Assam Rifles
An officer of Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force, shouts commands during the rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, January 15, 2019.REUTERS/Amit Dave

The Indian Army has opposed the proposed move of merging Assam rifles with Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Army has responded to the long-pending proposal of the Ministry of home affairs (MHA) to merger Assam rifles with ITBP. Presently, the Assam Rifles comes under the administrative control of home ministry but the operational control comes under the Ministry of Defence. The army is integrated with Assam Rifles to an extent that more than 80% of India's oldest paramilitary force comes from the Indian Army. The Assam Rifles was raised in 1835 as 'Cachar Levy' to defend the alluvial plains of Assam against hostile tribes. Until the Indo-China war of 1962, Assam rifles were under complete control of MHA.

Assam Rifles, in fact, draws its director-general from Army. Assam Rifles has the responsibility to carry out counter-insurgency operations in conjunction with the army in the northeast and guards the 1,643 km long India-Myanmar border.

Why is the Army against Assam Rifle and ITBP merger?

The army is vehemently opposing the proposal ever since it was floated by the home ministry. Army has reasoned that altering with status quo in defending Myanmar border would be a major blow for operations against North Eastern insurgent groups based in Myanmar. Even the officers of Assam rifles is opposing such move. The officer close to the development has argued that the force must remain under the operational control of the Army for better coordination while conducting anti-terror operations in the region.

Moreover, quoting Army sources, the Economic Times reported that if the proposal is accepted the Army will not be able to use Assam Rifles in conventional operations along the eastern frontier with China. In a recent meeting with MHA, Assam Rifles' Director General Lieutenant General Sukhdeep Sangwan discussed the issue of merger of the merger with its officials.

Indian Army
Indian Army in North EastCredit: Reuters

Army has further argued that the Assam Rifles is the second line of defence and the only true paramilitary force of India. One of the officials added, "The Rashtriya Rifles (read as involved in counter-terrorist operations in J&K) releases forces for conventional operations across the western border. Similarly, the Assam Rifles also provides the army with such options along the eastern front with China, which will not remain if it becomes part of the ITBP."

In contrast, over time the Home ministry has argued that borders along Myanmar are not being guarded properly. It has recommended that these areas should have nakkas instead of Company Operating Bases. On the contrary, the Army has said that the current deployment has been set up as per the terrain and working well in its favor.