To become more effective in their assigned roles, CAPFs need their own cadre to lead
On February 23, even as India prepared to welcome US President Donald Trump in one part of the country, clashes broke out in another, making it a battleground for Hindus and Muslims. On February 25, the second day of President Trump’s visit, the two countries signed defence deals worth USD3 billion and showcased their partnership to the world, mainly to India’s neighbours who loom large on India’s threat perception.
Ironically, the damage within the country cost much more than the defence deal, with Indians waging a war against each other in northeast Delhi. The clashes continued for two days and resulted in hundreds being injured, 53 killed and untold damage and destruction of properties in Northeast Delhi. Eventually, eight companies (700 personnel) of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) were called in on February 25. They tackled over 300 incidents of fire before the riots came to a halt.
A serving RAF officer who was on deployment in the riot-hit areas and wishes not to be named, says that the reason the Delhi police could not control the riots was due to lack of preparedness. “The truth is that the present generation of Delhi Police have never faced such a situation and so were not prepared. It was only after the paramilitary forces were deployed that the situation came under control,” he says.
Adding that the police were hesitant to venture into areas which saw heavy stone pelting because they did not have protective gears and helmets, he says that it was dedication, initiative, preparedness of the paramilitary forces that saved the situation.
Meanwhile on the ground, the RAF had a tough time coping with calls for help. They couldn’t deploy one company at one place for a long period because by the time they contained violence in one area, they had to rush to another location. According to the officer, there were multiple things that the RAF undertook which they did not have the primary mandate for.
“It is in the culture of the paramilitary forces that if we are faced with some situation that is not our primary mandate, we would still try to do that. In so many places we did the fire fighting also. Although that was not our primary mandate, we did not turn a blind eye to burning houses and shops. We escorted and evacuated people,” he says.
According to him, this was a simple case of basic policing. If the policing had been efficient there would have been no need for the paramilitary forces to come in. The Delhi riots, however, should not be seen as an isolated incident. While communal riots have tested India’s secular fabric at different time, incidents of mob-frenzy also pose a threat to internal security.
In 2016, when Haryana was on the boil over the Jat community demanding reservations in government jobs, the Indian Army had to be called in as the Haryana police could not handle the unrest which caused severe damage to public property. So volatile was the situation that during a flag march, the army was seen carrying huge white placards signifying who they were in bold red letters. As per media reports, the Haryana police failed to control mob violence because the middle and junior levels of the force were dominated by the Jat community; and hence were reluctant to act against them.
“During a riot, the foremost thing required is one’s willpower to control it,” says Deepak Mishra, a retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. “One needs to have the determination to crush the violence.” He adds that every riot and the geographical area that they occur in are ‘unique’ in nature, and there is no “hard and fast rule” to quell the riots. The only thing, according to him, is the “resolve” to do it. According to him, the “retaliatory measures” are like “a high dosage of antibiotic,” which has to be administered according to the situation.
He says that while the police may have certain affiliations or acquaintance among the rioters, which may make them favour a certain group and be harsh on the other, the paramilitary has no such predilections as paramilitary personnel come from different ethnic and geographical backgrounds and have no political affiliations, unlike the police forces. “But”, he adds, “the role of the local police cannot be undermined and if the local police decide not to control the riots or the mob, nothing can be done. You may bring in thousands of battalions but if the police refuse to cooperate, nothing can be done.”
The paramilitary forces are often lauded for their ‘training, expertise and professionalism’ in handling violent situations or controlling the mob in all theatres of operations across the country. Central Reserve Police Force’s (CRPF’s) Rapid Action Force (RAF) is best suited to handle communal riots. The reason? The RAF is required to conduct exercises under the Civic Action Programme in areas that may have communities at loggerheads. They are informed of such places and communities where they undertake these exercises.
An officer, who did not wish to be named, says that these forces are mentally prepared to counter situations that may have varying degree of violence and are well-versed with the quantum of force required in a calibrated manner. He adds that the moment RAF reaches a riot-affected area, people feel reassured because they know that the RAF “mean business”.
A Leading Issue
While the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMF) perform a variety of tasks, they continue to suffer from poor leadership. Many serving and retired CAPF/CPMF officers point out that the IPS cadre provide ‘borrowed’ leadership to the forces as they come from a different milieu. This has been a cause of simmering discontent, and resentment towards the IPS.
The CRPF was raised in 1939 and the Border Security Force (BSF) in 1965. However, the recruitment officers for these forces started only in the Sixties. Hence, as a stopgap arrangement, the IPS officers were posted laterally in the CMPFs/ CAPFs to fill in the vacancies of officers at the senior level till the time the cadre matured. However, over the years, the temporary became permanent.
According to former inspector general, BSF M.S. Malhi, “The CAPFs/ CPMFs suffer from very poor top leadership. These forces are professionally trained, highly motivated, very well selected and work in the most difficult situations but are led by middle-level leadership, all the time. The top leadership is either incompetent or absent.” The reason for this, he says, is that the IPS officers who get inducted in these forces are ill-trained for these roles and have no motivation to work with them. Instead, the senior IPS leadership should work on improving the police force. He gives the example of the Delhi police, which was considered the best in the country, but appears to have collapsed in the last six months because of poor or absent leadership. “Even during the recent riots, nobody saw the top leadership at the site,” he says.
The CAPF officers, both serving and retired, feel that despite their experience and training of carrying out operations in sensitive Indian regions, their capabilities remain under-utilised because of the leadership vacuum. This has a cascading effect on the morale of young and middle level cadre officers as they believe that the top positions are closed for them.
Former inspector general, CRPF VPS Panwar, while talking about the leadership, stresses upon the fact that despite having served for almost 39 years, he was never given a chance to prove his domain expertise. He adds that the people holding the position of 2IC often serve for more than 20 years whereas the IPS officers who occupy the higher posts like assistant commandants and DIGs come with 15-16 years of experience.
Passing the Parcel
In December 2018, a parliamentary panel headed by former home minister P. Chidambaram recommended that senior positions in CAPF, including that of the director general should not be occupied by the IPS officers. The panel was of the view that the nature of duty of the CAPF are more similar to that of the armed forces and it would make sense to get more officers from the armed forces on deputation.
It also recommended that the government ‘fix a limited percentage of deputation of IPS officers in the CAPFs keeping in view the interest of CAPF personnel, not more than 25 per cent of posts should be reserved for officers coming on deputation, either from the armed forces, in any rank, and there should be no reservation for the posts of DG in any CAPF and the officers of the CAPF cadres should be given equal opportunity to reach the topmost ranks, it will go a long way to boost the morale of the CAPFs but will also provide a bigger pool of qualified officers.’
Reacting to the Panel’s recommendations, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) had argued that “exposure, training and grooming of an IPS officer match with the job requirements for the senior posts of CAPFs.” It further said that the inter-departmental coordination between various CAPFs and state police become smooth and seamless with the presence of IPS officers in every CAPF. Therefore, the IPS leadership would lead and provide supervisory directions to any CAPFs in an effective, efficient and impartial manner at these ranks.
The panel’s recommendation sparked a debate. While the retired CAPF officers stuck to their point of independent leadership, the IPS officers had a different argument. The IPS argued that they act as a bridge between the people and the forces; that their leadership was essential to make the CAPFs/ CPMFs aware of human rights. They also said that the removal of the IPS leadership would be unconstitutional. The final argument was about their better training and ‘intellectual capital’ as the IPS clear the more prestigious, and difficult, Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination before commissioning.
On 7 January 2019, the twitter handle of the IPS Association had tweeted an article written by Himanshu K. Lal, who wrote: “A militarised force isn’t enough in all situations. The IPS leadership can handle critical issues with a human touch… the IPS leadership in CAPF was vital for federal scheme of things with regard to internal security, law and order.”
Echoing the IPS argument, the IAS Association tweeted, “Deputation of IPS to the CAPFs fulfils the constitutional mandate of the AIS (All India Services) to lead central organisations with their rich field experience and people connect as CAPFs are deployed to fight not the enemy outside but the war within.”
However, the retired cadre officers insist that since these forces are complex, no IPS officer can understand them on a few years’ deputation. Former IG CRPF S.S. Sandhu says that the rapport of cadre officers with the lowest rung of the paramilitary forces is much more. The IPS leadership comes for a short period of time, (one to two years as IG and three to five years as DIG) and don’t know the strengths and limitations of the force.
Court to Rescue
In February 2019, a Division Bench of justices R.F. Nariman and M.R. Shah of the Supreme Court had held that all the CAPFs — CRPF, BSF, ITBP, CISF, RPF and SSB — should be recognised as ‘organised services’. This was to ‘remove stagnation, ensuring promotion and other service-related benefits to officers in the same post.’ It had also ordered that the group ‘A’ officers of the CAPF should be given all benefits including non-functional financial upgradation (NFFU) from 2006 in terms of the 6th Pay Commission.
In this, the apex court had upheld the December 2012 Delhi High Court order of granting the ‘organised service’ status to the CAPF. Under NFFU, if all officers of a particular batch cannot move up the ladder due to lack of vacancies but one of them does, then the others will get a financial raise just like the one who gets promoted. This benefit would be limited to financial upgradation and not in ranks and perks.
However, in July 2019, the CRPF forces rejected the Supreme Court order which gave them parity with the IPS. The CAPF in a letter said that the promotions were an ‘administrative matter’ and that the courts should not intervene.
“The cadre review of an organisation is purely an administrative matter… Administrative Ministry/Department has to decide the modus operandi of any Cadre Review keeping in view all pros and cons vis-a-vis the functional requirement of the organisation concerned. Courts should not interfere in the administrative matters,” said the letter written by a CRPF DIG to the IG who was in-charge of legal issues in the force.
The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the proposal for Grant of Organized Group ‘A’ Service (OGAS) to Group ‘A’ Executive Cadre Officers of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and extension of benefit of Non-Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU) and Non-Functional Selection Grade (NFSG). This approval had come in the beginning of July whereas, the turnaround by the CAPF came at the end of the same month.
The IPS Association had filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking a clarification on whether IPS leadership would have to stop heading the CAPF after the status of organised group ‘A’ services was granted to these forces. To which a Division Bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and M.R Shah had ruled that they were not examining the issue of leadership.
However, they did say that: “It is observed that while deciding the appeals this court has made no observations with respect to the right of IPS officers for deputation, in terms of the recruitment rules, if any, as the same was not the controversy and/or issue before this court and the decision of this court shall be construed with respect to grant of Organised Group ‘A’ Central Services only.”
After which, the paramilitary officers in December 2019 approached the Delhi High Court to stop the deputation of IPS officers in their forces. The Delhi High Court responded to these petitions asking the government to inform the court each time a position above the rank of DIG in the CRPF, CISF and BSF is to be filled by an IPS officer until the matter was settled.
“The government does not take interest in us as much as they should. Our dead do not get the status of martyr. We don’t have central record for pensions. We don’t have canteen or medical facilities post-retirement,” says Panwar.
There are infrastructural issues too which need attention, especially as far as the CRPF is concerned. The men move from theatre to theatre without proper administrative and lodging facilities. This adds to their stress, leading to serious consequences such as suicide and fratricide.
Former Addl DG BSF, S.K. Sood says, “Often the living accommodation is in extremely poor and dilapidated condition. I think those are the constraints of state also, they do not have the adequate means to accommodate. So sometimes they make alternate arrangements like accommodating us in a school or other such places. But then the question of transport also comes. Adequate transport at times is not made available.”
He stresses on the “clarity of chain of command”, which is important for smooth functioning of the CAPF at remote locations. According to him, “To enhance efficiency, we need to know who is in command in civil. The SP or the SP-in-charge? But the latter has different priorities, our mandate is different. For example, when we go on election duty, our mandate is to secure the polling booths. But the police also want us to dominate the area prior to an election which is not our mandate, but that of the police. So, the mandate should be clear. This won’t lead to the local commander being torn between the requirements of the police vis-à-vis what is mandated to him by his own organisation,” he said.
He narrates a personal experience to highlight the conflict of leadership. “I was DIG at Chuda Chandpur during the 2007 Manipur elections. Our IG was coming and at the same time, the district magistrate (DM) had called all the security forces and commandants for a meeting. The commandants went for that conference but our IG, after coming, asked me, ‘What do you think, am I not important?’”
The IG wanted all the commandants to be present before him, whereas during elections, it is the DM who calls the shot. Because of this, the local commanders get confusing signals from different chains of command. Sood says that there have been inter-force conflict and confusion regarding ‘operational philosophy’ too. While the CAPFs function in units and sub-units, the police function in pairs or groups of three, as their requirements are different.
Finally, coming back to where it started, given the indispensability of the RAF in a mob violence situation, shouldn’t more battalions be raised?
“Every state wants the RAF when there is a riot. Consequently, the force is extremely stretched. We require not only more numbers but training facilities too. We require at least five more battalions, which need to be deployed in sensitive states like Bihar, UP and Delhi,” says Sandhu