The terrorist attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar led to the death of 30 innocent people, but also brought the nation’s focus back on the Black Cats – the country’s elite National Security Guard – who ended the siege.

While the skills of the elite NSG were on display in Gujarat, also on display was their loss. One commando, Subedar Suresh Yadav, was killed while another seriously injured.

Subedar Dasrath Namde Satpute, the injured NSG commando, said, “We had a short range weapon. The terrorists had better weapons than us. While ours could fire up to 100 metres, theirs could fire up to 400-500 metres.”

Now, as they train for the future, the key question is how the NSG can carry out the mission without losing their own personnel. R S Mooshahary, DG, NSG, said “Akshardham was a very successful operation but not very cheerful for us. We lost lives and others were injured. We are analyzing the causes. You cannot prevent casualty but it will be our endeavor to minimize chances of casualty in such operations.”
In fact, the Black Cats were created as an elite force in 1985 to fight terrorists and hijackers without risking civilian lives – a reputation that they lived up to.

Their first big operation – Operation Black Thunder 1 and 2 came in the mid-80s – getting militants out of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Then in 1994, the NSG stormed a hijacked Indian Airlines plane at Amritsar, killing the hijacker without any harm to the hostages. In July 1999, NSG commandos killed two terrorists who had taken 12 officers hostage at a BSF camp.

Today, demand is greater than supply. About half of the NSG’s 7,300 commandos provide security to VIPs, for whom it is a status symbol to have Black Cat protection.

The government is now trying to de-link the VIP security from the NSG and emphasize on training and counter-insurgency operations.

“That is the current thinking in the government. There has already been a reduction in VVIP security duties,” added Mooshahary.

But there is another crisis. The wing of the NSG which is meant to take on terrorists is almost 50 percent short of officers, who lead teams into battle.

The reason being that most Army officers on deputation to the NSG have been sent back to their parent units deployed in the massive buildup at the border.

This adds to the existing 15 percent shortage of manpower in the NSG.

The reason for this is that its soldiers, all on deputation from the Army and paramilitary forces, get paid less while serving for the NSG as they lose out on many allowances which they are entitled to in their parent organisations.

Volunteers therefore are not willing to come in and the NSG chief has now proposed a 25 percent allowance to bring in more recruits. Nikhil Kumar, former DG, NSG, said, “Overall emoluments fall short of what they get in their parent organization and it is their shortfall we intend to remove. That is why we have come up with this proposal.”

Seventeen years after it came into existence as the country’s premier anti-terrorist force, the NSG’s greatest challenge now is to change with the times. A five-year modernization plan has now been launched, with its focus on importing new weaponry and upgrading the existing weapons.

And for these men whose badges tell the tale of a lifetime on the edge of danger, any delay in resolving these issues could be a matter of life and death.