Deaths of six CRPF personnel in Bihar’s Gaya district in a landmine explosion on October 18 would not have amazed many. India’s internal conflict theatres have claimed at least 10,000 security forces lives since 1990 and hence, the nation has developed the habit of relegating such deaths to the ‘expected’ category. However, what would surprise many is that at least half of such deaths could have been prevented, had the strategic planners in New Delhi given attention to few basic requirements of the forces.
The October 18 fatalities took place because the anti-landmine vehicle had ignored the basic Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of not taking on to an un-sanitised road. The vehicle had assumed that the road has been cleared when a pilot patrol was trying to diffuse some of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) recovered on the road. Deaths among the forces as a result of such ‘oversight’ or violation of SOPs is not a new phenomenon and have taken place with alarming regularity in the conflict theatres. However, this rampant disregard for established rules of safety, far from being a malaise in itself, is only a symptom of an acute problem facing the forces.
CRPF personnel consider, according to a media report, J&K to be a more favourable operating ground than the Naxal badlands, where they are constrained to operate without basic amenities like toilets and mosquito repellents. An official study locates the reasons of widespread dissatisfaction among the forces in sleep deprivation, inadequate leave structures and medical care benefits. The net result has manifested in high levels of stress and fatigue leading to irresponsible use of weapons and a range of boisterous acts. It is not difficult to surmise why a large number of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), running into several battalion strengths, have taken voluntary retirement or have resigned from the force in recent years.
Sometime in early 2011, I walked into the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPRD) to interview its chief regarding the modernisation of the CAPFs. The BPRD chief had relinquished his position as the top man of the CRPF a few months back and would be the perfect candidate, I assumed, for my queries. I had ignored the media reports that reversals suffered by the CRPF in Chhattisgarh in mid-2010 was blamed on his un-inspirational leadership and had ultimately led to his ouster from the CRPF. How a man who faltered in action could be relied to lead research that augments capacities of the police forces all over the country was also a mystery. One hour into the interview, I realised that my optimism was misplaced.
Questions regarding the challenges facing the project modernisation for the CAPFs went answered, as this former-CRPF chief was at his evasive best. “Modernisation is an ongoing process and it takes into account various factors”, he kept on repeating during the interview. He was neither interested to give a hearing to my preliminary findings of my project, nor was he willing to take questions on the areas of improvement for CAPF modernisation.
Some would argue that BPRD chief was merely trying to avoid the queries of an outsider, and justifiably so. I argue to the contrary, however. Official strategic planners live in a make-believe world of self-sufficiency in wisdom, resist external intervention and are often oblivious to many of the degenerative trends that affect the forces.
Consider, for example, the response of the Home Ministry on March 14, 2012, to a question in Rajya Sabha regarding the reasons for rising deaths among the CRPF personnel in the Naxal theatre. “The casualties among CRPF personnel can be attributed to lED explosions, hostile and inhospitable terrain, dense forests, surprise attacks by the CPI (Maoist) etc.,” minister Jitendra Singh explained. No surprises here.
Since the government is oblivious to the larger crises among the forces and considers the fatalities as a result of “tactical deficiency”, its prescription never goes beyond the usual measures. These include, in the words of the minister, “increase in deployment of CRPF battalions to plug escape routes, better training before induction, provisioning of modern equipment for carrying out anti-naxal operations, implementation of comprehensive civic action programme, professional investigation of major incidents, etc.”
The situation indeed presents a twin challenge for the policy-makers. Unless the long pending concerns of the CAPF personnel are addressed, not only the country would continue to lose its trained personnel to attrition, but the continued deployment of these personnel in the protracted counter-insurgency operations may also leave behind an irreparable trail of destruction, including civilian body bags.