Lt Gen Sukhdeep Sangwan, SM**
Designation : DG Assam Rifles
Author : Editorial Team
: July 31, 2019
Assam Rifles – the Sentinels of the North East-raised as the ‘Cachar Levy’ in 1835 is the oldest Central Para Military Force in India. The force has rendered yeoman service in the North East, guarding the Indo Myanmar border, conducting counter insurgency operations in the hinterland and more importantly providing tremendous succour and relief to the people of the North East by providing humanitarian assistance in times of need.
We are privileged to have had the opportunity of interviewing DGAR
Defstrat : Assam Rifles has rendered yeoman service in the North East in- spite of different types of challenges. Do you feel that the Force is suitably organized and equipped at present or are there any voids that need to be urgently addressed?
DGAR: Assam Rifles, the oldest Para-Military Force, has witnessed a paradigm shift in the op role over decades due to evolving dynamics of the North East. The challenges of extended deployment on the Indo-Myanmar Border, the sensitive and dynamic Counter Insurgency environment in the hinterland coupled with Internal Security duties and requirement to have an inherent capability to carry out conventional ops dictate the organisation, equipping and training requirements of the Force. With abrogation of Cease Fire by NSCN (K) and formation of Pan North East Umbrella Groups, the op and security dynamics have drastically changed. As such, the Force has an enviable task of maintaining peace and harmony in the region which entails maintenance of high state of op preparedness at all times. The Force has a dynamic and responsive provisioning system catering to the operational and logistics requirements. Suffice to say that the Force is well organised and suitably equipped to carry out mandated tasks effectively.
Defstrat : What are the problems faced whilst effectively trying to enforce the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the Indo Myanmar Border and how are these being overcome? What suggestions do you have for better border management and development in the area?
- India and Myanmar share 1643 Km open and porous border along four Indian states viz Arunachal Pradesh (520 Km), Nagaland (215 Km), Manipur (348), and Mizoram (510 Km).
- Assam Rifles is mandated for manning the Indo-Myanmar Border (IMB). With the ethnic, cultural and physiological similarities amongst locals, there exists a liberal trans-border move regime along the IMB known as the FMR. The FMR agreement allows the border pass holders from both sides of the border to move across border upto 16 Kms for a duration of two weeks stay at a time.
- Issues of Concern. Effective implementation of Free Movement Regime along with the porous unfenced border is a challenge as the mountainous terrain with thick jungles and heavy undergrowth facilitates infiltration/ illegal entry by circumventing authorised entry points. The Assam Rifles alongwith State and Central agencies are deployed to ensure that no one takes advantage of the situation. However, the implementation of the FMR needs stringent monitoring mechanisms, and therefore for better border management various measures like provision of Police Powers to Assam Rifles are under consideration by the Government of India/ MHA.
Defstrat : The Union Home Ministry has held in abeyance the notification giving additional powers to Assam Rifles to arrest anyone and search a place without a warrant in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. How do you think this notification would have helped in conducting CI operations as well as ensuring better safety and security in the Region?
DGAR: Assam Rifles is border guarding force and deployed on IMB and unlike other border guarding forces does not have police powers. It is pertinent to note that:-
- At present, Armed Force Special Power Act (AFSPA) is in vogue in States of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. However, in state of Tripura and Mizoram there is no provision of AFSPA.
- AR is able to check and capture insurgents in areas where AFSPA is applicable. However, they have to be handed over to police within 24 hrs.
- Moreover, Assam Rifles is the mandated Border Guarding Force on IMB and checking/ seizing of contraband items is one of the major tasks. In absence of Police Powers including NDPS, it becomes difficult to arrest/ seize individuals without local Police.
- Grant of police powers will enhance the overall Operational efficiency of the Force and will lead to improving safety situation and bringing back normalcy in North Eastern region.
Defstrat : Assam Rifles known as the ‘Friends of the North East’ and has a magnificent Human Rights record. What types of activities are you undertaking to help the people of the Region?
- We are carrying out numerous Civic Action Programmes with an aim to extend our constructive and effective assistance to civil populace. These activities include conduct of medical camps in remote areas, provision of basic infrastructure like community halls, water supply schemes, solar lights and vocational training centres to empower the youth and conduct of sports events thus providing them with platforms to harness their talent and channelize their energy positively.
- The national interactive tours provide an ideal platform to the youth, students, farmers and less privileged people of the society to broaden their horizons through interaction with people in other regions of the country.
- I can say with full confidence that all our civil action programmes have earned great amount of credibility and reliability as genuine welfare schemes.
- We are also the first responders in natural calamities/ man made disasters. Our soldiers render immediate medical assistance to all needy locals especially in the case of snake bite/ burn/ landslide etc.
- A total of Rs 17 Crores has been spent over a period of last three years by Assam Rifles for development of North Eastern States to include projects like construction of Community Halls, Provision of Water Supply Scheme, Medical Camps, National Interactive Tours for Children, Infrastructure development projects, conduct of sports events. Certain major projects undertaken by Assam Rifles over the last two to three years are as under:-
86 Medical camps were conducted in all North Eastern States for providing necessary medical aid to poor and needy people in the far flung/ disconnected/ disturbed areas.
A total of 341 students from all North Eastern States have been given an exposure to participate in National Interactive Tours all over the Country including meeting the Hon’ble President of India.
Electrification of 32 remote villages of Arunachal Pradesh.
Establishment of Pineapple Canning Plant at Ghaspani (Nagaland).
Cardamom processing plant with storage unit at Mon village (Nagaland).
Provision of ICU equipments at District Hospital, Tuensang (Nagaland).
Distribution of 12 x Manually Operating Tractors at Eastern most habitation of India; Vijaynagar circle, Changlang district, Arunachal Pradesh.
Defstrat : What role do you perceive the Assam Rifles can play in facilitating India’s Look East Policy?
- India’s Look East Policy is an effort to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations with the nations of South East Asia in order to bolster its standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China.
- Among ASEAN countries, Myanmar enjoys a unique position for India. It is the only member state of ASEAN that has both land and maritime borders with India. Myanmar is a nation of considerable importance as a partner capable to cooperate for the security and development of our Northeast.
- Our connect with SE Asian countries remains only through Myanmar on the land route.
- Assam Rifles has an important role in exercising the successful implementation of India’s Act East Policy. Being the nominated Border Guarding Force of Indo Myanmar Border, AR is in a position to ensure the following:-
Ensure the sanctity of IMB.
Maintain healthy and cordial relations with Myanmar Army.
Assist, monitor and coordinate Governments plans in economic and infrastructure development like road network, communications network and border area development.
Normalcy in entire Northeast Region.
- Assam Rifles is a major stake holder in the security stability of the region and ushering of development and prosperity. To provide complete, comprehensive and effective stability, AR can act as a game changer Force, which possess all the capability in form of resources and manpower to play a pivotal role in India’s Act-East Policy.
Defstrat : There is a tremendous emphasis being placed by Assam Rifles on sports for its personnel. In addition, Assam Rifles is contributing to sports in North East region. What Steps are being taken to encourage sports amongst civil population?
- We at the Assam Rifles are totally aware about the passion and enthusiasm of the people of North East towards sports. Many legendary sportsperson from North East have represented India in various disciplines like Football, Boxing, Athletics and Martial Arts etc.
- Assam Rifles have organised Central Armed Police Force U-19 Talent hunt Football Tournament (for Boys & Girls) in the four States of the North East i.e. Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram & Meghalaya in 2017 to identify the Football talent amongst the new generation and to further popularize the sports in the NE Region & India.
- In continuation, we are also organizing Assam Rifles Invitational Football Tournament every year to celebrate and cherish this common passion towards Football.
- During 2017-18 we have also organised Senior WUSHU National at Shillong. These tournaments are an opportune time for all participating teams and players to learn from each other, share ideas and build lasting relations.
- Assam Rifles has organised the first ever North Eastern State (NES) Girls (under-19) Football Tournament at Diphu (Assam) and Kohima (Nagaland) wef 17-21 Jul 2019. The tournament was aimed at identifying the talented football players amongst the girls of all the NE States and to provide a platform to showcase their skills. Total 08 (eight) teams representing all 08 North Eastern States participated in the Tournament.
- Assam Rifles has proud privilege of affiliating with MC Mary Kom’s eponymous Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation in Manipur. The legendary Women Boxer MC Mary Kom agreed to guide, motivate and interact with the Assam Rifles Boxing teams. The aim of this affiliation is to promote sports in the North Eastern States and jointly nurture & groom the upcoming talents in the field of Boxing.
- In addition to above many more sports events are being organised by Assam Rifles as under:-
Kengurese football tournament Kohima (Yearly).
Inducting sports men/ women into Assam Rifles regularly.
Organising U-19 NES Girls football from 17-21 Jul 19 at Diphu and Kohima. Will become a yearly event.
All battalions are gifting sports items/ equipments to local villages.
Organising friendly matches between Assam Rifles and villages as also between neighbouring villages.
Organising of friendly volleyball matches with teams of Myanmar Army, thereby strengthening the mutual relations, bonding and bonhomie.
- AR meritorious Sportspersons Rect Rally was organised in June 2019. A total of 158 candidates of various sports categories have been provisionally selected from all North Eastern States thereby giving them an opportunity to showcase their talent and also providing an avenue of employment.
Defstrat : Continual training is an imperative for any fighting force. Recent years have seen introduction of many modern training aids like simulators etc. in the Armed Forces. Assam Rifles must also be following suit. What are the modern training aids and new methodologies being introduced by the Force?
- ARTC & S which is responsible for training the Force provides the complete spectrum of CI, conventional and sub conventional modernised training pertaining to Assam Rifles units op in varied terrain and environment of North East. It is equipped with state of the art training simulators and training aids for imparting training on weapons, firing, driving, counter IED training etc.
- Recently Assam Rifles has made a state of art entirely automatic IED/ BD range developed by the School based on latest IED incidents in North East states to provide counter IED training.
- Also modern training equipment being procured and est at ARTC&S includes FRASS (Firing Range and Automatic Scoring System) and CISR (Composite Indoor Shooting rg) to facilitates modern firing trg in all seasons.
- AR is also sharing their best trg practices by providing trg to other CAPF individuals in CI/CT, IED/BD and CIJW.
- Assam Rifles Training Centre and School, Dimapur, Nagaland has been awarded Union Home Minster’s Trophy for the Best Training Institution in India in the other (Constable) Training Institute category among all training institutions of Sates/ UTs and CAPFs/ CPOs in Dec 2018.
Defstrat : Though the Assam Rifles comes under the Home Ministry, operational control is exercised by the MoD, does this create a dichotomy of any kind?
DGAR : This issue is under active consideration at the highest level in the Govt & it would be too pre-mature to comment on the outcome of these parleys.
Defstrat : What are the activities that the Sentinels of the North East and the Indian Coast Guard will perform together to maintain the spirit of affiliation between the two premier services ?
DGAR: The association will have multitude of benefits:-
- Both the Forces i.e. Assam Rifles and Indian Coast Guard will be able to promote better understanding and enhance Inter-Forces cooperation.
- Personnel of Assam Rifles will be able to understand the peculiarities of Indian Coast Guard and their role in guarding and intercepting anti India Forces inimical to the security of NE region.
- Personnel of Indian Coast Guard will be able to see and understand the dynamics of land border management and CI/ CT.
- Both the Forces will get acquainted and trained in carrying out various Disaster management tasks especially in flood/ natural calamity situations in terms of sharing of equipment/ technology and carrying out Rescue & Relief operations.
- In addition to the above, civilian personnel of North Eastern region will be incorporated in the exchange program for better integration and fostering closer bonding with rest of the country including assistance during conduct of ICG recruitment drive in the North Eastern States.
- Assam Rifles has been the leading organization in laying the foundation for development of all North Eastern States. The tieup will lead to showcasing the rich heritage, traditions, diverse cultural and untapped natural richness of this part of the Country by exposing the personnels of Indian Cost Guard to witness the ‘’Unexplored Paradise’’, thereby promoting North East in other parts of the Nation.
Defstrat : There has been dynamic evolution throughout the 185 years of glorious history of Assam Rifles. With societal changes and rapid advances in technology, the aspirations of the rank and file have also changed. What steps are being taken to provide better administration and improved amenities to the soldiers of this Force which is forever in operations?
DGAR : Assam Rifles is the premier Para Military Force of the country and is forever deployed in operations in Northeast region. The Force is guarding 1643 Kms of Indo-Myanmar Border and also carrying out Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorist operations in North Eastern states. Unlike regular Army or other Central Armed Police Forces, there are no peace postings for Assam Rifles soldiers. Therefore, there have been conscious and concerted efforts to look after the administrative needs and welfare of Assam Rifles personnel. Various steps taken include:-
- Construction of permanent accommodation in areas of deployment to include family quarters.
- Provision of Assam Rifles Public School including boarding facility at Jorhat, Imphal, Shillong and Dimapur.
- Adequate medical facilities even in forward areas.
- Air courier facility from Guwahati to Delhi & back twice in a week, Silchar to Kolkata & back once in a week, Imphal to Kolkata & back thrice in a week, Agartala to Kolkata & back five in a week and Aizawl to Kolkata & back once in a week
- Automation of Records.
- Enhanced insurance cover.
- Major infrastructure development and improvements in COBs/Battalion Headquarters/Sector Headquarters and Transit Camps.
- Upgrading and improving the 42 x Assam Rifles Public Schools.
Defstrat : What is your vision for Assam Rifles in the coming years?
- Train and equip Assam Rifles to be a model modernized Force.
- Provide a secure environment to the people of North Eastern states.
- Continue to be the most effective first responders to all kinds of emergencies.
- Develop strong combat potential to thwart any possible security threat to the country.
- Serve as Force multipliers to implement ‘’Act East Policy’’.
Defstrat: We are privileged by your providing us this wonderful insight into the Assam Rifles. Is there any message in particular that you would like to send across by the medium of our Magazine?
DGAR: Assam Rifles is the shield and sword of North East India. The citizens of North Eastern states are safe and secure from all kinds of threats from all adversaries and have reposed their faith and trust in the Force due to its unbiased and professional approach. The Force shall continue to serve the country in the fashion best expected out of us and shall remain the ‘’Sentinels of the North East’’ and ever dependable ‘’Friends of the NE People’’