Yes, while on duty in these jungles, walking with their heads held high may just get them killed.
It may be the most basic requirement when it comes to a conflict zone but for our bureaucracy, holding the reins of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) & Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), that’s just not good enough. For that reason, men on ground have been fighting for decades without adequate head protection gear and losing lives too.
Despite the latest reverse faced on March 11 in Sukma’s Tahakwada village, neither bullet proof jackets nor patka (lighter head gear, used by the army), despite being flagged as a requirement by the CRPF, is anywhere close to being procured.
“It is criminal, in my mind, how our jawans are being treated. My opinion is that all those responsible for this situation should be in jail and not inside their swanky offices. We are talking about the most basic requirement which could have saved so many lives,” said Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute of Conflict Studies.
Essentially, there are no two types of head protection gear available which include traditional Bullet Proof (BP) helmet and the Patka. Said a source, “A BP helmet weighs around 5kg and for that reason alone, it is highly unpopular among the men on ground. What, however, is wanted is a patka since it is lighter and cheaper.”
As things stand, BP helmets available are for protection against carbines and pistols and not against modern assault rifles like AK47s or INSAS. CRPF’s authorisation is of 1,09,000 helmets/patkas. However what they have are 762 helmets/patkas.
With regards to the helmets, the MHA had laid down earlier that it will do the actual procurement. Thus on March 14, 2013 CRPF sought permission to initiated process to purchase (term is provisioning sanction) for 47880 BP helmets. On this, MHA sought a clarification on two occasions. “A meet with the Joint Secy (Police Modernisation) was held in the MHA on Nov 28, 2013 and it was decided that CRPF would draft another letter seeking sanction for 47880 BP helmets which were to cost Rs.22.55 crore. That letter was sent on December 27, 2013 but there has been no movement ever since,” said a source.
Progress has been as unimpressive with regards to the patkas which despite authorisation of 53409 are available in number less than 1100. In 2012, a proposal was initiated to purchase the same but did not achieve much.
Subsequently, Home Secretary on January 27 this year pushed for it by asking Bureau of Police Research & Development too submit their assessment of the utility of patkas. “By Jan 30 it was submitted giving go ahead to procure 20000 patkas but the approval of PM division is awaited to start the process,” it was mentioned.