BOTTOMLINE | Ghazala Wahab

Push against the Wall
A case for the CRPF cadre officers
By Ghazala Wahab

The annual rendezvous of the Prime Minister with the state chief ministers ended with a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. While there was a clamour for police reforms, not much attention was paid to the reforms in the only force that beefs up the police numbers: the CRPF.

When the CRPF was raised, terrorism was an alien concept in India. Its primary role was that of an additional police force to control situations which needed larger man-power. When the CRPF
was raised, terrorism was an alien concept in India. Its primary role was that of an additional police force to control situations which needed larger man-power. For instance, riots, hence CRPF’s primary orientation in terms of mind-set, training and equipment was towards riot-control. There was not much of a difference between the police and the CRPF. However, once CRPF’s role changed and it was designated as the primary counter-insurgency force, it started evolving more like a Paramilitary, in terms of mind-set, training, weapon systems and so on. Consequently, it started to think and look less like a police force.

Since these changes were happening, the recruitment process of the force also underwent a change, which in turn led to the intake of better qualified people as officers. This qualitative difference in the officer cadre now implies greater aspirations, enthusiasm and initiative on the part of its personnel. At the ground level, little distinguishes young CRPF officers from their counterparts in other armed services. And whatever may be the difference, it is not something that cannot be bridged by better training. Perhaps, overtime, CRPF would not remain the service of the last resort for the courageous young men who today, probably join the force because they could not make it to the armed forces or the Indian Police Service.

The important question, however, is: is the CRPF really the dream service for young, ambitious officers? The answer is no. And this has nothing to do with the hardships that the CRPF personnel have to go through, or risks involved in counter-insurgency or anti-Naxal operations. It has to do with the government’s attitude, which conceptualised the force as an inferior organisation and continues to perpetuate that mindset. This is the reason, irrespective of his brilliance a cadre officer of the CRPF can only rise to a certain hierarchy and not beyond that. When you join a service with an unbreakable glass ceiling over your head, what attitude or initiative you bring to your job is anybody’s guess.

While the CRPF is not alone in this respect (all Paramilitary forces in India, BSF and ITBP, suffer from the same systemic malaise), the focus here is primarily this force because it is not only the largest in the country today, it is also working in close coordination with both the local police and the army in various theatres like J&K, Naxal-affected states and the Northeast. In the counter-insurgency role, a young officer learns the job while working in the field. He makes mistakes, sometimes pays for them fatally and learns from them on the job. He leads his men into the operations that he plans and sets the example for them by his execution. Given that he knows his job, his service and his men the best, why can’t he be trusted to head his service if he so qualifies. If he can progressively lead a platoon, a company, a battalion and so on, what disqualifies him from further promotion?

One argument is that the cadre officers of the Paramilitaries are not qualified and good enough for senior ranks, which is why they are reserved for the IPS officers. The question is why are they not qualified enough? Since the minimum educational requirement for the Paramilitary officers is the same as any other armed service, why can’t their training be enhanced so that they meet the grade? Why can’t they be given the option of periodic courses to add to their capabilities like other services throughout their career? Why must they start their career thinking that they will never be good enough? Instead of the CRPF being the parking lot for the overcrowded senior IPS cadre, the government should encourage the cadre officers.

But anti-insurgency is not the only role of the CRPF. It is also called upon to do the policing jobs, like crowd management and riot control. This requires a completely different orientation than laying ambush for heavily-armed, sophistically-equipped terrorists. Last year, when the Kashmir valley erupted in unarmed protests, this was the problem CRPF faced because it had lost touch with dealing with unarmed mob. The answer, perhaps, lies in bifurcating the force, because both the policing as well as the anti-insurgency roles of the force are only going to increase. Both can be given different kind of training without repetition and wastage of men and resources. While the policing wing at senior level can be officered by IPS officers, because of the commonality of roles, the anti-insurgency wing should have the cadre officers at the helm, because only they can appreciate the problems faced by their men.

One example speaks volume: A delegation of young CRPF officers met the ADG, CRPF to discuss the coordination problems they were facing with the state police. A few days later, the ADG declared his candidature for the post of the Director General Police of the same state. And the government still talks of morale.


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