NEW DELHI: In a major security review, the government has decided to withdraw the SPG protection -- the highest level of security cover -- given to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha member Rahul Gandhi and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Sources in the government said on Friday that the decision to downgrade the security of the Gandhis was taken after an assessment of their security cover which showed that all three no longer face "that serious a threat".
The three Gandhis, however, will continue to be protected by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and will now be placed under the "Z+ category". The decision was taken by a panel at the Union home ministry where inputs from the SPG and Intelligence Bureau were examined.
"The threat perception of each of those protected by the SPG is reviewed every year. The current review indicates a reduced threat perception for the Gandhis and their security can be handled by other forces," said a senior government official. The official added that the assessments did not indicate any new threat either.
The Special Protection Group was raised in 1985 – after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - to protect the Prime Minister and their immediate family members. Former Prime Ministers and their family members were brought under SPG cover after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1992.
Home Minister Amit Shah's security arrangements are now categorized as “Z Special” – a notch higher from Z plus.
In August, the security cover of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also downgraded after a security review. Singh’s SPG cover was withdrawn after assessments indicated reduced threat perceptions. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) now protects him. Rahul Gandhi, in particular, recently faced criticism for not letting the SPG accompany him on foreign visits.
The SPG provides proximity security for the protectees. The outer security ring comprises the local police. Apart from this, restrictions are imposed on traffic when an SPG protectee like the Prime Minister moves from one place to another. There are, however, no security restrictions for other SPG protectees.
Besides, there is also a team of officers – the Advanced Security Liaison - who scrutinize and clear venues and security arrangements before the visit of the protectee. Also, when an SPG protectee travels, the security component is led by an officer of a certain rank.