Within just five years, over fifty thousand paramilitary troopers have quit. All-time spike recorded in the levels of suicides, fratricides and litigation against services. An internal paper trail and a presentation paints a picture of crisis, staring straight at our paramilitary establishment
Speaking from a borrowed SIM card, a young officer who has spent over three years in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) stated, “Believe me when I say this. Most girls my parents had lined up for me are rejecting me because of my organisation. They say that when they type CRPF anywhere on the internet, all they see are stories of men ambushed, killed and forced to live in horrendous ways.” He then informed, “Several of my batch-mates have already sought release from service. They are ready to even seek loans to pay back the government for the money spent on training them but they don’t want to continue.”
When the nation needs that law and order be upheld in Jammu and Kashmir, that borders be guarded, that national assets like ports and airports be protected, elections be conducted in the Maoist-infested areas or that peace be restored following a communal clash, we often fail to see these men. Standing quietly but firmly behind the local police are the men belonging to our paramilitary forces.
Drawn from across the country, these men fill up agencies like the Assam Rifles (AR), Border Security Force (BSF), CRPF, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB).
However, being deployed on an ‘all-time’ basis has now begun showing. Certainly an argument will be made that a soldier’s life isn’t exactly ‘easy’ but can we ignore these signs?
In February this year, emanating from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), New Delhi, a 12-point note was circulated to Director Generals of the AR, BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP and SSB. The note sought recommendations towards tackling the increasing tide of suicides, fratricides, Voluntary Retirement (VR), resignations and litigations. It further touched upon aspects like career progression, increasing benefits to Next of Kins (NOKs) for deceased personnel, active involvement in procurement and seeking feedback from those on the ground.
The 62-page presentation
(Year-wise figures have been mentioned starting from 2007 to September of 2011)
a. Voluntary Retirement (VR) cases: Except for the AR, all forces have seen the number of VRs double in the last five years. While in the larger forces like the CRPF and BSF, which had 1172 and 2084 cases of VRs in 2007 respectively, the VRs till September 2011 stand at 2333 and 4852. In forces like CISF, ITBP and SSB also, cases of VRs have shot up exponentially. For example, in 2007, CISF had 467, SSB 123 and ITBP 71 VRs, but between January and September of 2011, figures have shot up to 694, 329 and 252 respectively. Additionally, when seen as number of VR cases per 10,000 personnel, in 2011, BSF (226.4), followed by AR (92.9) and CRPF (80.8) are the worst performers whereas SSB (43.3) has relatively lower number of cases.
The lure of the VR is enhanced by the tough life that these men are forced to lead. Said a paramilitary jawan who is presently posted on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border,”Posting after posting is a hard posting. Our seniors talk of posting us in our home state or in the adjoining state but that seldom happens. On one hand we are recruiting people but given the number of internal conflicts, all those recruited are simply being pushed into one theatre or the other.”
Naturally then, the avenues for peace posting – a need recognised even by the army – are shrinking.
In this conversation, we were joined by his colleague, who very coldly mentioned, “I have spent eighteen years in the force. By the time, I complete my 20 years in service, I will have a corpus of about Rs 9-10 lakh and once I seek VR, I am entitled to a pension of around Rs 8,000 per month.” Thanks to sixth pay commission, the prospect of retirement does not scare these men in uniform anymore.
b. Resignations: What makes this category crucial is that when someone resigns (opting out before becoming eligible for VR i.e on completion of 20 years in service), he/she not only forfeits retirement benefits that a government servant is entitled to but may also have to pay back the government for the funds spent on training him/her.
In 2007, the number total number of resignations from all paramilitary forces combined was 671. This figure for 2011 (till Sept) has shot up to 1283 – highest in the last five years. Again with the exception of AR, most services have failed to keep a check on resignation cases with the CISF losing most number of men in five years (1679) followed by the CRPF (1483) and BSF (924). Statistics also reveal that between 2010 and 2011, in BSF and CRPF, the percentage of resignation cases shot up by a chilling 70 per cent.
While better avenues in the private sector are being blamed, but the MHA is also looking inward.
Candidly, the admission on paper is that the government is ‘not fully able to address the problems of personnel and provide them with a conducive and motivated work atmosphere and thus is loosing a trained work force.’ “It needs to be understood that today, the officer who joins us is not just better educated but even more demanding and conscious. So when he sees the lack of leadership and appreciation of situation, among higher-ups, he doesn’t take much time to decide,” said an officer who has completed 12 years of service and whose many batch-mates are today are employed with banks and MNCs.
That apart, stagnation in career progression and inability to stay with family for tenure after tenure are the other causes forcing trained soldiers to look the other way, the report mentioned.
c. Suicides: For years now, the data has been disturbing and yet levels have remained the same, if not increased. Unfortunately, even the AR, which till 2009 had no cases of suicides, has now had to grapple with six such deaths in the last 18 months. Things have particularly worsened for the larger forces. For example, the BSF had 26 and 29 suicides in 2009 and 2010 respectively. But this figure has shot up to 33 just between January and September of 2011. Similarly, the CRPF, which had 28 cases each in 2009 and 2010, has already had 36 deaths between January to September 2011. Per 10,000 men, in 2011, the BSF (1.53), followed by the CRPF (1.24) and SSB (1.05) had the highest number of cases.
“We are paying the price for wrong policies and wrong deployment patterns. Social life barely exists plus not being local means often we are seen with suspicion by the very people we are there to protect. Amidst all this, even a small altercation, ridicule or insult from a colleague or a senior, coupled with liquor that is easily available is enough to wreak havoc,” mentioned an officer posted out of West Bengal.
d. Fratricides: From 2007, these forces have seen 64 deaths owing to fratricide – defined as an act of murdering your brother (read: fellow soldier). In here, the CRPF has consistently been having an ‘alarmingly high’ number of cases. In fact, 46 of the total 64 deaths reported have taken place within the CRPF. The ITBP and the AR have rarely encountered this problem, it was revealed.
MHA’s findings into these cases have revealed that humiliation from senior officers or colleagues, coupled with frustration of being denied a leave and long periods of separation from family, have triggered these cases.
e. Litigation: This aspect deals with cases filed by paramilitary personnel against their own organisation. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming number of cases are over service and compensation matters. And this trend too is on the upswing.
With the cases of all paramilitary forces combined, in 2007, the litigation tally stood at 2313. This figure, in 2010, rose up to 2903. And till September 2011, 2482 cases had already been filed. Except the BSF, all forces have seen a rise in the number of cases. Year on year, per 10,000 personnel, CISF has registered the highest tally (48.4 in 2011) followed by the CRPF (38.7 in 2011).
The MHA notes that the causes are lack of an in-house grievance redressal mechanism, delay in dealing with complaints brought in by juniors and dissatisfaction from forces’ own courts.
f. Casualties: From 2008, a total of 5375 lives were lost within the six paramilitary forces that operate in different parts of our country. While it is commonplace to hear of ambushes, encounters and landmine explosions which bleed these men, shockingly, the major cause, over 71 per cent for precision’s sake, of casualties is sickness coupled with accidents. Over 3800 lives since 2008 were lost to these factors. The CRPF has the highest number of casualties followed by the BSF.
This data points to a lack of dedicated medical support for these forces. Also, the fact that accidents have become commonplace speaks poorly of the training standards prevailing.
A case in the point is the April 2010 Chintalnar massacre, which claimed the lives of 76 security personnel. The CRPF company, despite being on an area domination exercise, did not have a medical component integrated and on the other hand, the Maoists who were tracking them and had planned a major offensive, had medical support alongside, on the ground during the three-hour-long encounter! Further, it was reliably learnt that within the CRPF, where the total authorised postings are a little over 600, more than 150 remain vacant. And the vacancies are exactly where they matter the most, i.e specialists and officers who form core team of leading surgeries.
A CRPF officer remarked, “It was said in J&K that if you had even the slightest of chance of surviving, an army doctor will save you. And the army has built infrastructure there in such a way that no matter where, you will have a helicopter hovering above for evacuation, if nothing else.” Recollecting his experience of a recent encounter in Chattisgarh, he said, “A young officer got shot. For the next four hours, I kept madly calling for a helicopter but nothing came. Unable to evacuate him, he died in front of us all. When my troops see this how do I motivate them?” On paper, most states have positively positioned helicopters for evacuation and reinforcements but in reality, there is still a lot that remains to be achieved.
‘Leadership is an issue’
Former Director General of the BSF and retired IPS officer, EN Rammohan, who was asked by the MHA to study and suggest improvements following the April 2010 Chintalnar massacre feels the blame lays right on top. In an email response, he mentions, “Generally, the Director General (for paramilitary forces) is appointed based on the degree of his pliancy.” He suggested that unless the system is reformed, there is little hope.
Additionally, it is also a fact that paramilitary forces are led by IPS officers and not by cadre officers. A similar observation was made by a serving army colonel who has operated with the BSF and CRPF in J&K. “Younger officers of these forces are there, living it out with the men in tough conditions but it was often observed how apart from these younger and inexperienced officers, there would be no senior officer interacting with the troops regularly.”
The scenario from the other side looks different though.
Promotion for cadre officers is growing but not faster and higher enough. As a result, the IPS officers who come on deputation to these forces, have held on to the senior posts. Towards this, a deputy commandant-rank officer of the BSF said, “IPS officers when deputed, enter paramilitary forces from the rank of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) and finish as DG. That means they are directly placed above men who have experience of being company commander (leading 100 odd men) and battalion commander (1000 odd men). So they effectively are unable to understand the issues on the ground!”
Rammohan bats for a transfer policy. And adds, “Comfortable postings in peace areas should not be made on recommendations received from politicians and ministry officials. The DG should constantly supervise training standards. In the BSF and the ITBP, the standard of training has not declined by and large. I am afraid that cannot be said of the other paramilitary forces, particularly the CRPF and the CISF.”
How the number game plays out
Given the way insurgencies in this country have fanned out, there are some typical problems that have arisen. Explained a CRPF officer, “There are several of our posts like say ‘DIG (Operations)’ which often do not have statutory sanction. These posts are created depending on the situation. Official sanctions come later. However, till that happens, there is nothing allocated to this post in terms of men and infrastructure.”
Now, in a paramilitary company, consisting of 135 men (which consist 09 men as cooks, barbers etc), there are 126 fighting jawans. Typically, there is a deficiency of upto 25 men per company. “Left with 100-odd men, I am forced to give additional 15 men and some assets like vehicles and guns for my senior since his post is not sanctioned. Plus at any time, there are at least 25-30 men who are on leave. So with 60 men, almost half the actual strength of a company, I am supposed to operate in areas infested with insurgents,” he said.
Leaving behind 30 men for camp security (barely adequate), even if a company commander leaves for an exercise with the remaining 30 men, in several areas this is too small a figure. “If something untoward takes place, where is the scope for reinforcements to come! And then, the government and media will blame the dead officer or company commander for poor leadership. But the fact is that I am being forced to invite trouble,” he narrated.
The way ahead
It can comfortably be derived that the present direction is the wrong one. But are changes being made or even contemplated?
Said an IPS officer based out of Chattisgarh, whose men work in conjunction with the paramilitary forces. “As we see it, steps are being taken. Their senior officers are visiting them more often. Grievances are being heard. But most importantly, paramilitary leaders will have to create a buffer. Men need a break,” he added. This sentiment finds support even from insiders. “For every 10 men being recruited and deployed, you will have to recruit at least three men who will be placed in training or other non-field postings. This so that rotation among them is possible,” mentioned an Assistant Commandant.
Conceding to the problem, a Special Director General-rank officer said, “All of this is a result of following haphazard policies in the past. We had a situation when a unit from J&K would be deployed in the south for elections spread over several states and on completion of that, would be placed in insurgency-infested region. But now, we are working towards changing this.” He informed, “Over the next three years, we will raise at least 20 additional battalions which would be specialised battalions in say Maoist-affected region or law and order etc. Additionally, by creating training schools and institutes, we will be able to provide buffer and rotation to these men.”
Another aspect that finds mention in the MHA report is the need for grievance redressal mechanism, not in plush Delhi offices or governmental files, but on the ground. There too, the wheels are turning. An officer, presently posted in the Junglemahal region confirmed that steps are being taken. “Dedicated counsellors are visiting our camps to talk to our men, they provide their mobile numbers to us so that they are reachable whenever required,” he said.
Despite persistent efforts over 72 hours to try and speak to the Minister of State (MoS) Home, Jitendra Singh, who has dealt with this issue, no response could be elicited.
Certainly to instill changes when you are talking about almost a million-strong force is not easy. But it does not merit asking whether such a study was done in the past or not and if done, what action was taken? Given our neighbourhood and the ever-spreading rash of internal disturbances, to rectify this malaise first will pay us rich dividends as against creating newer bodies and adding layers to the already-thick system governing us.