Armed forces

From Human Shields to Human Rights, Experts Debate India’s Internal Security Challenges

Issues raised at the ninth edition of the homeland security meet included the use of AFSPA in peaceful areas and the existing gaps in the military equipment procurement policy.

Indian army personnel. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: Three years since the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power at the Centre, India is yet to streamline its acquisition policy for the central paramilitary forces – one of the major causes of delays in acquisition and the use of obsolete equipment by the forces. This has further led to high casualties among security personnel and unrest among citizens, as the pellet gun fiasco in Kashmir has shown.

These were among the concerns raised at the ninth edition of the homeland security meet organised by FICCI on Wednesday, May 24, on the theme ‘Modernisation of India’s Internal Security Mechanism.’

Recent developments in the country – the incidents of stone pelting, use of pellet guns, the tying of a civilian, Farooq Ahmad Dar, to an army jeep as a human shield in Kashmir and the strikes by Maoists in the country’s heartland – dominated the narrative.

Pellet guns impact sentiments

On the Kashmir issue, former union home secretary and chair of FICCI committee on homeland security, G.K. Pillai, said he was the home secretary when the decision to use pellet guns was taken in order to minimise casualties after the killing of a large number of students in firing incidents in the Valley. “But what we have seen now is that the tell-tale marks of pellet injuries have impacted the society. This happened because the police used pellets when the crowds came too close. As a consequence, most injuries were to the faces. In 2010 too the question was what should a cop do when a crowd threatens to overrun a post,” he said.

Man used as human shield should be compensated 

The answer, Pillai said, lies in devising a standard operating procedure on when is it best to use force to minimise casualties. Defending the action of Major Leetul Gogoi, who claimed that he used the man as a human shield to evacuate a polling party peacefully, Pillai said that while one should respect the decision of the soldier on the ground as it prevented casualties, an apology was due to the civilian who was used as a human shield “because his civil rights were violated.”

“He should also be compensated and officials should pay a visit to his home.”

Former chief of army staff, General N.C. Vij, who is now the director of Vivekananda International Foundation, said critical gaps exist in the internal security apparatus of India. He said “crowd dispersal methods and technology need definite improvement.”

Why not remove AFSPA from peaceful areas

General Vij said that while demand for revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has often been raised, the fact remains that “it is there to provide legal protection to the armed forces in areas of conflict and it would be unfair to the man in uniform to be pushed into a conflict without such a cover.” However, he demanded that it be removed from areas that have been peaceful for a long time and where the chances of return of militancy are low. “Barring some parts of Manipur, all other areas in the Northeast have been peaceful for quite some time and there is no reason for continuing with the AFSPA there,” he said.

The Supreme Court had last year ruled the Act could not be used to commit excesses by the army.

Army can train police forces, not fight “its own people”

On the issue of Maoism being witnessed in some parts of central India, General Vij said the need of the hour was to use the army for training the paramilitary forces. “The problem is of training in the CPMFs,” he said adding that the army can provide the skills needed to combat such warfare. “But the army should not be used directly in anti-Maoist operations as it cannot be fighting its own people in the heartland.”

Observe caution when it comes to removal of AFSPA: BJP

BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra in his keynote address during the first session countered General Vij’s argument on withdrawal of AFSPA from some parts of the country. “We should bear in mind how militancy and unrest returned to some parts of Kashmir which had become peaceful after AFSPA was withdrawn,” he said.

As for Jammu and Kashmir, he said, from its recent posturing in Naushera where Pakistani bunkers were destroyed to Modi spending his first Diwali as prime minister in the state, and from announcement of a special package for the Valley to the handling of floods, the Centre had tried everything to convey its right intent in the state.

Overall, in the last three years, Patra said the major takeaways in internal security have been the formulation of the new National Security Clearance Policy of the home ministry for ensuring a balance between requirements of national security and the imperatives of rapid economic growth, streamlining of the strategy on fake Indian currency notes, for which agreements have also been signed with countries like Bangladesh and the creation of a computer network for laboratories – F-net.

Apart from this, Patra said the government has also formulated a major national strategy to combat the rise of ISIS. “It was declared a terrorist organisation and 13 states were taken on board to devise a framework to check its spread.” Also, he said, a Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems has been developed by National Crime Records Bureau for tracking criminal activity across the nation.

Over 200 operations after Sukma

As for left-wing extremism, Patra said following the recent attack on security forces in Sukma, over 200 operations have been carried out against the Maoists in which their 20 operatives have been killed. He said the government has decided to provide 250 bullet and mine protected vehicles to the security forces in the affected area.

Patra said that in last three years, there has been an overall reduction in “red terror” with the total attacks falling by 25% and deaths in these incidents by 42%. On the other hand he said the number of cadre killed has risen by 65% and those who surrendered by 185%.

Chinese radar keeping watch on China

Member of NITI Aayog V.K. Saraswat, who is also a former director general of Defence Research Development Organisation, while chairing a session on technologies for homeland security, said the country was not facing a problem of availability of technology, but of getting the right one at the right time for its police forces. Citing examples of how India is using Chinese radars to keep an eye on the country they have been procured from or how despite having 15 companies which export bullet proof jackets it had been importing them, he said these examples speak of the lacunae in the procurement policy.

The 5.79 lakh VIPs in India

Adjunct professor of National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, Gautam Sen, highlighted the misplaced priorities of the internal security mechanism when he noted that as against a total of 84 VIPs in Great Britain, 109 in France, 125 in Japan, 142 in Germany, 252 in US, 312 in Russia and 435 in China, India had 5,79,092 VIPs, most of whom were politicians.

Former director of Intelligence Bureau Rajiv Mathur, while chairing a session on procurement transformation for armed police and state police forces, spoke of the need for creating a mechanism like the one for defence forces for their procurement needs. As a first step, he suggested the creation of a task force and allowing some flexibility to the officers in meeting their specialised procurement needs.

On behalf of Central Reserve Police Force, which is involved in operations in Kashmir and against left wing extremism, its inspector general (provisions) Anupam Kulshreshtha said, “procurement was linked directly to the fighting fitness of the force”. She said the need of the hour is a rule book on police procurement as at present officers evade this work for fear of being hounded if contracts for specific needs are given out to a few or single vendors. Calling for closer coordination between the providers and the police agencies, she recalled how a former D-G of the force had received a sub five kg bullet proof vest prepared with the help of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre by approaching it directly.

Need for procurement bot and board

Special commissioner (operations) in Delhi police, Dependra Pathak said in procurement “the biggest fear is post factum analysis”. As such, he said, a good information system on technologies available is required. “We need a ‘procurement bot’ to ensure systems using latest technology are procured. For this he insisted that the procurement process be expedited by setting up a procurement board since often by the time the system is procured it becomes obsolete and more advanced versions have flooded the market.