A different battle

The paramilitary forces battle terrorists, insurgents and naxalites and even play a role in the smooth conduct of elections, but it is the fight for dignity and recognition that has left them depressed and demoralised.

Published : May 14, 2014 12:30 IST

Over 1.5 lakh paramilitary personnel  have  been deployed for Election 2014 and 15 of them have lost their lives in the effort to ensure that it is free and fair. Here, a soldier stands guard as residents of Panzinar, 28 kilometres north of Srinagar, line up to vote on May 7.

Over 1.5 lakh paramilitary personnel have been deployed for Election 2014 and 15 of them have lost their lives in the effort to ensure that it is free and fair. Here, a soldier stands guard as residents of Panzinar, 28 kilometres north of Srinagar, line up to vote on May 7.

THEY have been guarding the Ramjanmabhoomi complex in Ayodhya for close to 24 years now, spending their nights in shops in the nearby Mandi Samiti and clearing out in the morning before the shop owners come. Over 1.5 lakh of them have been deployed for the 2014 general election and 15 of them have lost their lives in the effort to ensure free and fair elections.

They are the men and officers of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Years of apathy and lack of concern for these men—the country’s paramilitary forces—have demoralised and demotivated them to the point that they quit after a few years in the force or simply go about their tasks listlessly. There have been extreme cases where they have killed their colleagues or seniors and even turned the gun on themselves.

According to a study done by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), over 400 paramilitary men have died since 2009; they have either killed themselves or killed their colleagues and superiors. The figure is much higher than similar deaths in the Army. It is also higher than the number of paramilitary men killed in action in either Jammu and Kashmir or the naxalite-affected areas, or in the north-eastern region. A study by the Bureau of Police Research and Development in 2005 found serious stress-related problems among the paramilitary forces, but the MHA chose to trivialise the issue. In a reply to Parliament in 2013, the Minister of State for Home admitted that stress was a serious problem in the paramilitary forces but said they were caused mainly by domestic problems, illnesses, alcoholism and financial issues.

Stress factors

The manifestation of stress is disconcerting for the health of the country’s security set-up. There is a crippling shortage of manpower in the five paramilitary forces. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which is the largest paramilitary force in the country, is short of 531 officers, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is short of 665 officers, the Border Security Force (BSF) has 580 vacancies in its officer cadre, and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) has 458 officer vacancies. The problem is more acute at the troop level. At the level of junior commissioned officers (JCOs), the shortages are: the CRPF 1,943, the ITBP 2,062, the BSF 2,387 and the SSB 6,566. Other Ranks (ORs) too suffer a manpower shortage, with the CRPF having 9,340 vacancies, the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) 6,890, the BSF 5,855 and the SSB 4,649.

The attrition rate is high. Between 2010 and 2013, a total of 16,843 officers and jawans quit the CRPF—13,553 took voluntary retirement and 3,290 resigned. In 2013 alone, 89 officers and 1,912 jawans of the paramilitary forces resigned and 10,094 of these jawans took voluntary retirement. These figures are from the government’s replies to Parliament in February. The Ministry of Home Affairs refused to admit that high attrition rate was an endemic problem in the forces. It saw this as a minor irritant that the government was addressing through special recruitment drives and offering better perks and allowances to attract the youth.

Pay issues

The talk of better perks and allowances comes across as a cruel joke to the forces. “Nothing can be more pathetic than the government saying it will give us better perks. We don’t even get the minimum that is due for all other Grade A Central services because the government does not treat us as an organised service. This denies us a defined career progression or advancement, which other Grade A services get as a matter of right,” said a young CRPF officer. According to him, the denial of the organised service status robs them of promotions and monetary compensation. One crucial career advancement route that is given to all the other Grade A services to beat stagnation is non-functional upgradation (NFU). But in the absence of an organised service status, paramilitary forces do not get the NFU, leading to stagnation and frustration among them.

It is ironical that paramilitary forces, which are tasked with doing the job of both the army and the police in guarding the borders as well as battling terrorists and insurgents, are not even considered an organised service. Intriguingly, the MHA, in a reply to Parliament, said “the CRPF does not fall under organised Group A services as it does not fulfil the criteria of the DoPT [Department of Personnel and Training]. This is a conscious decision due to command and control issues in the forces. Instead, they are given other monetary benefits, Modified Assured Career Progression [MACP] and allowances.”

MACP is given after 12, 24 and 36 years of service, which means one gets the Grade A pay scale even when one is not promoted to a higher rank. It is difficult to imagine what “command and control issues” can arise in granting the organised service status to the CAPF. The CAPF comprises 10,000 officers and 11 lakh jawans. The CRPF was formed in 1939 as a single Battalion Crown Representatives Police and was brought under the CRPF Act in 1949. It is governed by the rules framed in 1955. The ITBP came into existence in 1962 and the BSF in 1965. “For the government not to consider these crucial forces in the organised service category is a poor joke, a mockery of the entire system,” said a senior ITBP official. Ironically, the DoPT has issued a notification bringing these forces in the organised service category, but the MHA has refused to notify it. Neither the representations to the government nor the many petitions in courts have helped.

Years of neglect

“I filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in 1993. It is still pending. We don’t get the benefits of organised services despite being the premier force fighting in difficult fields all the time. Our main problem is our issues do not get projected properly because our top posts are occupied by IPS [Indian Police Service] officers who are outsiders and don’t understand the issues involved and the political leadership could not care less,” said V.P.S. Panwar, retired Inspector General, CRPF. According to him, adhocism all the way has only resulted in problems piling up, leaving the men and officers demotivated and demoralised.

According to R.S. Malli, retired IG, BSF, the government has turned a blind eye to their problems because “we don’t create problems”. He says the paramilitary forces are trained in the armed forces ethos of obeying orders, so they just obey orders and do their duty, without complaining. “But that does not take away from the fact that our living conditions are awful. There are no living quarters for us; at times we have to live in dilapidated buildings with no power or water. Many times, we live in the open in pitched tents. We are always posted in difficult situations, hostile borders and there is no concept of a ‘peace posting’ for us. Still the government cares a damn,” he said.

D.K. Sharma, retired IG, ITBP, says the problems in the paramilitary forces have been compounded because their senior officers do not speak out for them since they are drawn from the IPS cadre and are “outsiders”. He says even if the problems are conveyed to them, they do not take it forward to the government because of their own “vested interests”.

“The IPS has completely taken over all the top posts and the problem becomes even more serious because only residual IPS officers come to us. For them it is just a pastime for a short stint, so they don’t care. This has affected operational efficiency of the forces, but who cares?” he said. The IGs of the five forces met the Home Secretary in May 2008 with their grievances, but nothing came of it. “We are only asking for our rights. We get no leave, no proper accommodation, no promotions, no concept of peace posting for us, we are always fighting in hostile condition on the frontline, be it terrorists, or insurgents or naxalites. Still no credit is given to us,” he said.

Working conditions

The ground reality of the working conditions for these men can be understood from the experiences of a serving CRPF officer. After a three-year stint in the insurgency-affected north-eastern area, he was transferred directly to Srinagar and sent to battle stone-pelting mobs and terrorists lurking among the local population. There was no break in duty for rest or rejuvenation, or reorientation training. There being no housing facilities for them in Srinagar, he and his troops live in a ramshackle hotel. His two-room unit in the hotel accommodates his wife and a young child. The bathroom doubles as the kitchen. He is one of the lucky ones to be able to live with his family because his child is young and not going to school. Over 80 per cent of the troops never get to live with their families ever in their entire working life. Almost all of them are forced to bear the burden of maintaining two, or at times three, households, and even in the cities they do not get basic facilities such as rations, accommodation, medical facilities and educational facilities for their children. On top of it, over 90 per cent of the troops are always deployed on the front line and the rest are guarding sensitive locations such as Parliament or Ramjanmabhoomi or providing VIP security.

The compensation is poor. To get hardship allowance, they have to forego other allowances such as house rent and transport. For transfers within the same Group Centre, they get no allowance even if they have to travel 3,000 kilometres. Not only that, despite working in extremely dangerous situations, they get no risk allowance. If they die fighting, they do not get martyr status, which would have brought their families some benefits. “Our problem is that we are too disciplined to make a hue and cry. But it saddens us and it demoralises the men,” said a retired officer.

But with some of them on election duty, does it not worry the authorities that a demotivated force may not be able to perform its task to the best of its ability? “Since that has never happened and will not happen even now, the government remains complacent,” said D.K. Sharma. But it should be a matter of concern for the government that even in normal circumstances, a unit, which should have 135-140 men ideally, has a functional strength of only 80-85, and now with the added election duty, other fronts could be seriously compromised. Besides, the depleted strength would mean double the strain on the men on duty. A force already stretched is being pushed further.

The paramilitary forces are demanding their due, which includes giving them organised service status, the NFU, something akin to Military Service Pay, allowances for hardship posting that do not deprive them of other benefits, timely career progression, better avenues for promotion, better infrastructure and martyr status when they die fighting. Given that they have been ignored for so long, they also want a separate Ministry to take care of their needs.

The government itself had appointed the Indian Institutes of Management in Ahmedabad and Lucknow to study the causes of stress among these forces but has chosen to ignore their warnings that there would be serious repercussions if the issues were not tackled urgently. “We have taken adequate measures. A fair leave policy, regular interaction among commanders, officers and troops, a revamped grievance redressal machinery, adequate rest and relief, improved living conditions, STD facilities to be in touch with their families, better risk allowance, yoga, meditation and recreation facilities, better medical facilities, and canteen facilities are some of the steps we have taken recently,” said a senior MHA official.

But is it adequate when the root cause of disparity in service conditions is yet to be tackled? But officers, both serving and retired, believe that unless the force is recognised as an organised service and parity is granted with other Central Group A services, nothing will improve.

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