<b>Fifth Columnist :</b> Soldiers of a lesser god
The attitude of policy makers has pushed para-military forces to the brink of complete shambles
The two videos of para-military troopers complaining of poor living and working conditions, which went viral this week on the social media, has done much to highlight a malaise that needs immediate attention.
The six-lakh-strong para-military forces in India, which include BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP, SSB, among others, has a job cut out. Besides being pressed into an array of onerous security operations on international borders, they take on the Maoists in some of India’s toughest terrains and sustain high losses of life and limb in the bargain.
It is not just on the battlefield that these soldiers lay down their lives for an ingrate nation. Data suggests that the number of para-military jawans who die in the line of duty, is markedly small as compared to those that fall prey to disease, stress and suicide.
The first-ever analysis of the state of para-military security forces undertaken by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2014, revealed some startling figures. Three para-military personnel die every day, losing their lives to battling circumstances of their existence instead of the `armed’ enemy. It said that of the 1,232 para-military deaths in 2014, only 89, or roughly about 7 per cent perished in action.
In the first three months of 2012, the CRPF saw 128 deaths. While 29 lost their lives due to operational reasons, heart attacks accounted for 99 other jawans. These apart, 28 have died of AIDS, 14 of alcoholism, 52 due to cancer, and 10 of hypertension. Forty-two CRPF men have also committed suicide during this period.
Little wonder para-military forces are facing a massive spate of resignations, a serious qualitative deterioration in the officers’ cadre and mounting de-motivation in the ranks. A closer scrutiny reveals a sordid tale of confusion, apathy and mismanagement on the part of the policy makers.
Two IIMs, at Lucknow and Ahmedabad, were commi-ssioned last year by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to assess the health of the paramilitary forces. Add to it another study by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) that has been subsequently brushed under the carpet. All three reports repeatedly underline several grave problems in the administration of these forces.

For one, the reports state, the forces suffer from a lack of a well-defined mandate. “There is no clear identity of the force. They are performing army-like duties as well as police duties. However, neither the internal organisation nor the general public is clear about the identity of the paramilitary forces,” IIM Lucknow noted about the BSF.
Indeed, the para-military forces are trapped in an undefined zone between the army and the police. They have none of the authority and privileges that the police force of a state enjoys. Neither do they have an indigenous organisation or a specific role to play like the army.
There is also great confusion regarding the jurisdiction of the various forces that constitute the forces. The CRPF, for example, is responsible for law and order, counter-insurgency, road-opening and static duties, apart from election deployment, VIP security, manning of important installations and dealing with Left wing extremism.
However, ITBP, BSF, CISF and SSB have similar responsibilities with overlapping mandates, which clearly leave a huge disparity in the kind of training that is imparted at various establishments and the final role that the jawans play. This, in part, is responsible for the confusion that reigns supreme.
This confusion is, however, only a minor factor. What should be the biggest worry for MHA is the rampant disaffection among jawans and officers alike.

Para-military officers serve under conditions that are sub-human to say the least. In the Indian Army, it is a norm to rotate soldiers regularly, with three months of active field duty and three months of “soft” or peace posting.
For the para-military forces, the norm is an extraordinarily long nine months. Even then, more often than not, there is no peace posting. Spending such long periods under the tremendous stress on the front line is bound to fray the nerves of the strongest of men, leading to suicides, fratricides, cases of alcoholism, hypertension and heart attack.
The extent of the insensitivity is not confined to just the hard areas where the forces personnel are deployed.
The glaring example is the living conditions of the jawans of the elite 39th Battalion of ITBP, which is entrusted with the security of the President of India and his estate. Stationed as they are in a comparatively more comfortable, urban area in Greater Noida, the infrastructure provided for the jawans is appalling. The headquarters building is a tin-roofed shed and canvas tents pass for living accommodation for the jawans.
Needless to say, the tents provide little protection from the rains or the Delhi cold. After serving through the day in such a high profile duty, such living conditions no doubt take a toll of the health of the soldiers.
What the conditions might be in harder terrain like Maoist-infested jungles and the high altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh simply boggles the imagination. It is important therefore at this stage not to treat this week’s two video clippings as aberrations but as eye openers.

Ranjit Bhushan