Indo-Tibetan Border Police | India’s ‘eyes and ears’ on the China border

With the Line of Actual Control remaining tense, India is raising seven new battalions of the famed patrol force, which was formed in 1962 after the war with China, for ‘effective monitoring’ of the border region

February 19, 2023 01:03 am | Updated 09:07 am IST

On June 16, 2020, a day after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in clashes with China’s People’s Liberation Army in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, several Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel were deployed in the mountainous terrain to trace the injured, missing or dead jawans.

The rescue team trekked 3-4 km on foot to evacuate the injured at an altitude of 14,000 feet and helped them reach the base camp even as 10 other soldiers were captured by the Chinese. The captured jawans were released on June 18.

Days before this, in May-June 2020, ITBP personnel stopped Chinese troops in their tracks at multiple locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. Later, as many as 291 jawans were accorded Director General Commendation Rolls and Discs “for their gallant actions during the face-offs and border skirmishes” as their “befitting response” helped safeguard many “hyper sensitive” locations from the Chinese troops.

As China stepped up activities on the border since April-May 2020, the mountain-trained force increased their presence on the cold desert plateau.

The ITBP was raised on October 24, 1962 after the Indo-China war. The Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), specialised in border guarding duties and posted at an altitude of up to 18,900 feet, was initially raised with only four battalions. Each battalion in the ITBP, one of the seven CAPFs, typically comprises over 1,300 personnel. They are deployed at 176 border outposts from the Karakoram Pass in the north-west to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east.

Most forward posts remain cut off from land routes, and temperature at these locations sometimes dips to minus-45 degrees Celsius. The border posts are exposed to high-velocity storms, snow blizzards, avalanches, and landslips.

On February 15, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved raising seven new battalions, comprising 9,400 personnel, for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh, where 47 new border outposts and 12 staging camps are under construction. The outposts were sanctioned in January 2020. A sector headquarter for the ITBP was also announced.

The battalions are expected to be raised by 2025-26, increasing the strength of the ITBP from the current 88,000 to 97,000, making it the fourth largest CAPF. Last time ITBP battalions were raised was in 2011. The Arunachal border is another sector where skirmishes with the Chinese PLA have become frequent. On December 9, 2022, in the first incident of its kind after the Galwan clashes, several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in clashes at Yangste in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh.

Specialist battalions

The ITBP was restructured in 1978 to include nine service battalions, four specialist battalions and two training centres. In 1992, Parliament enacted the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force Act (ITBPF Act) and two years later, new rules were framed.

After the 1999 Kargil war, a Group of Ministers had recommended the government stick to “One Border, One Force”. In 2004, the entire China border was assigned to the ITBP. The ITBP, though being the primary force deployed along the China border, works in coordination with the Army in certain locations. The Army has been seeking operational control of the ITBP, which is under the administrative and operational control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, for the past many years, but the government has not agreed to the proposal.

Since the LAC is neither demarcated nor fenced, the ITBP acts as the government’s “eyes and ears” to report Chinese activities and violations along and across the border. The ITBP conducts short- and long-range patrols, special missions, and joint patrols to dominate unmanned gaps along the China border. The force has also built 25 strategic roads and another 32 roads are under construction. They also participated in the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 and counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir from 1990 to 2004. In 2009, the Congress-led UPA government decided to deploy the force in Chhattisgarh to counter left-wing extremism.

The ITBP provides security to various sensitive installations and proximate security cover to important dignitaries. It offers security, communication and medical cover to the pilgrims during the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in coordination with the Ministry of External Affairs at Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim border).

The ITBP is also the first responder for natural disasters in the Himalayas. In 2021, after a flash flood washed away two hydel power projects — the Rishiganga small hydro project and NTPC’s Tapovan project on the banks of the Dhauliganga river in north Uttarakhand, the ITBP rescued 12 workers after a seven-hour operation at the Tapovan site. As the ITBP is a mountain force, the team had all the equipment to carry out the rescue work in such regions.

The ITBP manages eight Regional Response Centres and carries out numerous rescue and relief operations in their area of responsibility as well as other parts of the country. In the past four years, 113 rescue operations were conducted in the Himalayas, where 4,148 people were rescued and 186 bodies were retrieved by the ITBP. It was the lead rescue force during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, where over 6,000 people were killed.

The ITBP has around 2,100 women personnel and a sizeable number are deployed at the Border Out Posts (BOPs) in the Himalayas.

Foreign deployment

The force has been deployed in foreign countries as well.

It provided security at the Indian High Commission in Colombo from 1988 to 2005. ITBP commandos were first deployed in Afghanistan in 2002 to secure the premises of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and four consulates in Jalalabad, Herat, Mazar-I-Sharif and Kandahar. They were withdrawn from Afghanistan in August 2021 after the Indian Embassy shut following the takeover of the country by the Taliban.

In 2016, three ITBP personnel were awarded with the top honour of the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry and seven others with the Police Medals for Gallantary for thwarting terrorist attacks at Indian Consulates at Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad. In 2004, ITBP personnel were deployed in Gurguri, Minar and Zaranj in Afghanistan to provide security cover to the Indian road construction agency Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which was undertaking the Delaram-Zaranj road project. With the LAC remaining tense after the Galwan and Yangste incidents and India and China ramping up infrastructure in the border areas, the ITBP has come under greater focus. The decision to raise additional battalions, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur said earlier this month, was taken keeping an eye on the need for effective monitoring in the border areas. For its part, the ITBP has always been ready.

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