Despite being the largest Paramilitary force in India, CRPF remains an invisible force
Participating in a television talk show on the day Maoist top gun Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji was killed in a fierce gun-battle spanned over a couple of days on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border, former director general of West Bengal police, Bhupinder Singh, congratulated the state police for a great operation. As an afterthought, he said that it was a joint forces operation. Either he deliberately did not specify what the composition of the joint forces was, or he simply did not think it important enough.
For those who care, the joint forces were primarily the CRPF and its special unit COBRA (Combat Battalion for Resolute Action) with a sprinkling of West Bengal police, as is required by law. The police provided intelligence and subsequently guides; no doubt, two very crucial aspects for any successful operation. But, the numbers, the cordon and the punch, at least in this case, were provided by the CRPF and COBRA. Yet, instead of being called out by name for this major achievement, they were dismissed as ‘joint forces’ with plaudits going to the state police. While it is not the case that the state police should not get recognition, the argument is that the supporting Paramilitary should not be denied recognition. After all, the biggest morale booster for any force is its glorious history, the honours it’s won and the recognition it gets.
Despite being the largest Paramilitary force in India, with nearly 220 battalions, CRPF, for good part remains an invisible force in most of the theatres of its operations; which currently implies almost all the states of India. Perhaps, in the early post-Independent years this invisibility was desirable. To allay the insecurities of the fledgling states, the Centre did not want a central force, meant essentially for the aid of state police forces to have a character of its own. The idea probably was that the CRPF should be able to subsume itself completely into the force for whose assistance it has been sent to, with the command and control resting exclusively with the state police.
In those years, most states did not have adequate police forces of their own; several states still do not have adequate police. Moreover, border states, like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast had issues other than law and order to cope with and they needed assistance from the Centre. Sending a well-characterised central force would have had a negative psychological effect on states that were clamouring for administrative freedom. However, the flip side of this was that since the central force (paid for by the Centre, as opposed to the state police which is the responsibility of the state administration) was readily available to beef up the state police numbers, many states did not bother increasing their police strength. What was applicable to some states then is still applicable to the newborn states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand etc today.
Since CRPF’s deployments are left exclusively to the will of the state police, the force has, over the years, been used for the ‘so-called thankless jobs,’ like static guard duties, road opening patrols and so on. None of these roles require exemplary capabilities or demonstration of courage. As a result, CRPF has very little by way of achievements, citations or gallantry awards to show for its over 70 years of existence. Its major achievements happened nearly three decades ago, and in circumstances where CRPF operated largely on its own and not in support of the state police. For instance, the Hot Springs incident in Ladakh against the Chinese in 1959 or the Sardar Post mini-battle against Pakistan in 1965 in which 2nd battalion of CRPF managed to kill 34 Pakistani soldiers in Gujarat. It played such a commendable role in the 1971 war with Pakistan, that the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was moved to suffix ‘force’ to Central Reserve Police, thereby recognising it as a Paramilitary force.
However, even this did not settle the matter about CRPF’s identity. Even today, CRPF remains an ambiguous entity, with its Act saying one thing and its roles on the ground portraying an entirely different picture. Today, it is used indiscriminately to add to the state police numbers wherever required. Such is the clamour for the CRPF that MHA often resorts to tricks to transfer some numbers from one theatre to another, because the states where it is deployed loath to let go of their numbers. For instance, MHA wanted to shift some numbers from Kashmir to Jharkhand where operations were planned in the Saranda forests. But the J&K police did not want their numbers to deplete. Hence, the troops which were recalled for temporary election duties in Haryana from Kashmir were instructed not to go back. Instead, they were asked to undergo four weeks of pre-induction training before being sent to Jharkhand. Hence, in a span of a few months, the CRPF personnel went through the complex cycle of road opening, election duty and jungle warfare. It is safe to presume that the intelligence or qualification level of the CRPF PBORs (persons below officer ranks) would be just about average if not below. Given this, it is anybody’s guess how fast they would be able to grasp their changing roles thereby determines their effectiveness in the field.
While in 2002, the Group of Ministers’ (after the Kargil conflict) recommended that CRPF should be the lead anti-insurgency force, the ministry of home affairs recently laboured over the roles and missions of the force. Not happy with the appellation of Paramilitary, in a office memorandum issued on 18 March 2011 and sent to all central police organisations under the ministry, it made it clear that, “Hence forth, in all reference to the forces mentioned above (BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP and SSB) a uniform nomenclature of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) shall be adopted.” According to the memorandum, the reason for this was, “The terms like… Central Para Military Police Forces (CPMFs), Paramilitary Forces (PMFs)… creates an incorrect perception about these central forces and the expectations from the force become unrealistic.”
Through this memo, in one shot the ministry eased the burden of improving training standards for its forces, the worst-affected of which is the CRPF, primarily because of rapid raisings without commensurate training infrastructure and staff. There have been instances of new CRPF raisings undergoing pre-induction training at the Group Centre because the institutes/centres did not have the capacity to accommodate so many people. Adding to CRPF’s woes was the quick succession of director generals in the last couple of years, which implied that the force was not adequately represented in the ministry. One example will suffice.
The CRPF deployments in Chhattisgarh are scattered and most companies are deployed in a linear fashion in the radius of 50-70km. Despite repeated suggestions that CRPF be deployed in grid pattern as it is in Kashmir, the situation did not improve. However, once additional Paramilitary, BSF and ITBP were inducted in Chhattisgarh, CRPF was moved further south close to Abujmarh vacating areas like Rajnandgaon and Kanker. While in Rajnandgaon, one battalion of CRPF was replaced by four battalions of ITBP, in Kanker, it was replaced by five of BSF. It couldn’t be that one battalion of CRPF was capable of doing the job of four or five battalions of BSF or ITBP. Clearly, the senior leadership of the BSF and ITBP must have insisted that they would only take the responsibility if they were allowed to deploy in grid fashion as is necessary for counter-insurgency. CRPF for various reasons didn’t have that choice.
Anyway, following this directive, new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were issued about four months ago, underlying that no CRPF personnel on law and order duty will carry arms. They will only be equipped with lathis. In case of a company movement, only eight people will carry rifles; which means two in a platoon. Interestingly, almost a decade ago, when the CRPF was designated as the lead counter-insurgency force, no written directives on training were issued, but top down the force was asked to reorient its thinking and training from purely policing to a paramilitary role. Moreover, UPSC was directed to conduct examination for direct-entry CRPF officers like all other services in India. This was easier said than done. Even as the new recruitments had a different mindset, there existed in the force middle-aged personnel with old orientation.
Given that CRPF’s role was not counter-insurgency operations alone and it was frequently required for election and static duties, the two co-existed happily. However, the new directive and the subsequent SOP have created a bizarre situation for the force. Last year, to improve its counter-insurgency efficiencies, almost 400 to 500 CRPF personnel trained with the Indian Army at its school in Khrew in Kashmir. “Under the new SOPs, where do we deploy these personnel now,” asked one CRPF battalion commander who is on the law and order grid. Having trained with the Indian Army on combating terrorists using automatic weapons, how will these men adapt to wielding a lathi! Incidentally, of the total CRPF deployment in Kashmir (55 battalions in the Valley), 50 are on static and ROP duties. So much for counter insurgency!
Because of these inherent contradictions, despite being India’s biggest counter-insurgency force, very few have confidence in CRPF’s ability to deliver what its numbers promise. But that is not the most worrisome aspect about CRPF. What should worry the MHA is that the CRPF today has the largest number of dissatisfied, disgruntled and ill-treated officers and men. Anywhere else in the world this threat to discipline and morale would cause panic. The least we can do is get sensitive to this reality.