Border Surveillance: RSTV - In Depth

Anchor: Teena Jha

Why in the news?

  • The Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh inaugurated the project BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique) under CIBMS (Comprehensive Integrated Border Management system) on India-Bangladesh border in Dhubri District of Assam.
  • It is important to note that the Border Security Force is responsible for the safeguarding of the 4,096 Km long International Border with Bangladesh.
  • At various places, it is not possible to erect Border Fence due to the geographical barriers. The 61 Kms of Border area in District Dhubri, Assam where River Brahmaputra enters into Bangladesh is consisting of vast char lands and innumerable river channels thus making border guarding in this area, a daunting task, especially during the rainy season.
  • To overcome this problem, in the year 2017, Ministry of Home Affairs decided to go for technological solution besides the physical presence of manpower of BSF.
  • In Jan, 2018, the Information and Technology Wing of the BSF undertook the project BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique) and completed it in record time with the technical support of various manufacturers and suppliers.

Larger Background:

  • BOLD-QIT is a project to install technical systems under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS), which enables the BSF to equip Indo-Bangla borders with different kinds of sensors in the unfenced riverine area of Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
  • Now, the entire span of the river Brahmaputra has been covered with data network generated by Microwave communication, OFC Cables, DMR Communication, day and night surveillance Cameras and intrusion detection systems.
  • These modern gadgets provide feeds to BSF Control Rooms on the Border and enable BSF Quick Reaction Teams to thwart any possibility of Illegal Cross Border Crossing/ Crimes.
  • The implementation of this project will not only help the BSF to curb all types of cross border crimes but will also provide respite to the troops from round the clock human surveillance.
  • Earlier the Home Minister, Shri Rajnath Singh had inaugurated two smart fencing pilot projects of five kilometers each on the India-Pakistan international border in Jammu in the month of September, 2018.

Some Specifics:

  • India has a very large land border, covering around 15,106 km.
  • The country shares its borders with seven countries – Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan, as well as a small portion with Afghanistan.
  • Varied terrain, climatic conditions and hostile neighbours make our borders complex and border management an important aspect of our security.
  • Effective border management calls for proper planning and measures that secure our frontiers and also safeguard us from the risks involved in the movement of goods and people from India to other countries and vice versa.
  • Smart border management with technological solutions is one step towards improving border security.
  • In September 2018, Home Minister Rajnath Singh launched two smart fencing pilot projects of five kilometers each along the India-Pakistan international border in Jammu.
  • On March 5th, 2019, the Home Minister inaugurated the electronic surveillance project along the Indo-Bangladesh border.
  • Assam’s Dhubri district shares a border with Bangladesh comprising mainly of Brahmaputra river and a little portion in the Gadadhar river which makes it the longest riverine border in the country. How will electronic surveillance help the BSF in guarding our borders? and how effective will the system prove to be towards effective border management? These are some of the areas that we analyse in this edition of In-Depth.

Analysis:

    • Home Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an electronic surveillance project along the Indo-Bangladesh border, in Assam’s Dhubri district.
    • The project is called BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated Quick response team interception technique) under the comprehensive integrated border management system.
    • Under this project, a wide range of electronic gadgets have been installed along the Indo-Bangla border in the Dhubri district of Assam. This 61 kilometer stretch of border is highly porous and riverine, and this is why, guarding it is a daunting task. Therefore to check illegal immigration, smuggling of arms, ammunition, drugs, and cattle, the riverine border has been put under round-the-clock surveillance. Underwater and underground sonar sensors have been installed along the riverine border in Dhubri, to detect any illegal cross-border activites.
    • According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the enabling of electronic surveillance, in the unfenced riverine border area of Dhubri, now the entire span of the Brahmaputra has been covered with the data network generated by microwave communication, OFC cables, day and night surveillance cameras and intrusion detection systems.
    • These modern gadgets installed under the  BOLD-QIT project, will provide feeds to the BSF control room along the border and enable the paramilitary force’s quick reaction teams to thwart any possibility of illegal border crossing and crimes.

  • The BSF is responsible for safeguarding the 4096 kms long international border with Bangladesh.

  • The decision to employ a technological solution besides the physical presence of BSF personnel at the border was taken by the Home Ministry in 2017.
  • In January 2018, the Information and Technology wing of the BSF undertook project  BOLD-QIT and completed it in record time, with the technical support of various manufacturers and suppliers. The project will not only help the BSF curb all types of cross-border crimes, but will also provide respite to the troops from round-the-clock human surveillance.

A Few Important Perspectives:

  • It is important to note that on the Bangladeshi border, since there is no military threat per se, infiltrations still continue. This is despite the fact that we have the border posts of the BSF and fences, there are many gaps in that area, and the gaps are there because of the nature of the terrain. There are sandbars, and in the monsoons, the whole area gets flooded. Thus, to prevent this, e-surveillance assumes importance.
  • India shares vast porous borders with its several neighbours including Pakistan and Bangladesh. Further, battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF) and other security agencies, guard the international borders round the clock, but several stretches become difficult to guard owing to inhospitable terrain or riverine borders.
  • Project BOLD-QIT will enable the BSF to equip the Indo-Bangla border in the unfenced riverine area of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries with various kinds of sensors. To check illegal immigration and smuggling of arms, ammunition, drugs and cattle along the porous borders of India, the Government in 2017 decided to go for a technological solution to aid the BSF guards manning these borders.
  • In January 2018, the information and technology wing of the BSF, started the BOLD-QIT project, and it was completed in record time with technical support from various agencies.

What is CIBMS?

  • CIBMS is an integration of a number of new gadgets and technologies to ensure electronic surveillance of India’s international borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
  • It is designed to guard stretches where physical surveillance is not possible, either due to inhospitable terrain or riverine borders.
  • The purpose of the CIBMS is to eventually replace manual surveillance of the international borders by electronic surveillance and organizing the BSF personnel into ‘Quick Reaction Teams’, to enhance their detection and interception capabilities.
  • It is important to note that the use of high-tech solutions for border security was being considered by the Ministry of Home Affairs since 2012.
  • In 2014, the BSF also submitted a detailed report on CIBMS to the Ministry of Home Affairs, but a decision to implement this system was taken in January 2016, after the attack on the Pathankot airbase.
  • Among some of the major components of the CIBMS is the ‘Virtual Fence’ that enables human-less, real-time invigilation of borders .
  • These include infrared based and laser-based intrusion alarm systems that can create an “always-on invisible fence”.
  • It also has thermal imagers for detection of camouflaged breaches; Aerial Surveillance; Sonar systems for guarding riverine edges and Ground sensors to pick up real time data through tunnels or underground.
  • The CIBMS enables round-the-clock surveillance on borders and under different weather conditions, be it in dust storms, fog or rain.
  • Command and Control centres, which is the second major component of CIBMS, will keep receiving this data, at the nearest proximity, through fibre optics in real time and take action as and when necessary.
  • An important component of the CIBMS is the use of satellite imagery. Satellite imagery helps security forces to find out details of the terrain across the border. It also helps in planning operations, and also in infrastructure development.
  • Another important component is ‘power management’ which keeps CIBMS running.
  • While the CIBMS is touted as a more robust and integrated system, that is capable of addressing the gaps in the present system of border security by seamlessly integrating human resources, weapons and high-tech surveillance equipment, several challenges lie ahead for this sophisticated surveillance equipment in India.

Challenges for CIBMS:

  • India shares a vast border of over 7000 kilometres with Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the operation and maintenance of sophisticated borders and surveillance equipment remains a problem.
  • At present, many of the high-tech surveillance devices deployed by the BSF are not optimally utilized because the required technical expertise is not uniformly available among the forces personnel.
  • The high cost of the electronic devices and the lack of easy availability of spare parts act as a deterrent against their use. The lack of technical expertise, erratic power supply, and adverse climatic and terrain conditions in the border areas could also potentially undermine the functioning of such a sophisticated system.
  • Modern technical solutions have become imperative to complement the traditional methods of border guarding against infiltration and trans-border crimes. Further, a judicious mixture of properly trained manpower and affordable and tested technology, is likely to yield better results.

Perspective on Porous Boundaries:

  • Due to the India-Bangladesh border being highly porous, a large number of illegal immigrants have entered India over the years. The influx is mainly in the adjoining states inside the Indian territory, leading to serious burdens on State resources, infrastructure, and contributing to the vast changes in the demographics of these states.

Perspective on India’s Borders:

    • Besides, there are various other challenges which India faces relating to its security, and that is why these border areas require a strong surveillance system.

  • India has a 14, 818 kilometre long land border and a coastline of 7,516.6 kilometres.

  • All states, except Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi and Haryana have an international border or a coastline.
  • 92 out of 640 districts are border districts in 17 states.
  • Indian borders run through plains, hills, mountains, deserts, riverine territories, and marshes.
  • Managing such an expansive border is a complex task. Challenges related to border security include unsettled maritime boundaries, lack of fully demarcated land borders, and borders based on artificial boundaries.
  • The Indo-Bangladesh border is highly porous. Illegal movement of people and goods is a perennial problem. The terrain and the demographic composition make it easy for illegal migrants to sneak into India and get easily assimilated into the local populace.
  • Migration from Bangladesh into India, especially in Assam and Tripura has been driven by the quest for better economic opportunities.   
  • Many Bangladeshi’s have also crossed over into India to escape political and religious persecution.
  • The increasing influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh also resulted in a large scale push into India of foot-soldiers of fundamentalism.
  • Besides arms trafficking, human and narcotics trafficking, smuggling of cattle and counterfeit currency, kidnapping and thefts are quite rampant along the border.
  • The BSF is responsible for guarding the 4096 kilometre long border with Bangladesh. However, at various places, it is not possible to erect border fences.
  • Construction of fences was undertaken in two phases. Phase 1 was sanctioned in 1987 and Phase 2 in 2000.
  • A 9.3 kilometre fence has been erected between Mantri  Char and Kalaibari Char.
  • Additional Border Observation Posts along with helipads have also been built for emergency evacuation  or deployment.
  • GPS gadgets, night vision binoculars, and hand-held thermal image intensifiers are used by the forces.
  • India and Bangladesh have jointly established a number of institutional mechanisms. These include the biannual meeting between the BSF and BDR (Bangladesh Rifles).
  • There are also steps that have been taken such as deploying additional manpower along the international borders with riverine sections; patrolling using water crafts, speed boats and  floating BOP’s.
  • The usage of drones for surveillance have also been one of the emerging technological trends in border Security management system.
  • The project BOLD-QIT will put the highly porous riverine section of the Indo-Bangladesh border in Assam under electronic surveillance.

Use of Space Technology to Secure India’s Borders

  • India is also set to use space technology to secure its borders. ISRO will launch a satellite exclusively for the use of the Ministry of Home Affairs, to help it further strengthen its frontiers both with Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, amongst several other countries.
  • This satellite will be used for the purpose of utilizing space resources for security, operational planning and border management. The move is a part of recommendations made by a task force on the use of space technology which have been accepted by the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
  • The report has highlighted the following areas for the use of space technology like to strengthen:
  1. Island Development
  2. Border Security
  3. Communication and Navigation
  4. GIS and Operations Planning System
  5. Border Infrastructure Development

The report was finalized after the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) had a consultation with all stakeholders, including border guarding forces, ISRO, National Security Council Secretariat and Ministry of Defence. To execute the project in a time-bound manner, a short, medium and long-term plan has been proposed for implementation in 5 years, in close coordination with ISRO and MOD.

Short Term Plan:

  • Immediate needs of Border Guarding Force’s (BGF’S) would be met by procurement of high-resolution imagery and the hiring of bandwidth till then.

Mid Term Plan:

  • In the mid-term, one satellite will be used by ISRO for the exclusive use by the  MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs).

Long Term Plan:

  • Over the long-term plan, MHA would develop ground segment and network infrastructure to share satellite resources by user agencies.
  • To develop a central archival facility for storing various imagery resources, and dissemination of the same to user agencies.

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