Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fighting with their hands tied: Central Armed Forces

From 


High stress, no promotions, little incentive and constant glare are crippling the country’s para-military forces. Mayank Singh reports
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: August 18, 2013, New Delhi 
Tags : Militancy | Kashmir | Indian para-military forces | Human rights | BSF | IDSA | CRPF | ITBP | SSB | Maoists |
 
The country’s most potent strike force on internal duty, the Indian para-military, is getting increasingly crippled. Reason: high stress levels, perpetual postings in far flung and remote areas in very trying situations, constant trial by vote-bank politicians and scrutiny by one-sided human rights busy bees.

For a man serving the country, all these tribulations would have faded into the background if they had got promotions in time; utter lack of professional advancements and total stagnation is leading to uninvited problems for para-military forces who work 24x7, 365 days of the year.

Recent research demonstrates just how deep the rot runs. A study conducted by IIM Ahmedabad states that an ‘‘officer has very limited opportunities in terms of their career enhancement. Usually the ranks are very few and there is not much scope for professional growth.’’  It goes on to add that ‘‘there is no fixed year wise promotion system in place and officers are unsure of their career enhancement.’’ This observation was meant for officers serving at the rank of assistant commandants and the deputy commandants, men who lead troops on ground. Scarily, the report says ‘‘there is acute stagnation, promotional prospects have diminished over the years and will aggravate in the coming years.’’

For the lower ranks, the situation is even worse. It is taking its toll, for example, in the elite BSF since the short sighted decision of abolishing the ranks of lance naik and naiks by the Sixth Pay Commission on recommendations of the para-military organization itself.

Consider this. A jawan who joins BSF, full of fervor to serve, waits for approximately 18 years to get his first promotion as head constable. Why? Because the ranks of lance naik and naik stand abolished. Says the study, ‘‘Troops complained that they have to wait for over 20 years to become head constable.’’

The BSF has now formally taken up the case for reintroduction of these two critical ranks. The question to be answered is this: can those with lack of understanding and vision tinker with policies which affects the man fighting on ground, doing his bidding for the Indian state, often at the cost of his life?

And that fighting too is with hands tied behind. In the eventuality of something going wrong – and many things could go wrong handling hard core terrorists, smugglers, gun runners, motivated political agitators and professional civil activists – he has no protection. The same guys ordering him to fire will quickly backtrack and slap a human rights violation case on him instead.

Given the conditions, it is good to get into the minds of India’s fighting machines. In another report prepared by Arpita Anant in 2011, a security expert formerly of the Internal Security Cluster at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), problems related specifically to Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were brought forth.

Alarmingly, it reveals the aura of helplessness pervading in the force at the cutting edge and executive level. It points out to ‘‘the disjuncture between the roles that are assigned to it, CRPF, and the denial or limitations of power to perform those roles effectively. The quality of leadership of the force is leading to a stifling organisational culture.’’

According to the report,‘‘A matter of serious concern linked to long tenures of deployment is the increasing health problems among CRPF personnel. In 2009, 27,000 personnel suffered from hypertension, 7,000 from diabetes, 700 had cancer, 6,000 suffered from hepatitis infection and about 1,300 tested HIV positive while 52,000 personnel were suffering from skin ailments of various kinds.’’

The issue of promotion is taking its toll on each organisation differently. BSF officers promoted as deputy commandants will have to wait for not less than a decade to pick up the next rank of second-in-command (2IC). The ITBP is to soon have 2ICs from the 2004 batch. Shashastra Seema Bal (SSB) has better prospects, but the question is for, how long? 

Says an officer: ‘‘They are heading for a situation where the new batches might retire at the level of deputy commandant.’’

Another piece of research, this time by IIM Lucknow in 2012, found the current training pattern in the BSF lacking on many counts. In its recommendations, it highlighted that ‘‘over the next five years, the ratio between the cadre officers and officers on deputation will be 75:25 in favour of BSF to not only enhance operational efficiency but also to attract and retain talent (parallels from Coast Guard)”.

Officer say motivation level is the key. Facing bullets fired by highly motivated Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and other troubled areas requires totally different capabilities as compared with those who face stones thrown by hired hooligans in Kashmir. Thus, the fighting potential of any armed force is dependent on a number of tangible and non-tangible factors. Whereas tangible factors like training and equipment can be augmented over a period of time, non-tangible factors which are far more critical take decades to evolve and mature. Traditions, precedents, norms and conventions are the non-tangible factors that provide regimental environment for the development of organisational character, ethos and disposition. Officials say they mold attitudes of individuals, both by implicit and explicit influences.

Clearly, there is a bigger battle simmering inside these men in uniform. Little wonder that the attrition rate has today reached alarming levels and incidents of suicide, fratricide and medical complications mixed with psychological complications is on the rise.

Officials and research show that problems relating to low-intensity conflict and non-conventional attacks are on the increase. Easy availability of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, RDX explosive with hi-tech remote-triggering devices have made dealing with terrorists and insurgents stressful and painful. Apart from stress disorders of our troops in Jammu and Kashmir, prolonged deployment in counter insurgency erodes the time that needs be devoted to training for conventional war.

It is not as if remedies and solutions have not been provided – it is only a question of implementing them on ground. A 2006 study entitled ‘Restructuring of CRPF’ has pointed out to some key features: it says 25 percent of the forces should be reserved for training, a benchmark for the living conditions of troops be defined and made mandatory. Uniform housing standards will reduce costs and improve living conditions. The report called for ‘‘accelerated career development and relook at the structure of Group Centres and Head Quarters.’’ It proposed proper leave and also leave encashment facilities, integrated resource planning to improve operational efficiency, full compensation to invalidated people in addition to other benefits.

‘‘Comprehensive measures should be adopted to improve the image of the forces. A separate coach can be provided for personnel on move who otherwise are helplessly wandering from station to station even after holding warrants which also hurts the esteem,’’ it points out.

State governments too have to do more. While forces are deployed continuously on operations, there are very few static establishments, which accommodate less than 15 percent of the strength. This continuous deployment from one theatre to another exhausts them physically, mentally and psychologically and erodes their capabilities. ‘‘You cannot expect good results from depressed personnel who most of the times live in inhuman conditions without proper accommodation in some states,’’ says a commandant.

In the Army, field tenure is followed by a peace posting.  In peace postings, they train hard while there is no such concept in para-military forces. Therefore, the importance of sustaining the motivation level and morale of troops assumes added significance. With 51,000 personnel quitting para-military forces in the last five years alone, that is the very least that can be done.

mayank.singh@thesundayindian.com

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