In an embarrassment to the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's helicopter was met with black balloons at the Vijayawada International Airport in Andhra Pradesh on Monday, leading to questions about the PM's security arrangements during the visit. The incident is being deemed a major breach of security by the Special Protection Group (SPG).
What happened in AP?
Black balloons were released into the flight path of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mi-17 helicopter as he took off from the Vijayawada International Airport (VIA) for Bhimavaram on Monday. Modi arrived at the airport by a special aircraft from Hyderabad and flew by helicopter to Bhimavaram where he unveiled the statue of the 19th century tribal leader and freedom fighter Alluri Srirama Raju to mark his 125th birth year.
"Not a security breach"
State police, however, denied there was any breach of security but said one Congress worker has been apprehended in this connection, while three other party workers were arrested for trying to enter the airport with black balloons. Krishna district Superintendent of Police P Joshua said that there was no security breach at the airport. "Two Congress workers released the balloons from a building under construction at Surampalli village, 4.5 km away from the airport. By the time they released the balloons, PM Modi's chopper had left the airport,” Joshua was reported by PTI as stating.
According to reports, some Congress workers climbed a building under construction in a village far away from the VIA at Gannavaram and released black balloons, ostensibly filled with hydrogen. A video clip released by Congress showed the balloons being released as the Mi-17s took off from Gannavaram and entered the flight path over the village. The balloons were floating high in the air as the two choppers flew past but it could not be established whether they were anywhere close.
The Prime Minister’s trip ended without incident, much to the relief of everyone but the SPG that is in charge of his security is said to have taken a serious view of it and sought an explanation from the state.
This is not the first time that the PM's security has made it to the headlines.
Punjab protests: In January this year, a major lapse in the Prime Minister's security became national news after his convoy was stopped by protesting farmers on. highway in Punjab. On 5th January, PM’s cavalcade was stranded for 15-20 Minutes after protesting farmers blocked PM’s convoy when he was on his way to National Martyrs Memorial at the Hussainiwala border with Pakistan.
Stuck in traffic: In December 2017, when PM was visiting Noida, two policemen in charge of piloting PM Modi’s cavalcade took the wrong route and his convoy was stuck for around two minutes in a traffic Jam at Mahamaya Flyover. SSP Love Kumar immediately suspended Sub Inspector Dilip Singh and police driver Jaipal.
Heckler on stage: In 2014, at the event of the Maharashtra government’s swearing-in ceremony, former BJP activist Anil Mishra climbed the podium of the event and breached the PM's security cover. Mumbai Police took this matter seriously and suspended a police inspector and two constables and launched an internal inquiry. Three policemen, including a police inspector and two constables, were found guilty on charges of negligence that led to the breach.
Who ensures the PM's safety?
The responsibility of the PM's security lies with the Special Protection Group (SPG). SPG came into being with the SPG Act 1988 with the aim of providing “cover to the Prime Minister, former Prime Minister and their immediate family members up to 5 years after ceasing post if they are residing at the residence allotted.” SPG functions under the cabinet secretariat.
SPG ACT laid down the provision of “proximate security”. This means, “protection provided from close quarters, during a journey by road, rail, aircraft, watercraft, or on foot, or any other means of transport and shall include the places of functions, engagements, residence or halt and shall comprise ring round teams, isolation cordons, the sterile zone around, and the rostrum and access control to the person or members of his immediate family.”
The latest controversy is over the alleged leaking of the PM's route and the accountability of the state government. The SPG Act clearly says that the state government is responsible for assisting SPG groups.
(With inputs from PTI)