Bottomline | Wasting a Force

In the fight against Maoists, the CRPF should have a greater say

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Now that the Union government has declared CPI (Maoists) a terrorist organisation, it is time to take the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), officially designated as the sole anti-insurgency (anti-terrorist) force, seriously. Despite the epithet, the CRPF is routinely employed everywhere, with little forethought, planning and preparation. The largest paramilitary force, with 200 battalions, the CRPF has an undefined role; states want it to augment their police forces, but are reluctant to either pay and provide them with dignified facilities, or give credit where due. When things go wrong, they are usually the first suspects.
Take the case of the recent rape and killing of two women in Shopian in J&K. First new reports indicated CRPF’s involvement as its camp was nearby; it was later established that the state police had committed the crime. The Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, on a review mission to J&K suggested a thinning of the CRPF from the Valley, something that the state chief minister, Omar Abdullah has been advocating. While giving a bigger role to the state police sends out the message of normalcy, removing the CRPF implies that insurgency has been wiped out from the Valley. This conclusion is premature. People within the CRPF say that Chidambaram’s eagerness to reduce the force from the Valley was meant to garner additional forces for fighting Naxalism. While this may be true, is the CRPF prepared for anti-Naxal operations?

It is not. It lacks navigational aids; old maps have not been updated, and aerial pictures are unavailable. The CRPF has now approached the Indian Space Research Organisation for high resolution satellite imaging and video mapping of dense forests which are Naxals’ hideouts. The force does not have an organic intelligence wing. A force patrol that decides to go deep in the jungles (called Long Range Patrols lasting up to 30 days) invites disaster with primitive communication sets. The Naxals blow up mobile towers, incapacitating mobile phones. While walking miles in unknown, hot and humid terrain is demoralising, travelling in vehicles is dangerous as the area is strewn with land mines. The self-defence weapons, mostly indigenous INSAS rifles are self-defeating compared with automatic weapons with Naxals, and night visions devices are limited. If this was not all, the force is spread extremely thin. At present, 35 CRPF battalions are fighting Naxals across 13 states. There is talk of inducting 10 additional COBRA (Combat Battalions for Resolute Action) units in the Dantewada region of Chhattisgarh. COBRA has good communication equipment, anti-land mine vehicles, automatic weapons, and better training than regular CRPF men. It is, however, unable to make a difference as its numbers are small and it cannot remain untouched from the malice afflicting the force per se. To bolster the security forces, reports suggests that Border Security Force units are likely to be inducted in the area as well. This amounts to hara-kiri; two forces, BSF and CRPF, with different ethos and training operating in the same area will create command and control problems and would be ready fodder for Naxal militia.

If the home ministry and CRPF leadership is out of its depth in understanding operational issues, there is enough dissonance at the political level that is working to Naxal’s advantage. Take the example of the recent Lalgarh siege in West Bengal. While the state government sought the Centre’s assistance in stopping Maoists’ rampage in Lalgarh, it was initially reluctant to declare it an unlawful outfit. A distinction has been made between outfits under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act that vests powers in the Central government, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908 that vests powers in the state government in dealing with Naxals. The West Bengal government wants to deal with Naxalism more as a political and socio-economic problem, than a security problem, thereby curtailing powers of security forces. Given state predilections on tackling Naxalism, it is evident that the terrorists have the last laugh. All they have to do is romp across various states depending upon where things are hot and where the state government offers it carrots and shelter. The CRPF, on the other hand, cannot cross states at will and looks askance at the state authorities.

According to the Union home ministry manual, CRPF is to be deployed by the state authorities in consultation with CRPF commanders. This Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) robs all initiative from the force and submits it to the state’s misuse; if the state authorities were doing their job well, there would be little need for outside force. Worse, the CRPF commanders who are consulted are of the Inspector General rank and above, all IPS officers groomed in handling law and order matters rather than Naxalism and terrorism. This is not all. On the one hand, the police ethos at the top affects acquisitions and training of the force, on the other hand, these senior officers have extremely short tenures unsuited for understanding, formulating and implementing policy and operational matters. Three suggestions are offered for improving the CRPF operational level. One, the top CRPF leadership should have longer tenures, more than two years at the helm. Two, the CRPF senior field commanders should have a definitive say in utilisation of their own force. And three, like the principle of one-border-one force, it should be one-state-one-force when combating Naxalism. Inducting CRPF and BSF together in a state will invite failure.


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