The perpetual disconnect

The modernisation of paramilitary forces in India has suffered due to the disconnect between the ground operatives and the policy-makers.

It is apt to start with an allegory. A school management body decides to rent out the school building as a function hall during the non-operational hours. It generates a lot of demand and the building becomes a popular venue for organising events. After a few months, while deciding to use available funds to renovate the school building, the management is confronted with a policy predicament whether to upgrade the school’s facilities to suit the needs of its students or that of the clients who use it for their events. In a way, this is one of the dilemmas that confronts the chieftains of the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), formerly known as the Central Paramilitary Force (CPMF) institutions, as they attempt to modernise their forces.

BSF

In the first week of September, Border Security Forces (BSF) personnel teamed up with the Haryana police to enforce law and order in the Pataudi area, after 16 vehicles were torched. In June, Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel deployed in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon district killed a Maoist commander in an encounter. In April, 20 odd personnel belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) started providing security to the chairman of Reliance Industries Limited, Mukesh Ambani. The drastic temperance in the original terms of reference of the CAPF institutions is a reality. In fact, the operational incongruity in deploying the essentially border guarding forces in internal security situations and to maintain law and order, and specially designated counter-insurgent forces to provide personal security, is no longer a subject of policy discussion. In the face of the country’s growing internal security and law and order duties, such deployments beyond the CAPFs’ conventional area of expertise are expected to register a continuous growth.

Each of the CAPF institutions today, thus, is adorned with a split personality: with a primary duty, conforming to their original terms of references, and with an array of obligatory secondary duties, which are no less demanding than the former. BSF battalions are in charge of the Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh border, the ITBP still guards the Indo-China border, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) is the force along the Indo-Nepal border etc. All these forces along with the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) are also battling the Maoists, providing VIP security, controlling riots, responding to relief operations during natural disasters, carrying out election-related duties, and providing securities to critical infrastructures. On many occasions, the CAPFs have even excelled in their secondary duties. The admirable role played by the BSF in counter-Maoist operations in Odisha or the accomplishments of the ITBP during the June 2013 floods in Uttarkhand and in protecting the Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan, are some of the pointers towards this trend.

However, whereas the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the ministry in charge of the CAPFs, appears to have settled these operational contradictions, mostly citing shortage of forces, questions regarding how to modernise these forces with such contrasting assignments are yet to figure in the policy-making circles.

The scheme for modernisation of the CAPFs, implemented since 2002, aims at increasing the strike capacities of the forces by providing them with weapons, equipments and communication systems; upgrading their skills by providing them with training; and keeping them operationally fit. The achievements under the scheme during the past decade, however, remain, at best, modest. According to a 2010 evaluation paper by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), the stringent norms imposed by the MHA continue to inhibit timely procurement of arms, ammunition and other equipments for the forces.

In addition, implementation of individual schemes of the CAPF institutions, while succeeding in augmenting the numerical strength of their personnel by adding new battalions, continues to be driven or affected by the commitment or the lack of it of the leadership. The fact that the CAPF chiefs, more often than not, do not grow within the institutions and are often paradropped by the political leadership from other departments/ states do not help addressing the needs of the forces.

Three following examples of the disconnect between the leadership and the forces on the ground would suffice. Till 2011, canteens of the CRPF used economical, yet unhealthy dalda and vanaspati ghee for preparing food for the personnel on static duty. The age-old practice was discontinued and healthy cooking oil was introduced after reports of 140 soldiers of the force dying of cardiac diseases in 2010 hit the media headlines. Similarly, till 2013, complains regarding the heavy leather boots by its personnel deployed in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the Maoist affected states were ignored by the CRPF leadership. It took a decision by the Home Secretary to reverse the practice. Even as BSF personnel clamoured for better weapons and equipments, the authorities diverted a part of the modernisation funds to build an officer’s mess and a swimming pool in the force’s headquarters in New Delhi. Successive assessments by the BPRD and the CAG provide several narratives of a regime of neglect, myopia and lack of drive within the CAPF institutions. This partially explains why as many as 36618 CRPF, BSF and ITBP personnel have left their jobs between 2009 and 2012.

Thus, while the plan to augment the conventional strike capacity of the forces and keeping them operationally fit has suffered, looking after the specific needs of the CAPFs, operating outside their known areas of expertise, does not even figure in the modernisation schemes. In 2009, for example, the BSF unveiled a five year modernisation project worth Rupees 6,016 crore. The proposed plan involved recruitment of 30,000 personnel, procurement of new aircrafts, construction of 509 border posts along the Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh border, nine new sectors and three frontier headquarters. The plan does not even mention the measures to address the needs of the 11 battalions of the BSF personnel who operate in the Maoist areas or the countless personnel who manage the law and order duties across the country. Similarly, the ITBP’s 2012 plan talks about augmenting its strength by 12 battalions by 2015, but is silent on the needs of its 6000 forces battling the Maoists or its personnel performing a range of additional duties elsewhere.

While professionalising the modernisation process by inducting experts and implementing the recommendations of the projects run by the BPRD is naturally prescribed as solutions to the problems, such steps do not tinker with the top-heavy model in the conception and implementation procedures. The solution to woes probably lies in democratising the process, by establishing permanent and functional structures within each of the CAPF institutions to receive and internalise the needs from the ground. Given that whether countering insurgency or implementing the law and order is a small commander’s effort, not heeding to the calls from the ground is indefensible.

Photo: Nupur Dasgupta