My name is Standard Operating Procedure. You can call me SOP.
You will hear about me whenever something goes terribly wrong or a tragedy strikes. Many carry the impression that my tribe is the cure to all ills.
Now I am not simply called SOP. That’s too generic. I have a special number assigned on file but mentioning that may make matters too technical.
Well, I was born as a two-page letter on August 3, 2010, at the hands of a clerk who worked for the then special secretary (internal security) Mr UK Bansal. In my early moments, I recall Mr Bansal sending me from his chamber located on the first floor of the North Block which houses the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to the headquarters of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) like the CRPF, Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
Why was I created and what was the message I carried?
Back in 2010, home minister Mr P Chidambaram was said to be serious in securing the Left-wing extremism (LWE)-affected areas. These were sizeable parts of central and eastern India where rebels from the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) were wreaking havoc. Once when I was lying on the desk at an office I heard how four months before I was born, Maoist rebels killed 75 men from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and one policeman in a single attack in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district!
The government’s efforts however hit a roadblock when they realised that the local police forces in their states had neither the training nor the numbers to take on the Maoist insurgents who called the jungle their home. So, till the police could build themselves up, the CAPFs would help them with numbers and fire power. It was to be a partnership.
As time passed, Mr Bansal, a 1974-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, wasn’t very happy about how this partnership was progressing. The CAPFs, which did not belong there, did not know the region or for that matter even the local language, felt like foreigners. The local police on the other hand did not suffer these disadvantages but they did not participate enough. The Maoists exploited this. They killed many of our men.
On my two pages, Mr Bansal had written that for every one policeman participating in an operation, two men from CAPFs would do so too, thus maintaining a ratio of 1:2. He revised it to 1:3 later for “any planned operation”. Only in case of an urgent operation could reduced police participation be allowed. You see the point he was making?
Have you wondered how many policemen participated in the “planned” operations to support road construction in Bhejji on March 11 and in Burkapal on April 24 where the CRPF lost 37 men? Two constables in Bhejji and one in Burkapal! This despite the MHA recently stating that there are “over 20,000 state police personnel” and “45,000 central forces personnel” posted in there.
People in power have no idea about my existence.
When journalist Jugal Purohit went about asking, here is what he found:
– Abhishek Meena, Superintendent of Police, Sukma: No such guidelines exist and no such guidelines can be adhered to.
– DM Awasthi, Special Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh: Such instructions can’t be followed.
– Sudeep Lakhtakia, Additional Director General, CRPF: I will have to check up.
– K Vijay Kumar, senior security adviser, MHA: You cannot have such rigidity.
– The spokesperson of the MHA did not offer any explanation.
This is my reality.
Someone sitting removed from the actual situation thought about me and pushed me down the throats of others who had their own ideas. Then when something went wrong, newer people came together and created newer SOPs. Lessons were seldom learnt. I remain forgotten.
Contrast this with our enemy who bears the name of a foreigner who died more than 40 years ago. That enemy deploys his tactics and remains guided by his doctrine even today. He hasn’t forgotten.
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.
There has been a hue and cry following the ‘Martyrs in garbage truck’ expose which thankfully was duly noted by editors sitting in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi. However some relevant facts need to be acknowledged as well.
First, the incident
On June 26, 2011, at 1940hrs from the Kirandul Police Station, a team led by Inspector. DN Nagwanshi left in a police Bolero patrol jeep for Essar gate near Patelpara, 8km away from police station. Barely 50 minutes later at 2030hrs, the jeep was blown up in a relatively minor landmine blast (investigators have found that barely 5kg worth of explosives were packed). While three men died on the spot and their leader, Nagwanshi got seriously injured, the others sustaining lighter injuries, fired back. Police sources claim that this reflex action led to the Maoists fleeing. No weapons were looted. Inspector Nagwanshi later succumbed to his injuries while enroute to Jagdalpur (80km from Dantewada) for treatment.
No surprises here
For those witnessing this largely ignored a conflict, anywhere in the so-called ‘Red corridor’, this incident has hardly come as a surprise. If anything, locals believe this instance was better a show than what has been offered in the past.
Mentioned a local journalist, who has shot several such ‘salamis’ as they are called, “Bhaiyya, humne to yeh tak dekha hai ki shaheedon ko bike par le jaate hai.” (We have even seen the martyrs being taken away in bikes.) He also went on to add that he personally never thought there was anything in this report to get the attention it is getting presently. Facts of the case speak out. It was not before the noon of Monday that the bodies made their journey in the truck and yet the first time the story flashed up on television was a good 24 hours later, if not more on Tuesday!
The Collector and the SP of Dantewada have stated that before the coffins were loaded, the truck (which they insist was not a garbage carrying truck) was totally cleaned up so as to honour the dead appropriately.
‘Wanted to hurry up’
According to details accessed, none of the four deceased lived closeby. While Nagvanshi’s body had to be taken all the way to Raipur, the others i.e Bhushan Mandavi belonged to Dhamtari district, Alsan Ekka and Laxman Bhagat both belonged Jeshpur district, all of them located at least 200 km away far away from Dantewada. Speaking off the record, a senior officer revealed that given the weather, landing a helicopter was not feasible. “The bodies were obviously not in a good state from the onset. Plus in absence of any storage facility had we delayed further, bodies would have deteriorated by the time they reached their homes,” said the officer. In fact the officer went on to reveal that it was his direction to the local cops that the bodies needed to be moved out at the earliest.
“They ideally should have avoided this but may be following my directions they acted in the quickest possible manner,” the officer revealed. Said an IPS officer of a neighbouring district, “It has to be a case of miscommunication. I know for a fact that knowingly nobody would have let this happen. We are sensitive to our boys.” He also termed the entire coverage as being ‘highly over-stretched’.
A bitter feeling
On discussing the issue those who have served in Dantewada, it does seem like this incident has left an avoidable, bitter taste. Reason being that Kirandul is not a typical remote and under-developed region where the Maoists hold sway. Quite to the contrary, Kirandul with its resource-richness has an urban set up which even the district headquarters in Dantewada does not posess. Apart from hosting a heavily guarded National Mineral Development Corporation facility, it also has an advanced 400km-long underground pipeline emanating which culminates in Vizag. Said an officer who has served there is the past, “If anything, Dantewada as a district headquarters is not as equipped as Kirandul is. One could have justified this in any other area but Kirandul, certainly not.”
It is learnt that the available ambulances were dispatched for those who survived the attack. The question is even if no ambulance was left following the treatment of the injured, with more than 12 hours at hand before the bodies were moved out from Kirandul, couldn’t the administration have summoned ambulances from elsewhere if not Dantewada itself given that the distance was barely 40kms!
Compare it to paramilitary forces
In the Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected areas, police and the paramilitary forces work together. It is interesting to compare the scenario between the two. Be it last year’s massacre of 76 personnel (75 CRPF + 1 police) or even the ambush on June 26 itself in Kanker district of Bastar where 02 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel lost their lives, the salami does not take place without the Director General (DG) of the respective force flying down from wherever he may be. With the Chhattisgarh police, the DGP may or may not be available. “That apart, officers from the paramilitary insist of flying coffins back in helicopters to cut down on time. There is that amount of sensitivity existing. But there is no such thing for the police even though the state government of Chhattisgarh hosts a couple of Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi17 choppers and rented ones as well,” remarked an officer involved in the Anti Naxal wing of the state police.
On the ground
Within the last couple of months, only in Chhattisgarh, 40-0dd personnel have lost their lives apart from scores getting injured. Though officers insist otherwise, the jawan on the ground does seem to be confused, if not worse. Apart from fighting with his hands tied owing to shortage of resources and uncaring administration (seen from the condition of their camps and gear alloted to them) a clear lack of direction from the leadership (while Union Home Minister draws up operations, members and leaders of his party term Maoist menace as ‘social’ and ‘economic’ problem without even realising the barbarism and ghastliness of the enemy that the jawan has been sent to face) , he also has to make do with outdated equipment which will disable if not kill (case in the point being Anti Landmine Vehicles or Bullet Proof vehicles, both of which have turned out stark losers in this theatre).
Lackof overall seriousness
On a strategic level, we seem to have little interest in fighting this menace. It is evident from the fact that despite almost two decades of this affecting us, there is little thought that has gone into setting up logistical supplies. This ‘garbage truck for martyrs’ issue is a case in the point. On the other hand, in Kashmir, the army has managed a superb system whereby help is never far from hand. Investigators have often found that when Maoists launch an attack, seldom it is the case that they lack medical aid. In some form or the other, their attacks carry an element of medical support – something our soldiers fighting them do not have. Little point then hounding Mr. Raman Singh or Dantewada Collector or SP, I believe. A war not seriously fought is a war, seriously lost.
(This post was planned a day before the second anniversary of the November 26 2008 Mumbai attacks. But a slew of personal and academic commitments held me back)
Seated inside the plush office of a senior commander of a maritime security agency, I asked him if he was satisfied about how maritime supporting infrastructure has evolved ever since those attacks. Very confidently, he replied, “If there is an intelligence tip off today about a suspicious landing anywhere along the western coast, we can seal off the entire coast and nobody can enter without passing through us. But you have to give me a time frame within which such a landing may take place. It can be days or even weeks but not indefinitely.” So that is something for the intelligence agencies to chew on.
I re-phrased my question, asked him if there were issues within his domain which gave him sleepless nights. Looking at the floor, he took a pause. I knew I had hit the right spot.
He then took me through a list of acquisitions taking place, multi-agency maritime exercises being conducted, government steps to regulate coastal villages by granting them i-cards and the like. “But all this is being negated by the red-tapeism and babugiri of the DG Shipping (Directorate General of Shipping). You media guys only hound us all the time but the bigger culprits are these babus in DG Shipping and state governments who are just not moving on our proposals,” he lamented. This avatar was visibly different from the earlier confident one.
On discussions with officers of the Navy and the Coast Guard, this plaint was corroborated as being the single-most common and gravest sticking point in the enhancement of maritime security framework.
Essentially, the problem that the security forces face can be broken down into four broad features:
a. Merchant Shipping Information System: Primarily, the Navy wants the DG Shipping to enable sharing this data with their servers so that all information on maritime movements of merchant vessels, even those in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and beyond, can be reflected on their systems. This system is linked with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) which gives data on the vessel’s course, speed, next port of call, tonnage and the like. This, the Navy believes will go a long way in enhancing its Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and enable it to plan and implement better.
b. Role of a regulator: Ranging from merchant vessels, fishing boats, fishing trawlers, pleasure crafts, barges carrying sand and other materials, they are all out at sea but details on them are not available in one central location. Explained a Coast Guard officer, “We often apprehend sand barges. Shockingly, the crew operating has no license, no identification, little know how, zero equipment and we have a tough time figuring out which government agency has the ownership and registration details so that proper action can be recommended.” Security agencies have conveyed to concerned agencies that all details of maritime traffic be available at one window so that time is not wasted and effective penal action can be taken. Among others, the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) has begun implementation so that a concerted database can be built up.
c. Port security: The level of seriousness with which the country’s two most premier ports treat port safety was revealed during the MSC Chitra – MV Khalijia III collision and subsequent oil spillage. Despite the spill taking place inside the port limits, the Coast Guard and Navy had to swing into action (whereas it is the port which is responsible to fight the spillage if it happens inside port limits). It thus is no surprise that security agencies are worried. In their recommendation to the DG Shipping, the agencies had pressed for the earliest implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code. But it is still ‘work in progress’.
d. Unregulated fishing: Ever since a fishing craft, Kuber, was used by the terrorists to evade Indian security agencies and land in Mumbai, the government has woken up to the need to register and regulate fishing activities. Security officials admit that steps albeit reluctantly have been taken in this regard by different coastal states. But a few sticking points remain. Thanks to the fishing community’s potential as a vote bank, several ‘hard steps’ against them are avoided by authorities even when say Coast Guard apprehends an Indian fishing boat, fishing very close to Pakistani waters. “We have highlighted how fishing authorities often stamp blank passes, which the fishermen are required to carry with them at sea. Such an approach negates our measures because tomorrow anyone can go to sea and we can’t do a thing about it,” said a senior officer of the Navy. In fact, suggestions by agencies to make ‘no fishing zones’ around oil rigs and drilling areas and carve out ‘safety fishing lanes’ while entering the harbour have been gathering dust.
‘Shipping Ministry needs to get its act right’
Above mentioned four key areas have emerged, officers say, not out of some rulebook but out of maritime exercises carried out repeatedly along the country’s 7500km-long coastline. “We do state specific exercises because we need to involve the state police’s marine police and other departments. By this, at any point in time, we are exercising off one state or the other,” said an officer who has taken part in such exercises.
A typical exercise will involve a Red team, the purpose of which is to try and infiltrate using the sea route and Blue team, which prevents them from doing so. All of them are essentially from several government agencies but often are clad in civvies as their role demands.
At the end of every such exercise, a detailed de-briefing is done about what went wrong and where improvements can be done. “It is from here that these strong convictions have emerged and to ignore them would be perilious,” said a senior naval officer. He added that ever since such exercises began, almost 15 months ago, these suggestions have been repeatedly made to agencies like DG Shipping, Ministry of Shipping and concerned state governments and while state governments have moved, it is the Shipping Ministry which needs to act and fast.
DG Shipping: It is happening
When asked, the present Director General of Shipping, Dr Satish B Agnihotri, IAS, said, “At present, we are sharing information with the Coast Guard, if the Navy wants to be linked, let them inform us and we can swiftly involve them as well.” He was referring to the Long Range Identification and Tracking system (LRIT) which keeps a tab on shipping cargo which comes in 1000 nautical miles from any point of our coastline. LRIT indeed is a shot in the arm simply because of the sheer distance it grants you an eye on. Dr Agnihotri added, “Already all Indian flag vessels have signed in for LRIT and we are keeping tab on their movements. About foreign flag vessels, unless they sign the required agreement with us, we may not be able to monitor them.” But there too DG Shipping claims they are trying to sign up more and more number of nations, so that all foreign flag vessels’ positions are known every 6 hrs to our agencies.
On the subject of ISPS, it was informed that survey has begun of which the first round has been completed for 13 major ports and 40-odd non major ports. The survey being conducted by Indian Registrar of Shipping (IRS) will again come up for review this month. At present, however, the stress will remain in implementing ISPS code where EXIM cargo is expected and delivered from. “We are playing the role of a regulator well. if there are any issues, we (including maritime security agencies) can sit together and sort out,” Dr Agnihotri added.
Coastal Security Scheme PART II
The Ministry of Home Affairs-sponsored second leg of Coastal Security Scheme will take off April 2011 onwards. Under the new scheme, 131 Coastal Police Stations, 180-odd vessels alongwith Rs 15 lakh per coastal police stations for computers, stationary etc will be handed out. This scheme will be implemented across the 09 coastal states and 04 union territories at a total cost of Rs 1579 cr. This is in addition to the 73 coastal police stations and 204 vessels included in the first phase of the Coastal Security Scheme.
The state police terms it as ‘Anti Landmine Vehicle’ whereas the paramilitary calls it ‘Mine Protection Vehicle’ (MPV). Though there prevails confusion over what to call it, there is no confusion about what to NOT expect from it – protection from landmines. Yes, in a theatre where 70 percent of casualties are attributed to landmines, our best foot forward – a dedicated MPV is a proven vulnerable platform. Shockingly, such is the state of mind of our soldiers that they would rather walk for miles on end in cruel heat but travel in these coffin-on-wheels MPVs.
It is said that the Maoists never repeat a mistake. It can be said for our leadership that we never learn from our mistake. Failure of MPVs to inspire any confidence among its users is a case in the point.
When I broached this topic with a young IPS officer, lets call him S, posted in the ‘hot’ zone of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, what he said came across as a slap on the face of our leadership. S said, “We never use these MPVs. They offer no protection. The Maoists know very well by now what is the intake capacity of MPVs and often pack in more explosives to rip these vehicles apart.” The slap doesn’t end there. “Yes, under the cover of darkness we sometimes use these MPVs but only to transport logistical stuff and rations. Since it is useless otherwise, we can at least use its space and transport rations,” he reasoned. What S did not say was that he and his men are forced to use MPVs as trucks!
All along, our government continues to march on.
On July 29, 2009, Minister of state for defence, Mr. Pallam Raju, while replying to a question asked in the Parliament said that Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) has manufactured 243 MPVs between 2004 to 2009 (http://www.pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=51156). Very efficiently, he also added that all of these MPVs have been distributed across 10 states which are battling Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in different proportions with Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh getting the maximum number of MPVs for obvious reasons. He also added that these MPVs could protect personnel sitting inside against explosives upto 14kg of TNT.
He however did not explain as to why a model of MPV manufactured in 2004 looked and had the same features as does a model which has rolled out in 2009. While we may be seeing the Maoists adopting a spectacular new tactic with every operation of theirs, for our babus in OFB or home ministry the Maoist too are caught in a time warp.
When I asked the Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Mr. Vikram Shrivastava, if he had ever questioned the government on the mindless production and usage of the MPVs for his force, he was not too keen on answering me. “There are internal mechanisms to voice your feelings if you feel any asset is not appropriate. Such public discourse of technical matters may not be proper,” he said after I persisted. However, another senior CRPF officer was forthcoming. An IPS officer, he said, “I have questioned these MPVs. It is silly that our men are being led into this machine which does not offer protection. It is a grave error to give your forces a false sense of security.”
Well, the Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram presented his ministry’s report card five days ago. In it, the section related to Anti-Maoist expenditure, there was no mention of study/modification/update/procurement of MPVs.
The Motor Transport (MT) wing of the police or any security set up is required to upkeep all the vehicles it has in its fleet. It obviously implies that they ought to have a better understanding of not only Mahindra Bolero that the force uses, but also of MPVs, if they have any. The police force in Bastar has many. Said V, a police constable working in the MT wing there, “Maoists have done a great detailed study of these MPVs.” I asked him to explain. With more than 25 years of service in these troubled regions, he had a lot to. “In 2004-05, when MPVs were new, it took them (read Maoists) a while to understand. They slowly started laying landmines on the road and would detonate them whenever an MPV would pass. Gradually, they started learning that if the mine is blasted under the front portion of an MPV, the vehicle won’t sustain much damage. Apart from a small shake-up, the vehicle would continue plying. And throughout this period, Maoists had to simply waste their explosives just to know the capacity and weakness of an MPV,” V explained. Within a year, they understood. And they started scoring hits after hits, even as security personnel were lulled into believing that MPVs would offer them all the protection they wanted.
V then gave out a very crucial piece of experience he came to learn, Maoists now pack in more than 25kg of explosives and often detonate it below the rear wheel of MPVs. When they follow this combination, the MPV tosses up like a toy and by the time it lands, most parts of it have disintegrated. And even though the personnel inside may not die of bullets or explosives but this violent movement causes them serious head and spine injuries. Serious enough to kill.
What Pallam Raju told the Parliament in 2009 about the capacity of an MPV against an explosive, the Maoists came to know of in 2005.
And yet the government marches on.
Feedback from ground zero
Done with speaking to the officers, I was now eager to speak to the actual users of these MPVs, our jawans. So, I managed to locate two of them who have experienced the functioning and failing of an MPV. The common issue both brought out, albeit after assuring and re-assuring them that their identities won’t be revealed, was that the MPV needed a device which could act as an early warning mechanism thereby detecting a mine before actually setting itself on it. And given the plethora of mine detectors available in the market, am sure our researchers can make such modifications.
Americans & Landmine warfare
Recalling the 2003 Iraq experience of the US’s elite Marine Corps, General James Conway, Commandant, Marine Corps in a memorandum to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff committee in March 2007, wrote, ” The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (the American cousin of our MPV), vehicle has a dramatically better record of preventing fatal and serious injuries from attacks by IEDs. The Commander of Multinational Force West estimates that the use of MRAP could reduce the casualties in vehicles due to IED attacks by as much as 80 percent.” By April 2007 there had been 300 IED attacks in Iraq against the MRAP since it was introduced in 2006, and not one death in those attacks. According to Marine Corps BG John Allen, Deputy Commander of Coalition Forces in Anbar Province, there had been an average of less than one injured marine per attack on the vehicles, while attacks on other types of vehicles caused more than two casualties per attack, including deaths.
I am television journalist so when I was last in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh and Iwas working on this report, I approached many senior officers of the police and the paramilitary to give me a sound byte on the topic. Not surprisingly, not one agreed. Won’t blame them. It would be suicidal. They were very supportive and gave me lots of time to discuss this issue. One of them even ordered his men to bring their MPVs out of the garage so that my cameraman could shoot them for my report!
Tragedy and MPVs go hand in hand I guess. Because the day my completed report was to appear on air i.e May 22, 2010, also happened to bring with it the Mangalore air crash tragedy. Since it happened right at the start of the day, my report on MPV got no visibility at all.
This is thus just a small effort to highlight what I felt strongly about.