Smarting from the deadly encounter in Sukma and the controversy over uniforms of their dead being dumped in a bin following post-mortem, senior officials of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have begun damage control. Indications are that not only are operational aspects being reviewed but also efforts are being made at assessing the living conditions of their men who serve the force and the nation in inhospitable jungles of Bastar, something that seldom done and pursued.
When asked, the acting Director General RC Tayal chose his words carefully, “We have to hit the Maoists hard, there is not going to be any slowing down. But instead of continuing the traditional area domination kind of operations we will now need to look at specific, swift and pin point operations.” His words hold significance given the criticism about conducting a 15-day long operation in Sukma and the fatigue it created for the men. Though the inquiry is on, many from the CRPF are quietly upset over an operation which was “too long, without a goal and ill-planed so much so that despite so much preparation the CRPF could not ensure a single helipad was secured for IAF choppers to evacuate”, in the words of an officer. It was also learnt that operations need to not only be better planned but also need the active involvement of the junior leadership at that stage.
Sources say the senior leadership went into an overdrive in the region on Thursday. Unit deployed in far flung areas were asked to immediately forward details of their living conditions, number of toilets in their camps, number of malaria cases, number of personnel, ration issues if any, leaves utilized or not and requirements. Many unit commanders were taken aback. “For years what has not mattered is suddenly important,” said an officer. When asked what could be the cause, “May be someone has reported about the pathetic conditions in which we are forced to live.”
From inadequate, filthy toilets to lack of communication facilities to improper potable water supply, camps have often come up with scant regard to the living condition they provide. The district police, as an end user of the CRPF, is responsible for the plight of the camps. Operational requirements have often ensured that camps are created without even security or communication links. For example, following the massacre of the Congress party leaders in Darbha region of Sukma in May 2013, a camp was opened near the ambush site within a month. “There was neither barricading nor communication links since satellite phones too aren’t really reliable in this region. So our bosses agree in creating sitting ducks out of us in a known Maoist stronghold,” said a source. Very often the on paper ‘facilities’ of a camp can be very different from the reality. “On paper, we have ten toilets for 120 men. In reality, only five are made and work on, the other five are yet to even take off,” mentioned another source.
Explained a source, “Our decision makers are IPS officers who come on deputation as IGs, ADGs and DGs. Hardly any IPS officer in his career has operated in a hard core area at the fighting level so they seldom understand our problems.”
Multiple committees are in the process of reviewing the force’s functioning. The MHA is keen to make the CRPF the frontline force to counter the Maoists and thereby attempting to review the functioning and revamp, if need be.