The government armed the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) with the country’s primary communication satellite to track activities along the Himalayan border, as part of efforts to enhance security after the Doklam standoff with China this summer.
The paramilitary force will supervise feeds from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) geostationary communication satellite, GSAT-6, that keeps an eye on the entire country.
“The ITBP has been designated the nodal agency for obtaining and channelising GSAT-6 communication satellite,” said RK Pachnanda, the director general of the force.
Launched in 2015, the satellite performs multiple tasks such as aiding in navigation, collecting data and image mapping, besides its primary task of communication.
The ITBP will track the information and alert the government and security agencies if it notices anything suspicious or untoward along the nearly 3,500km Sino-Indian border from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Jammu and Kashmir in the west.
This is part of measures the government seeks to implement, including forming an institution specializing in border intelligence gathering, after Indian and Chinese soldiers faced off in Doklam, located near Sikkim at a strategic tri-junction between the two countries and Bhutan.
The steps are “extremely important” to augment security, according to ITBP officials. The paramilitary force will control 25% of the multi-tasking satellite’s volume of work.
Until now, ISRO was responsible for both data generation and passing relevant information to other agencies. The ISRO authorities refused comments about the latest measures.
The ITBP has already started work. Its website says it has invited tenders for the “supply and erection of temporary pre-fabricated structures for development of training area and related facilities for GSAT-6 Centre” in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area.
The training school aims to increase the number of intelligence operatives within the ITBP. The 90,000-strong force currently trains about 1,500 troopers in gathering intelligence.
An ITBP official said the Doklam faceoff spurred the government to put “special focus” on the eastern border. “The decisions were taken keeping in view of the changing trends of intelligence gathering paraphernalia.”
The crisis began in June after India sent soldiers to stop growing Chinese military activity in the remote and uninhabited territory overlooking a narrow passage connecting the country with its northeastern states. Beijing accused New Delhi of trespass and preventing its soldiers from building a road in the region.
The 70-day standoff ended in August but the tension simmered as ITBP troopers and Chinese soldiers had a punch-up and threw stones at each other in Ladakh soon after.
The Asian giants fought a war in 1962 but the border feud continues to fester, leading to military face-offs every year from Ladakh to Arunachal.