Tripura’s Security Paranoia, Police Modernization and Bullet Proof Vehicles: What Did We Miss?


Amidst stories that are pouring in the media for the last 48 hours regarding a sudden order from the Tripura Police for a significant consignment of bullet-proof cars for VIPs and VVIPs, we all have missed that the state's cabinet members recently shifted from their traditional Ambassador cars to modern and yet unprotected SUVs. While the old dependable castles on wheels were phased out for better mobility, what concerns the Tripura ministers now to order new armored vehicles? Who are the VIPs seeking new bullet-proof vehicles? TNT takes a look.

This is something that dates back to the delivery of Tripura's last major consignment of armored vehicles 16 years back.

At a time when armed insurgency was at the peak in Tripura and arguably did have some social sanction among a section of the state's populace, the Tripura Police received its first major consignment of bullet-proof vehicles in 2001-2002. The state police was then led by BL Vora as the Director General of Police. Vora, who is credited with equipping the state police with a modern security arsenal, also secured state-of-art systems including bullet-proof jackets, headgears, vehicles, night vision cameras, dragon-lights among other classified devices, a top official of the Home Department told TNT.

The official also informed that in its first major armored car consignment, the state was provided with 15 bullet proof Maruti Gypsy cars from the Ordnance Factory at Medak. The state government was also accorded a sanction to purchase three bullet-proof ambassador cars from the Ordnance Factory, officials stated.

The state police was then struggling with a deficiency of 800 semi-automatic INSAS rifles that were used as domestically manufactured cheap alternatives to the AK 47 rifles.

According to a report, the Tripura Police was running with a shortage of 5,305 personnel including 1,112 civil police personnel, 4,193 Armed Police and TSR Jawans.

Well, if you had men to stand their ground, you didn't have enough firepower to hand over to them. The Police was deficient of 2,191 AK 47 rifles, 4,302 7.62 mm SLR, 527 7.62 mm machine-guns, 913 9 mm carbines, 109 51 mm mortars, 89,690 hand grenades, just to name a few. Even if you imagined for a moment that the arms could be procured by some mysterious intervention, there was just not enough ammunition to load them with.

There were 109 mortals short of the projected requirement but nearly 13 thousand mortal shells short at the same time. You might have got the bombs but then there were 89,960 detonators short. All the figures were drawn from the provisional allotments made by the Ministry of Homes Affairs (MHA).

It was at such a critical juncture that BL Vora took over as the Director General of Police.

As on 2002, Tripura had 994 vehicles for its police. These included 338 Maruti Gypsy cars, 170 mini trucks, 87 heavy trucks, 8 ambulances among other vehicles, but not a single armored vehicle.

Director General Vora, who is credited with the genesis of modernization of the Tripura Police, had his force place a projected requirement of 15 bullet-proof Maruti Gypsy cars at the Ordnance Factory, Medak. The state government was also accorded sanction to purchase 3 bullet-proof Ambassador cars for the Ordnance Factory.

The state had, by then, already asked for 158 bullet-proof cars including 57 ambassadors and 101 bullet Maruti Gypsy cars. All it had was eighteen.

Vora's strategy included strengthening of the intelligence network. He focused on the Special Branch (SB) and the DIB. The tactic did pay off and from his tenure onwards, armed insurgency started to wane. The results were more evident in the tenure of Vora's successor and next DGP GM Srivastava.

In the subsequent years, the state police earned a modern security arsenal, also secured state-of-art systems including bullet-proof jackets, headgears, vehicles, night vision cameras, dragon-lights among other classified devices.

The state police also received the 15 bullet proof Maruti Gypsy cars from the Ordnance Factory at Medak. According to a document from the Home Department, the government spent Rs. 4.57 crores for procurement of arms and bullet-proof equipments.

The story didn't stop at that as well. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) revealed in 2002-2003 that the 15 bullet-proof vehicles procured by Tripura police weren't bullet-resistant at all.

Over a decade down the line, when reports of insurgent attacks have come down to ones or zeroes, Tripura became the first state in the country to completely withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in May, 2015.

Arguably, the government shouldn't really be concerned about blast-resistant or bullet-proof cars for VIPs that took up the guts to repeal AFSPA.

But then you had the statehood demands coming. Regional political parties for the indigenous populace have been long demanding greater autonomy. The run for autonomy began way before the first communist government came to power. As a matter of fact, the first Left Front government swept to power with its assurance to form an Autonomous District Council for the protection of tribal territorial rights and autonomy.

The decision, however, came too late to pacify the rebellious indigenous youths and Tripura saw its first ethnic riot in June, 1980. The exact number of casualties is not known till date.

The Dinesh Singh Committee, set up by MHA to investigate into the massacre, set a tentative estimate of 1,300 deaths. However, unofficial sources have claimed the figures to be above 8,000.

And as the nightmare would return, communists found demand for separate statehood return in 2009 with the formation of the Indigenous Peoples' Front of Tripura (IPFT).

Despite what the Home Department would have you believe, Tripura is still not complacent with its security arrangements to combat armed separatists. Rather, the trend of procuring heavily armoured vehicles and bullet-proof cars for VIP motorcades in Tripura has scaled a top notch.

According to top security officials of the state Home Department, the Tripura Police has placed an order to procure a large consignment of bullet-proof vehicles with the Ordnance Factory. The order is estimated to be close to a quantum of Rs. 68 lakhs.

The official claimed that the bullet-proof vehicles ordered in this phase wouldn't be for para-military or policing purpose. These vehicles would be used in motorcades of VIPs and VVIPs. The official, however, declined to disclose the identity of concerned VIPs.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and incumbent Governor of the state  are already assigned Z-Plus category security cover. The security protocol comes with a bundled package of layers of security personnel around the VVIPs and a bullet-proof vehicle, which is also rumoured to be minor blast-proof.

Asked about the issue, an official of the Tripura Police stated that an order was indeed placed for bullet-proof cars. But he claimed that the move was simply a part of the police modernization drive.

And here we are, at the vortex of our story. Most of the minister of the state cabinet has recently phased out their old Ambassador cars and moved on to new SUVs. While these are comfortable to ride in, the new cars aren't least secure in case of an armed attack.

According to a source, cabinet members have expressed discontent with the threat perception of unprotected motorcades and have sought reinforced vehicles.

Some of the VIPs aren't using any bullet-proof vehicles for a couple of years now. These new vehicles would be assigned to them, the source informed.

– Debraj Deb for TNT News

(Image courtesy – Internet)

Image used for representational purposes only.