Shah rejects 'vendetta' charge as RS passes SPG Bill

Upper house of the Parliament passes the Special Protection Group bill

Union Home Minister Amit Shah. (PTI Photo)

The Bill restricting Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to serving Prime Minister and restricting it for five years for former Prime Ministers got Parliament clearance with Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passing the legislation amid a walkout by Congress.

While the Congress accused the government of changing the law to "target" the Gandhi family, Home Minister Amit Shah rejected the charges saying the Narendra Modi government is concerned about the security of all Indians and not just Gandhi family alone.

The SPG (Amendment) Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on November 27. According to the legislation, SPG cover will now be provided only to the Prime Minister and members of his immediate family residing with him at his official residence beside a former Prime Minister and his immediate family residing with him for a period of five years after his demitting the office.

Replying to the debate on the Bill in the Upper House, Shah said his party was not carrying out any action with a "vindictive approach" and it decided to withdraw SPG cover to the Gandhis as per the existing law that allows analysis of threat perception.

"If anyone, it is Narendra Modi who will be impacted by this amendment as cover will be withdrawn after five years of his ceasing to be the Prime Minister," he said adding security cover must not be treated as a status symbol. He said the SPG is meant for securing the prime minister.

He said earlier four amendments in the SPG Act were done focusing on one family. Shah said no discussion happened when security cover reviews of former prime ministers including PV Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and recently Manmohan Singh were undertaken.

Not satisfied by the reply, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad led the Congress MPs' walkout. MPs from the DMK and the CPI also left the House while the voting on the Bill was on. The Bill was passed by a voice vote.

"Security cover must not be treated as a status symbol by individuals. The SPG security cover is meant specifically for the prime minister and must not be enjoyed by any other individual," Shah said.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "We are not satisfied with the reply of the minister and walk out."

Earlier, participating in the debate, Congress MP Vivek Tankha raised the issue of the security breach at Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's residence and said there should not be "party politics" on it.

"This has happened because you have reduced the security level," he alleged.

Reminding the House about the fateful incidents in which Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were killed, he said, "Please protect this family. God forbid, if one more fatal incident happens then who would take blame of it?"

"This is not party politics. Rise over it," he said and reminded the House that even former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was provided security with dignity by the previous Congress-led governments.

The government, Shah said in his reply, takes the decision of providing security cover on scientific threat analysis for a particular individual.

On the security breach at the residence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, he said it was a "coincidence" as the security was informed that her brother Rahul Gandhi would be visiting her in a black 'Tata Safari' SUV. But instead of him some Congress workers from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh came in a similar vehicle and so were allowed in the house.

He said a high-level inquiry has been ordered into the security breach and three personnel have been suspended.

He also told the House that members of Gandhi family have been provided CRPF's Z plus security with advance security liaison (ASL) and ambulance, which is highest rated in its category and are guarded by personnel who were part of SPG previously.

Shah said if anyone it was Narendra Modi who will be impacted by this amendment as cover will be withdrawn after five years of his ceasing to be the prime minister.

The minister explained that this Bill has no connection with the Gandhi family's SPG cover as their SPG cover was withdrawn on the basis of threat assessment before bringing the draft law in the House.

He said, "In our Constitution, Prime Minister is head of the state who requires SPG security. But not after the Prime Minister steps down."

"Why only Gandhi family should be provided security. We are responsible for security of all 130 crore Indians in the country," he said.

"This is wrong to claim that only SPG cover is required for Gandhi family and why should one family get this? The SPG is for head of the state only. There is no motive... This Act would affect only Prime Minister Narendra Modi because the SPG cover would be withdrawn on completion of his five-year term. We believe in equality," he said.

He also said that when SPG cover for former prime minister Manmohan Singh was withdrawn, the Congress did not protest in the same fashion.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, intervened saying, "We have written a letter to protest against this matter."

To this, Shah retorted, "There is difference between a formality and a protest. Are we living in a democracy or middle age. Law is equal for all. We are not protesting against a family. We are protesting against nepotism. Democracy will not run on nepotism."

On the Justice Verma Committee report on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Shah said that the panel had said that the SPG cover of Rajiv Gandhi was withdrawn without providing adequate security.

He said, "We have not provided for threat assessment review of prime minister in the Bill. If he steps down as Prime Minister the SPG cover will be withdrawn. "

Replying to the Left's charge of BJP acting with a political vendetta, Shah said 120 workers of BJP and RSS have been killed in Kerala which is ruled by the Left Democratic Front.

Shah's wife and sister were present in the gallery during his reply.

BJP MP Neeraj Shekhar, who himself was an SPG protectee for 11 years being the son for former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, said there was no need for such a cover for the family of ex-prime ministers.

"We are spending money on this, which is not needed," he said adding that all previous amendments extending SPG security to former PMs' families were wrong.

However, he suggested former PMs and their families should be protected by raising another force.

AAP member Sanjay Singh and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Ramdas Athawale also participated in the debate on the Bill.

(With inputs from PTI)

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