On Monday afternoon, learning about the death of their men was not the only horror facing the top brass of the Central Reserve Police Force(CRPF). Despite their best efforts at convincing, the spy agency National Technological Research Organisation (NTRO) insisted and succeeded in pulling out its surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) deployed over Sukma at the time the operation was on.
This ditching, being viewed very seriously as hampering the force when it needed all possible efforts has propelled the CRPF top brass to complain formally to its parent body, the Ministry of Home Affair (MHA). A senior IPS officer posted in the CRPF, confirming the development, said, “We are not going to take this lying down anymore. The MHA has been, in a very strongly worded manner, informed about this. It is now up to them.”
According to information accessed, the operations directorate of the CRPF placed an advanced ‘indent’ (read requisition) for UAV deployment over Sukma from 8am to 5pm for Monday, December 1. It was learnt that this was done keeping in mind the Maoist build up and the operations which were on for a fortnight. From Sukma, the Israeli-made Heron UAV was to fly to Jharkhand to provide an assessment of the Maoist presence since the state was to go for polls on Tuesday. Only then was it to return to its base at the Begumpet airport.
“The UAV arrived over Sukma only by noon. By around 1:30pm, it was gone. The NTRO’s point was that the fuel supply was nearly exhausted and it needed to fly more than 90 minutes to reach Hyderabad,” said a source. What bewildered the CRPF top brass was the sudden change of plan. “Given what was happening, we told NTRO to cancel flying to Jharkhand and maintain presence over Sukma. What we got in return baffled us. If you have been informed of a job as critical as this, how can you just walk away,” a source stated.
The UAV, despite its limited visual penetration of the thick foliage over jungles of Bastar is of immense help to the security forces since it beams live images of the location over which it flies. In a limited way, the UAV also helps forces to track, detect and react to any possible build up of the insurgents.
The NTRO’s UAV is operated by personnel from the Indian Air Force (IAF) who are on deputation to the spy agency. The spy agency is facing a crisis of pilots and observers and one set of pilots and observers can’t work for over four hours and NTRO has barely two set of people at the best of times. As a result of this, the Heron UAV which can actually operate for over 18 hours, effectively is not utilized beyond eight hours at the most. What makes the matters worse is that the NTRO only flies one UAV at a time and that too for a limited duration owing to the manpower crunch. Its pay, mandated by the government rules, also is too meagre for it to be able to attract fresh recruitment. When reached for a comment, Air Vice Marshal Arvind Verma, chief of UAV operations of NTRO heard the entire issue and said, “You should speak to the right authority. I can not comment.” When asked who should be reached, he did not reply.
It is not for the first time that the CRPF and NTRO have had a run in. In the past, former Home Secretary and now BJP MP RK Singh had put it in writing the need to stop relying on NTRO and developing own fleet of UAVs. Apart from that, for years now, the ground forces have pleaded the NTRO to shift out of Hyderabad and operate from Jagdalpur or Bhillai or any other air strip in the vicinity but NTRO has refrained. “Imagine the constraints that the NTRO already faces. In that by insisting on operating out of Hyderabad, you end up wasting considerable flying time in merely reaching over places in Bastar or Jharkhand. You have barely reached and it is time to head back, exactly what happened in the Sukma operation,” explained a source.
While the CRPF reports to the MHA and the police to their respective state goverments, the NTRO comes directly under the National Security Advisor’s secretariat and thus under Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).