Questions arise around role of oldest security wing in Parliament in the face of CISF takeover

New Delhi : As the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) took over the security of most parts of the Parliament on May 20, questions swirl around the future of the unarmed Parliament Security Service (PSS) unit, the existence of which coincides with the adoption of Constitution of India in 1950.

The unit, formerly known as the Watch and Ward Staff, initially came into existence in 1929 after Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt dropped bombs on the Central Legislative Assembly, currently the old parliament building or the Samvidhan Sadan. A new parliament building facing the old structure was inaugurated last year.

Officials questioned the handing over of key functions to CISF, one of the only paramilitary forces with limited experience in interacting with the public — at airports and metro stations.

Apprehensions abound
While the orders for deploying CISF in the lobby and the precincts of the new parliament building are yet to be announced, officials said a PSS component will have to be retained as CISF officials may not be adept in recognising the members of parliament or former members or prevent the entry of an “imposter”.

“PSS is well-trained to interact with MPs, former MPs etc. It is their House. There is a difference between handling airport security and the parliament, an autonomous body. I have not seen any such order till now about CISF induction taking place on the orders of the Speaker, the ultimate authority. The orders are being issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which sets a wrong precedent,” said P.D.T. Achary, constitutional expert and former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha.

It was under Mr. Achary’s tenure that the watch and ward staff was renamed PSS in 2008. He added that replacing PSS would pose a risk and that even every State Assembly has their own watch and ward staff to facilitate the elected representatives.

Tiruchi Siva, Rajya Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu, told The Hindu that he was stopped thrice by the CISF personnel on Monday.

“I was in Parliament to attend a programme, the CISF personnel stopped me thrice and checked my identity card. This was not the case earlier as PSS staff recognised us and facilitated the entry,” Mr. Siva said, adding that PSS was an integral part of parliament security.

Last week, the Parliament Duty Group of the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) deployed for peripheral security was withdrawn. Earlier, Delhi Police deployed for frisking and scanning of bags were also removed from Parliament security responsibilities. The last time such large-scale changes were made was after the December 13, 2001, terror attack when terrorists stormed the building. Two PSS officials, Matbar Singh Negi and Jagdish Prasad Yadav, were killed while performing their duty.

A week after a security breach was reported in the new building on December 13, 2023, the MHA accorded in-principle approval to the CISF to survey the Parliament premises and its buildings for regular deployment of personnel on a comprehensive pattern under the Government Building Security.

The overall security is administered by the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

An uncertain future

This development has several PSS officials worried about their future. “We were hired by the Parliament secretariat. Since morning, our attendance application has replaced the subject Parliament of India with Government of India. We are hearing that they will force us to retire at 55. No fresh hirings have been done in the past ten years,” said a PSS official.

According to the Sectional Manual of Office Procedure of PSS published by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat in 2010, the Parliament Security Service maintains proper liaison and effective coordination with other security agencies “for arranging a fail-proof and user friendly security”.

“With the passage of time, PSS acquired specialization in the field of Identification of Members of Parliament and VIPs and Officers/staff so as to avoid any undue harassment to any MP and staff working in the Parliament Complex and ensure that no imposter/unauthorised person gets entry,” it said.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)