Saturday, April 7, 2012

Heading for Disaster

By Ghazala Wahab

In 2011, 33 BSF and 36 CRPF personnel killed themselves, taking the number of suicides since 2007 to 152 and 184 respectively. Same year, there were two cases of fratricide in the BSF and 10 cases in the CRPF. Of those who did not take this extreme step, 4,852 BSF and 2,333 CRPF personnel sought voluntary retirement from the service in 2011. Same year, 229 BSF and 406 CRPF personnel, mostly officers, quit the service after paying the government the conditional three months of pay and allowances or the training charges (whichever is higher).


Listing these figures, an internal document of ministry of home affairs offers reasons for this disturbing trend. It says that the services and the ministry have not been able to ‘address the problems of the personnel; provide them with a conducive and motivated work environment and is thus losing a trained workforce’. In addition to job dissatisfaction and stagnation at work, it cites inadequate grievance redressal mechanism within the service as another cause for distress among the personnel. Poor work conditions (including inhuman habitats in remote areas) and long separation from families bring up the rear.

This document was circulated among all the central armed police forces (CAPF) before the meeting of director generals of BSF, CRPF, ITBP, SSB, Assam Rifles and CISF on 27 February 2012. The minister of state for home affairs, who chaired this meeting, wanted the DGs to internally discuss the document within their services so that some remedial measures could be initiated. What transpired during the meeting is not known but the figures speak of the enormity of distress in the two key Paramilitary forces of the country. Apparently, in the first two months of 2012, 11 CRPF officers have already put in their papers and are willing to give amounts in the range of Rs 200,000 plus to the government as their training costs to get release from the service. Most of these officers with less than seven years of service form the important fighting arm of the force which is heavily committed in three disparate theatres like Jammu and Kashmir, Left-wing Extremism areas and the Northeast.

While all the factors assessed by the MHA are valid, the most important reason, according to a middle-level BSF officer, is the service conditions, whereby with each passing day, the prospects of career progression for cadre officers are becoming bleaker. “I made the biggest mistake of my life by joining the BSF,” says an officer who has often considered putting in his papers but has been held back because of personal reasons. “When I joined the service, I was drawn by the images of BSF personnel chasing smugglers on camels in Rajasthan. There used to be a television show on Door Darshan (National television channel) when I was a child. That image got imprinted on my mind. Though I had family members in the army and the police, I was determined to join the BSF,” he tells me. But disillusionment was quick to follow. “I had no idea that the government of India had envisaged the Paramilitary forces as an inferior service,” he says.

The sentiment that paramilitary forces are perceived as inferior by the government is becoming widespread among the ranks and files of the services. One CRPF officer, who opted for the service after a degree in engineering, narrates a conversation he had with a CRPF driver a few months ago. The subject of the chat was a fellow officer who had recently resigned after getting a job in a private sector company with the annual package of Rs 12,00,000. Ferrying him one day, the driver referring to the officer who had resigned, remarked, “Sahab knowledge-wala insaan hai... apna bahar achcha se set kar liya... aaj ki date me jo bhi achcha hai woh bahar nikal jaata hai (Sir is intelligent. He has fixed himself very well outside. These days, anyone who is good leaves the service). His insinuation was that those who are still stuck with the CRPF are not good enough to get jobs outside. Says the CRPF officer narrating this incident, “I was shocked at his inference. It took me 30 minutes to explain to him that those who are staying back in the CRPF have more guts than those who are leaving. Even we have high qualifications and potential, but we are sticking around because this job gives us the satisfaction of playing a direct role in nation-building.”

Nobler the sentiment, greater the disappointment. Even though all the paramilitary services under the ministry of home affairs have various degrees of crisis, the situation in the CRPF is worse than others. In the last five years, as the government of India woke up to the grim reality of Left-Wing Extremism poaching on the mineral and forest wealth of the country, there was a need for rapid induction of central forces in to the affected areas. The state police forces of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa — the new contiguous battleground for the Maoists — neither had the numbers nor resources to take on this existential threat.

Till 2009, the Union government had deployed only 33 battalions of the CAPFs in all the nine LWE-affected states as compared to over 70 battalions of CAPF (mainly CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir alone. After 2009, as conflict in central India deepened, the government rapidly inducted 39 more battalions in the sector in three years (roughly 46,800 personnel), taking the total number to 72 battalions in the theatre. While some CRPF battalions were pulled in from J&K and the Northeast, a substantial number was cleared to be raised in a hurry. Unlike the Indian Police Service (IPS), where the governing rules stipulate annual new raisings of only three per cent of the existing cadre base to keep pace with the training and promotional pyramid, unmanageable numbers were recruited in the CRPF without any thought for their training or subsequent promotions. The situation came to such a pass that the CRPF personnel were compelled to undergo training in Group Centres, apart from the training academies of other forces.

One former home secretary told me a year ago, “What choice did we have? We had to raise the numbers rapidly.” Giving a sense of what numbers have been raised in what time frame, one CRPF officer recently told me that more directly appointed gazetted officers were recruited from 2005 to 2011, than were recruited in 15 years from 1990 to 2005. Incidentally, directly appointed gazetted officers coming through the competitive UPSC examination are better educated than their predecessors and hence their aspirations and level of expectation from the service are higher than the earlier stock.

Going back to the numbers, at the last count, since 2009, 10 battalions of the specialist counter-Maoist force CoBRA and 10 general duty battalions of the CRPF have been raised. At the moment 219th battalion of CRPF is under raising, making the force the largest paramilitary in India. Since raising of CoBRA was the greater priority at that time, the general duty battalions were poached upon to fill the ranks of the CoBRA battalions, creating severe shortfalls in the former.

Last year, a CRPF 2IC (second in command to the Commandant), posted in J&K told me that a group of young officers had made a petition to Director General CRPF’s office that the new raisings be used to fill the existing vacancies in the service instead of adding the number of battalions. Nothing came out of the petition. The funds were allocated for new raisings and not to plug the gaps. As a result, a large number of battalions are operating without the requisite number of officers. This leads to operations not being led by officers and thereby inviting criticism from other forces which decry the CRPF culture of officers not leading their men. Viewed dispassionately, it appeared that the government was seeking security in numbers and not capabilities. A very dangerous inference from here is that it didn’t really care about endangering the lives of men by throwing them in difficult operational areas without adequate training, equipment or secure infrastructure.

In the Maoist-affected areas, the CRPF (even the BSF and ITBP) troops do not even have the basic infrastructure, let aside secure infrastructure. Investigating the massacre of 75 CRPF personnel on 6 April 2010 at Tadmetla, near the Chintalnar village in Chhattisgarh, E.N. Ram Mohan was appalled at the way the CRPF posts in the remote areas were rendered defenceless without any perimeter security. In J&K, while they do not have this vulnerability, the troops are forced to live in inhuman conditions with even officers having to share toilets. Despite the extremities of the weather, a large number lives out of tents.

The CRPF 2I/C I had met last year said that these service conditions are creating a chasm between the men and their officers. “The men blame us for their poor living conditions, without realising that we are completely helpless and dependent either on the state government or the senior brass sitting in Delhi,” he said.

However, the long-term fallout of this rapid raising has been that the CRPF’s bottom is becoming wider with non-proportional ascent, when viewed in terms of a pyramid. Realising that this was a major cause of heartburn among cadre officers (directly appointed gazetted officers), the MHA constituted a cadre review board last year, fourth since the CRPF came into being. Though supposed to have been held once every five years to assess the health of the service, the first CRPF cadre review took place only in 1981. The purpose of the current review is to reorganise the officer cadre in such a way that bottlenecks are removed and career progression aspirations of officers are addressed.

For instance, at the moment, there are 2,204 assistant commandants in the CRPF. Of these, 979 rise to become deputy commandants, 273 become 2I/C, 295 become commandants, 166 DIGs, 28 IGs, four ADGs, 3 SDGs and one director general. Till the rank of commandants, the positions are entirely reserved for the cadre officers. The lateral entry of IPS officers starts at the level of the DIG, where the ratio is roughly 80:20 between the CRPF and IPS with a couple of positions earmarked for the army. Thereafter, promotion prospects of CRPF cadre officers are progressively reduced. At the IG level the ratio becomes 50:50. It becomes 1:3 at the level of additional director general, 0:3 at the level of special director general and 0:1 at the level of the DG.

The cadre review board has partially tried to address these bottlenecks by widening the centre of the pyramid. Raising the number of assistant commandants to 2,299, it has created more positions progressively. For instance, it has proposed 1,049 deputy commandants, 352 2I/Cs, 344 commandants, 206 DIGs, 51 IGs, 11 ADGs, four SDGs and one DG. Even though the lateral induction of the IPS and a couple of army officers would continue in the position of DIG and above (but not beyond ADG, which is the reserve of the IPS alone), the prospects for the cadre officers would also brighten. Apparently, MHA is hopeful that in the next few years the ratio that is skewed against the cadre officers would be reversed.

In fact, the 6th Central Pay Commission had recommended that 50 per cent of all the posts of IG and above should be filled by cadre officers by promotion. Going further, it suggested that even the director general of CRPF should be appointed on a rotation basis, implying that the post should be filled by IPS officer followed by the CRPF cadre officer successively. While the cadre review board accepted the recommendation in spirit, on the ground it still falls short, as its recommendations show.

But strange things seem to be happening within the CRPF’s top echelons. Responding to the cadre review board’s recommendations, the organisational directorate of the CRPF has apparently prepared its own recommendations on cadre review. According to its suggestions, the number of assistant commandants will be 2,298, deputy commandants will be 1,024, 2I/Cs ought to be 362, commandants 348, DIGs 126, IGs 58, ADGs 29, SDGs five and one director general.

It is not difficult to see what is being recommended. Basically, the promotional pyramid has been divided into two. One level from assistant commandants to the DIG is for the cadre officers and the second level from IG to the DG for the IPS officers. Interestingly, since the DIG is a field rank and bulk of CRPF is increasingly getting committed in the difficult Left-Wing Extremism areas, the IPS officers are not very keen to come into CRPF at this level. Currently, of 166 DIGs, 30 positions are reserved for the IPS, of which half are vacant. Instead of filling them up by cadre officers, the CRPF policy-makers are trying to do away with these numbers; hence, the proposed reduction in the number of DIGs from the current 166 to 126. Beyond this, the numbers increase, with the maximum growth in the rank of the ADG. Here the ratio favours the IPS officers. Very few CRPF officers rise to become ADGs (despite the earmarked vacancies for them) because the stipulation of doing a certain number of years in each rank, exhausts their service years by the time they reach the rank of IGs. In lower ranks, those of deputy commandants and 2I/Cs, many officers get stuck for several years for want of vacancies in the middle rung. Even the handful of CRPF cadre officers who find themselves on the chair of IGs or ADGs are relegated to non-operational, non-policy-making streams.

Calling the exercise of cadre review a mockery, one CRPF commandant says, “Whose review is this? Is this review meant to improve service conditions of the CRPF cadre officers by ensuring timely promotions or is it to create more senior ranks for IPS officers who want to spend a few years in Delhi?” It is difficult not to conclude that vested interests are at play here. To say that cadre officers are not trained or capable of handling greater responsibilities which would come with higher ranks is to reinforce the belief that the government treats CAPFs as an inferior service. After all, why can’t cadre officers approved for higher ranks do specialised courses or undergo additional training to equip them to handle bigger responsibilities; unless of course, the government deems them as inferior services. In that case, shouldn’t it then classify them as such so that those who join it set their sights lower? Besides, how can then the government leave the biggest internal security challenge — the LWE — in the incapable hands of the CAPFs.

I wonder if we realise the severity of the ailment that is crippling Indian Paramilitary forces, especially the CRPF, which is turning into a force where men have little confidence in the officers who lead them, and officers have no confidence in their seniors who make policies for them. Is this not a recipe for disaster?

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