In the wake of the Chinese conflict in 1962, it was felt that the borders of the country could not be protected with the force of rifles alone. It required the backing and resolute will of a committed border population. In addition, it needed an in-depth understanding and familiarity of the terrain as well as the culture and ethos of the border population. A need was, therefore, realized for the creation of a unique, unconventional yet specialized organization, which would function in the far, flung, vulnerable, strategic, remote, climatically and topographically difficult border areas and motivate the border population across several states towards the cause of protecting our national sovereignty.
The Special Service Bureau (now Sashastra Seema Bal) was thus conceived in November 1962 and eventually created in March 1963 with the sole objective of achieving ‘Total security preparedness’ in the remote border areas for performing a ‘stay-behind’ role in the event of a war. SSB was started in North Assam, North Bengal, hill districts of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand), Himachal Pradesh, part of Punjab and Ladakh area of J&K. Shri B N Mullik took over as the first founder Director of Special Service Bureau and led the force from the front as the initial years were fraught with apprehensions on the prospects of another Chinese attack. The magnitude of responsibilities was such that each officer had to be constantly reassured of the value of his work in his own area of responsibility, so as to retain the motivation to continue to work towards the national objective, undeterred by the resistance encountered and the invisibility of the impact of the hard work put in. However, the appropriate support and cooperation came from the successive PMs, Dy PMs, Governors, CMs, etc., which bolstered the endeavour and morale of the SSB officers and staff, immensely.
Later, the jurisdiction of SSB was extended to Manipur, Tripura and Jammu (1965), Meghalaya (1975), Sikkim (1976), Rajasthan (1985), South Bengal, Nagaland and Mizoram (1989). Its area of coverage included 15 states. SSB in the erstwhile role was covering a population of more than 5.73 crores living in about 80,000 villages and about 9917 Kms of India’s international borders.
The area covered by SSB was distributed into 10 SSB Divisions, each headed by a Divisional Commissioner, 49 Areas headed by Area Organisers, 117 Sub Areas headed by Sub Area Organisers and 287 Circles headed by Circle Organisers. These units were key centres, coordinating and supervising all activities to fulfill their respective obligations. It also had 25 battalions of combatised personnel that provided arms training to volunteers who formed the core of the armed village resistance, in case of another war. These personnel were spread out across 32 Group Centres, 14 Training Centres and 3 Storage Depots. Training Schools were set up in various parts of the country starting with Frontier Administrative Officers’ Training Centre at Mahabaleshwar in October, 1963. Besides this, one Group Leaders Training School was opened in Gwaldam (then a part of Uttar Pradesh, now Uttarakhand).Two Advanced Training Schools were started for volunteers in Sarahan (HP) and Haflong (Assam). A High Altitude Training Centre was set up in Didihat, which was later shifted to Frontier Academy Gwaldam where a dedicated Mountaineering wing still conducts various rock climbing, snow survival and mountaineering courses. By 1990, SSB had seven Major Training Centres and seven Women’s Advanced Training Schools. Training was imparted to the population in the border areas of HP, Punjab, part of J&K, UP, North Assam, North Bengal and South Bengal and NEFA region.
Since 1963, the main thrust of the SSB was on generating a sense of national belonging, security and vigilance. Village Level Training Programmes and Refresher Training Courses in civil defence were started to train villagers to defend their own villages and if the situation demanded, to participate in a ‘stay behind role’ for the nation. Villagers were trained in the use of small arms and the art of self defence to develop a spirit of resistance. In early 1970s we also started National Integration Programmes in a big way. All these bore fruit slowly but surely. However, the rifle training was a big draw and brought lakh of people into our fold. The trained volunteers became the eyes and ears of SSB, on the border and could be drawn on whenever required. As a result the number of Chinese intelligencers prodding our border reduced considerably.