Afghanistan M Najibullah’s wife, who has taken political shelter in India, and the US Ambassador.
Many of them can afford to pay for their security. Baba Hardev Singh Nirankari heads a very rich religious sect, which has over 100 branches outside India, most prominently in Britain and North America. And politicians can ask their parties to pay.
Even tainted politicians get high-profile security at the taxpayers’ expense. There are criminal cases against Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar (who was recently acquitted, though), Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar are accused of instigating mobs for killing Sikhs during the 1984 riots. And Mulayam and Mayawati have cases of disproportionate income.
Even A Raja, prime accused in the 2G scam, has `Y’ category security cover. He has three police security officers and three static guards for round-the-clock security. Raja’s former assistant private secretary Asirvatham Achary, who had given evidence against Raja, is the latest addition to Y cover security.
There are a total of 230 persons, including a TV stringer Joginder Solanki, with Y security cover. Advocate Ajay Srivastava, who dared to buy Dawood’s property many years ago, is still enjoying Y security cover. Other prominent VVIPs of Y category level are SAR Gillani, Sanjay Joshi of the RSS, Supreme Court Advocate Vishwanath Chaturvedi, several high court judges, ministers, the IB chief and the attorney general.
`Z’ category security cover has only 51 VVIPs so far. In this cover, a VVIP gets 40 personnel, a bulletproof car and static guards for round-the-clock security. Ashwini Kumar Minna, owner of Punjab Kesari, Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh, former CBI Director and Member, UPSC, A P Singh, Lok Sabha MP Dhananjay Singh, former PM Deve Gowda, Union Minister Kamal Nath, Dr Karan Singh, Shahi Imam Bukhari, Maulana Mehmood A Madani, PM’s grandson Madhav, Mamata Banerjee, Meira Kumar, Janardhan Reddy, former Chief Election Commissioner Navin B Chawla, former BJP President Nitin Gadkari, Venkaiah Naidu and Shatrughan Sinha of the BJP, Sharad Yadav and Delhi CM Shiela Dikshit figure prominently in this category of security.
Ashwini Kumar Minna’s case is quite interesting. About 20-25 years ago, Bhindrawale had apparently killed Ashwini Kumar Minna’s grandfather. The family promptly got Z category and since then the family enjoys the security. And no other attacks have targeted the family so far. Now it seems Lashkar-e-Taiba is threatening Minna’s family. His son Aditya Chopra apparently got a threat letter in Punjab Kesari’s Jaipur Office. The letter threatened his father and the family for putting out anti-LeT stories in Punjab Kesari and speaking against Muslims on an RSS platform.
'X' category security cover is mostly taken by MPs, diplomats and sons and daughters of VVIPs. Vajpayee’s granddaughter Niharika Bhattacharya has got X cover. Minor son of expelled Congress MP Matang Singh, Mayurath Singh, was provided with X cover because his mother Manoranjana apprehends a threat from her husband, who allegedly subjected her to 13-year of domestic and physical violence, verbal, economic and sexual abuse and emotional torture. Under X cover, you get only two personal security officers for day-time security and not for round-the-clock duty.
The Indian Constitution promises to provide security to every individual, but in this country of 1.22 billion people, only a few chosen elites get security. Priydarshini Mattoo, a Kashmiri girl who was stalked and killed by the son of a senior police officer, had complained at least three times about her killer. In thousands of such cases, people are still losing their lives.
Shouldn’t the police security shrug the VVIP tag and becomes available to everyone?