Interview | Director General, Indo-Tibetan Border Police S.S. Deswal

‘At present, Approximately 25 Per Cent BOPs of the ITBP Are Air Maintained. We Won’t Have a Separate Air Wing as We Already Have Helicopters Available From Different Sources’

Director General, Indo-Tibetan Border Police S.S. Deswal

The roles and responsibilities of ITBP have been changing since its inception, the force is now deployed in counter-insurgency operations, such as in left-wing extremism areas and in J&K. What challenge is the force experiencing?

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) was raised immediately after 1962 Indo-China war, and the immediate task was to confront and stop the enemy at the border. It was created as a guerrilla force initially with four battalions, but later as the situation at the borders and the internal security of the country changed, the role of the force changed. The second change was in the Seventies when it was made a regular border force, i.e. the ITBP. And with the Kargil war and afterwards, group of ministers again studied border security and the government took the final decision regarding the force. Subsequently, a one-force policy was adopted after the Kargil war, and the complete Indo-China border was handed over to the ITBP.

Before that, it was only the Ladakh area which was being protected by the ITBP. As the training and efficiency of the force has been very good and it has rendered unblemished service, it is now being utilised in internal security also. We have a heavy deployment in anti-Naxal operations for last several years now. We have many companies operational in Chhattisgarh. The force is also deployed for VVIP protection and protection of vital installations in the country. The ITBP is presently also protecting the Indian Embassy and missions in Afghanistan; earlier it was deployed at the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka. It has been deployed in UN missions; till recently ITBP was working in Congo.

Evidently, the capability of the force is multifarious and it can face and handle all kinds of internal security situations in the country. We are upgrading the training pattern as we get involved in new theatres as per requirement. The role will always be dynamic and it will continue.

 

The ITBP has the prime responsibility in high-altitude areas, being the main force in those areas. Is the force sufficiently equipped with all equipment and wherewithal, training and weapons?

There are two challenges. One – we have a big and well-equipped country across the border (China). Secondly, high-altitudes and tough terrain in the Himalayan mountains present a big challenge for the force. Out of our 179 Border Out Posts (BOPs) at higher altitudes, almost 138 BOPs are stationed and work above the height of 11,000 ft. And in most of those places, there is a shortage of oxygen and an extremely inhospitable weather, and living in those conditions is a great challenge. Therefore, we have been training our troops acclimatisation. That is how we keep rotation of the troops from plains to these high BOPs and vice versa, so that high terrain and tough climate does not adversely affect the health of the jawans.




Recently, you said that you will be raising more mountain battalions for the ITBP, post the Nanda Devi tourist incident. Can you give us more information?

Our locations are in very remote areas where there is a thin population within our own nation at the border areas. Then the government infrastructure like medical facilities, education, school, etc. are available at a distance for the people. So, the ITBP is the first responder to help out our citizens in all these areas, whether it is floods, snow storm, avalanches or road accidents. In all situations, whether the people are ill or they need help with their cattle, we render all kind of support to the population as a first responder.

The Himalayas attract tourists from all corners of the world. They come for trekking and mountaineering here. State entities such as the SDRF or NDRF are located much behind these areas, so, they take time to reach in the event of such calamities. We are the closest to provide help. In view of the increasing tourist traffic, we have decided to establish five stations, almost in each state, trained teams who are equipped to help out such trekkers and mountaineers who lose their path, or when they face tough climatic conditions, like strong winds, avalanches. In all these situations our teams are equipped to help them out.

 

Being a responsible force in high-altitude areas, the ITBP must often be needing air support in these areas. How does the ITBP manage it, and are you planning to have your own helicopter fleet?

We work in close coordination with the Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF). Ministry of home affairs (MHA) has its own fleet of helicopters – for example, there is Border Security Force air wing whose assets are for utilisation by all the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) forces. In fact, we have been using their helicopters. Till now, we have hardly found it difficult to get helicopter services whenever required, say for instance during emergency evacuation or visits by senior officers. In the near future, we won’t have a separate air wing as we already have helicopters available from different sources. At present, approximately 25 per cent BOPs of the ITBP are air maintained. We do care for these posts. All efforts are being made for effective operational and administrative support of these posts including continuous and periodical air efforts. We have been doing this successfully for our air-maintained posts for the last 55 years.

 

During the Nanda Devi rescue, the helicopter was unable to ascend beyond a certain height for rescuing the tourists. How is this a challenge for the forces when undertaking high-altitude rescue missions?

It’s the challenges of the machine. Our helicopters could not land there. Even in any other country, it could not have landed. Only in India we see such high altitude. And high altitudes pose challenges in terms of extremely low temperatures, fear of avalanches, snow and difficult terrain. Hence, it’s a challenge for any machine.

 

The entire world witnessed how the ITBP searched and retrieved the dead bodies of mountaineers from Nanda Devi East recently. Your comments.

I can tell you that it was one of the most difficult operations in the world. We did our best to search and retrieve the bodies of the mountaineers who unfortunately lost their lives at those altitudes. The ITBP mountaineers have done a remarkable search and retrieval mission in the most difficult and hostile situation at those altitudes for more than 20 days and we are proud of our team. This kind of rare operations test your ability and we are satisfied that we are able to rise to the occasion. With the help of mountaineering skills, high motivational level and fighting spirit we successfully took out those seven dead bodies in exceptionally difficult conditions.

 

Director General ITBP S.S. Deswal posing with the 11-member team of the Operation Daredevils

 

How many ITBP personnel are deployed in Amarnath Yatra and what are your responsibilities in the security situation there?

There are two very prominent yatras that happen every year in the country. One is Kailash Mansarovar yatra and the other is Amarnath yatra. The ITBP has been conducting the Mansarovar yatra in collaboration with ministry of external affairs (MEA) and Tibetan authorities. Almost 18 groups from the Lipulekh side and around 12-13 groups from Nathu la pass which is in Sikkim, the group of yatris deputed by MEA, visit Mansarovar every year. We have been rendering all coordination and help to these yatris within India and even during the entire yatra. Our people go in groups to help the yatris, who are of different age groups and from different parts of the country. We provide medical as well as logistical help to them. We have been successfully conducting Kailash Mansarovar yatra since it started.

In the case of Amarnath Yatra, which takes place within the country, we provide big chunk of companies. This year also we have contributed almost 45 companies to the yatra. And in addition to the safety and security of yatris as per the division of work between different forces, we provide all medical help.

 

Tell us a little about your counter insurgency operations, how many battalions are deployed and how do they function/coordinate with other forces deployed there?

We have been deployed in anti-Naxal operation theatre in Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh. We presently have eight battalions in this Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) affected state. The main feature of our battalions in LWE operations area is that they have maintained peace in the areas of responsibilities and secured the development projects in the area. We have a very encouraging track record in anti-Naxal operations till now.

Yes, we have deployment in Chhattisgarh. In all these districts they are much affected by Naxalism and we have provided proper Company Operated Bases (COBs). We are dominating the areas at night as well as day. Our jawans are well-trained and equipped. They are being trained at Counter Insurgency & Jungle Warfare (CIJW) School, which is in Belagavi, Karnataka. The school is upgrading the training regularly and our jawans are able to meet any kind of threats from Naxals. During the elections this year, there were five attempts on our parties by Naxals, but our jawans prevented any casualty in any incident. Their patrolling and mine detection system is almost perfect.

 

What is the plan to phase out the vintage INSAS and 9mm Carbine from the ITBP? Are there any new weapon acquisitions happening?

We are acquiring Beretta rifles. It’s in the final stages of procurement. The inspection has already been conducted, so we are likely to induct the weapons in the next two-three months. So, we are upgrading the quality of rifles and the quality of small automatic weapons. We are importing a big number. We are also modernising other equipment and acquiring Night Vision Devices (NVDs) to conduct operations at night, latest cameras and better communication equipment are being acquired. As the technology is improving, we are also modernising our inventories accordingly.

 

How are you addressing the man management and morale issue of the force?

Separation from family, environmental hazards and remoteness cause stress and strains in the human body. The ITBP is also not immune to it. To minimise stress, our stress counsellors are posted up to BOP level. Their job is to advice troops how to cope up with stress. Stress management courses are also being run at field level. To keep the personnel happy spiritual activities, meditation, yoga, sports activities are also encouraged. We are also starting tele-medicine facilities for the troops.

ITBP personnel are sent on leave three-four times in a year for rest and recuperation and meeting their families. Most BOPs have been connected with satellite telephones so that personnel can keep in touch with their families. Library with books is available at many BOPs, and books, periodicals and magazines are also sent to BOPs regularly.

We have circulated a dedicated mobile SMS number to all force personnel on which any member of the force can text his grievance to me. I am satisfied with the response on this SMS number. I receive dozens of grievances daily and most of them are taken care of.

 

The ITBP has a pretty low representation of women and only 2000 female personnel are there in the force, which has a total strength of 90,000 personnel. What was the reason for less strength of women personnel in the force? Are more women being inducted anytime soon?

Yes, initially it was nil. But with the change in the country’s attitude and policies, we have started recruiting women recently. It’s the government policy which decides the intake. The government has decided and we have started taking them in all rolls. Our target is to reach almost 15 per cent. Every year the percentage of women in the force will increase. So, it’s a process. We recruit them, then we train them, and simultaneously we create infrastructure for the women at the place of their deployment. If we deploy them at BOPs, we need to upgrade the infrastructure as suitable to the women, such as the equipment, uniform and other facilities. That’s a gradual process and we are improving the percentage of women.

Women are a part of the society and they are as efficient as men. They discharge their duties as efficiently as the men. So, they fit in the force easily. Women are willing to undertake the toughest duties today. They have opted for army, air force, Cobra forces, RAF. So, our women are more than willing to bear the toughest responsibilities in the armed forces.

 

Is the tourist rush creating a waste problem on Himalayan peaks? What are you doing about it?

Environment has become a very important issue around the globe now. We are deployed in the most beautiful parts of the country. Not only in the Himalayas but everywhere in the country we need to keep the environment clean. We are spreading awareness about waste management and the importance of keeping the Himalayas clean. We are educating people, including during the yatras. And luckily, there has been a rise in awareness among the people. A spurt in tourism to the Himalayan peaks is creating waste challenges but the force is prepared to deal with it and is taking the necessary steps to ensure a clean environment.

 

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