Whenever there is a public debate on the state of policing in India, the members of the Indian Police Service (IPS) offer excuses of political interference and bureaucratic machinations of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) lobby.
However, these excuses don’t apply in the case of what is happening in India’s Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs).
On January 8, constable Tej Bahadur Yadav of the 29th battalion of the Border Security Force (BSF) uploaded four videos on his Facebook page depicting half-burnt chapatis and watery dal, claiming that it was all that the troops were served and alleged corruption by senior officials.
Yadav complained of corruption and inefficiency on the part of senior officers, who he alleged sold the essential supplies meant for the constabulary in the open market. As expected, it created a media stir and led to a public outcry.
Now that the media dust has settled on the carpet of patriotism, political correctness and Facebook likes, it is time we understand and appreciate the structural and cultural problems that afflict India’s CAPFs.
India has five federal-level armed police organisations that constitute the CAPFs under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The CRPF and the BSF are the two biggest ones among them. Often, CAPFs are incorrectly referred to as the Central Para Military Forces.
India’s CAPFs are not meant to be paramilitary in nature. They operate under the MHA, rather than the Ministry of Defence. Their mandate is to assist the state police organisations under special circumstances like communal riots, insurgency and border skirmishes.
IPS members, and not army commanders, head these organisations. The officers at the junior and middle ranks (up to battalion commandant) are predominantly direct recruits who form the bulk of the unit-level leadership in the officer cadre. The senior-most ranks have officers seconded from the IPS on a temporary basis, with very few from the original ‘CAPF’ pool making it to the top.
The IPS officers who come on deputation stay in these organisations for a maximum of five years – two to three of which are spent in individual field postings.
Problems are aplenty
India’s central armed police architecture is facing some serious structural problems. One doesn’t need a video uploaded on Facebook or YouTube to know that the culture of ‘badakhana’ and ‘darbar’ is not sufficient to address the genuine problems faced by the constabulary and the junior level and middle ranking direct recruit CAPF officers.
The list of problems is quite long – chaotic deployment, unregulated expansion, infrastructural deficiencies, shortages of transport and arms and ammunition, poor personnel management, ineffective coordination between the state police and the CAPF leadership, absence of a robust in-house grievance redressal mechanism, lack of promotional prospects for the constabulary and the direct recruit officers, the structural and psychological disconnect between the cutting edge constabulary and the ones who are at the top of the pyramid, inordinate delays in procurement of combat-ready equipment and inadequate medical facilities.
Between 2010 and 2013, over 47,000 personnel at various levels in the CAPFs either took voluntary retirement or resigned. The highest attrition rate was seen in the CRPF and BSF. It was also higher among the lower levels.
Reasons for this vary from a sheer discontentment with the job, lack of promotional avenues and an indifference of superiors to a lack of timely sanction of leave and basic medical facilities.
There is an acute stagnation in the cadre of group ‘A’ officers of CAPFs, which in turn is affecting the morale and efficiency of the officers who are dedicating their life to the service of the nation and are performing important duties of internal security, that too in inhuman living conditions and in the absence of basic facilities.
The officers are facing stagnation not just because of a lack of adequate posts but also because a majority of the higher posts of the top hierarchy are filled by deputations (IPS officers) who failed to take adequate steps for the progression of the career of the cadre officers.
The facilities that are available to the constabulary for their professional and personal well-being are insufficient. The past two decades have seen a massive expansion in CAPFs. The strength of the CRPF is about three lakh personnel and of BSF is 2.5 lakh personnel.
However, the resources, equipment and support structure for them is inadequate. Be it spare parts for armoured vehicles or winter clothing or footwear. An inquiry by a former director general of police E.N. Rammohan into the April 2010 incident in Dantewada where 76 CRPF soldiers lost their lives in a Maoist attack, found the force’s camp lacked basic facilities, had minimal security and deplorable living conditions.
Photographs of most of the dead soldiers showed them wearing shoes they had purchased from the nearby market since the footwear issued by the force was found to be uncomfortable and unusable. This is a classic example of leadership failure.
Another example of leadership deficit needs mentioning. A cadre review of Group ‘A’ Central Services as per the guidelines issued by the government of India is to be held every five years. In the case of BSF, the cadre review happened after two decades in 2016.
In need of an overhaul
There have been several instances of CAPF officers going to the court over issues of stagnation, discrimination and deprivation of financial and promotional benefits.
The contention of these officers had been that most of the promotional benefits at the highest level of the organisation are reserved for the IPS cadre even when the majority of them do not have field experience.
This also happens when the commissioned officers of the CAPFs are selected by the Union Public Service Commission despite the fact that most these IPS officers lack field experience.
The members of the IPS need to ask themselves this question – what is the value addition that the IPS officers bring to the CAPFs when they join them on deputation from their parent state cadres and get posted at leadership positions?
Shooting the messenger in the absence of a law to protect a whistleblower won’t clean the mess. The message has nothing to do with the fact that constable Yadav is about to go on voluntary retirement. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a vegetarian and that the mutton curry that was served to the troops was really good. It stands independent of his service record. It goes beyond the weekly menu and the monthly orderly rooms.
The message is this – a constable not being promoted even once after 15-20 years of service is not good for the morale of the force. The fact that most of the CAPF cadre officers will retire with one or two promotions in a career of 35 years goes against the first principles of modern day personnel management philosophy.
India’s CAPFs are crying for a serious overhauling in terms of resource allocation, accountability structure and personnel management. It is too important a responsibility to be left to the IPS alone. And it is too urgent a task to be postponed by playing up the usual conspiracy theories.
Basant Rath is in the Indian Police Service (2000, Jammu and Kashmir) and works in Jammu and Kashmir. The views expressed are personal.