Long hours, difficult working conditions and poor career prospects are taking an emotional toll on CAPF personnel
On March 7, constable Satteppa SK shot four brothers in arms before turning the gun on himself at the BSF Khasa headquarters of the 114 battalion based in Amritsar. An internal probe in the fratricidal incident revealed that the 35-year-old Satteppa was on anti-depressants. He was suffering from financial woes.
The next day, in Murshidabad, West Bengal, along the India-Bangladesh border, a BSF jawan opened fire and killed a colleague before killing himself.
These two incidents prompted the MHA to constitute a task force to look into the incidents, headed by IPS officer VSK Kaumudi, the special secretary (internal security) in the home ministry, with a special/ additional director general rank officer each from the BSF, ITBP, CISF, SSB and Assam Rifles as the other members. The panel will look into a ‘case study analysis and recommendations’ for both suicides and fratricides.
Alarmed with a rising number of such incidents, the forces have taken to arranging get-together such as ‘Chaupal’, which aim at bringing the troops and officers together to discuss problems that the jawans may be facing. IGs and the DIGs have been instructed to ensure that the Chaupal meets happen in an informal setting where the soldiers feel free to voice their concerns. However, it is the very nature of the duty that puts immense stress on the soldiers, with a deterioration in their mental health.
Long and harsh duty hours, lack of perks unlike the three armed forces, personal problems are some of the major issues that have been identified for stress among soldiers belonging to the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), prior to 2011 referred to as the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs). These forces perform a number of duties apart from their principal duties of internal security and guarding borders. They are even deployed on election duties, riot control, VIP duties, among others. In the recently concluded farmers protests in Delhi, several companies belonging to different paramilitary forces had been deployed in Delhi alongside the Delhi Police. While such duties demand their presence, the manning of international borders, a prime responsibility that requires ensuring that no infiltrations take place, remains. The burden then is borne by the soldiers stationed there to fill in for their colleagues who go to other states to perform internal security duties.
The CAPF, including the BSF, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) Assam Rifles (AR) and National Security Guard (NSG) comes under the purview of the ministry of home affairs (MHA). Their combined strength is over 10 lakh personnel. The roles performed by the paramilitary forces differ. According to the recommendations by K. Subrahmanyam Committee, the principle of ‘one border, one border-guarding force’ was adopted. Each of these forces were then stationed to guard specific borders.
While the BSF guards the Bangladesh and Pakistan borders, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) does the same for the India-China border. The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) is responsible for India's open borders with Nepal and Bhutan. The CISF guards industrial units, government infrastructure projects and facilities and establishments. The CRPF is also responsible to maintain security and Maoist-affected areas.
However, there is a mix of all the forces at almost every border and in Maoist-affected areas. Assam Rifles, the only force with an Army leadership has the dual task of internal security duties in the north-east and guarding the border with Myanmar, while NSG is a specialist counter-terrorism force with its manpower drawn from the armed forces and other CAPFs.
Not the First Time
Incidents of bloodshed among the soldiers have been plaguing these forces for some time now, resulting in a slew of measures taken by the authorities over the years.
In 2018, for instance, DG, CRPF R.R. Bhatnagar told the press that the force was launching a ‘first-time project’ to ascertain the mental health of its jawans. This was undertaken by ‘training a maiden batch of counsellors to check the menace in the ranks’. While incidents continued to take place even after 2018, November 2021 saw a major incident unfold in Chhattisgarh, wherein a constable, identified as Reetesh Ranjan killed four of his sleeping colleagues, using his service weapon, an AK-47 rifle and injured three other personnel. The incident happened roughly 35 minutes before the constable was to begin his sentry post duty at 4 a.m. The force later said that the jawan suffered from ‘emotional stress.’
The CRPF, India’s largest paramilitary force, in 2021, recorded five incidents that killed six personnel. According to data released by the MHA in December 2021, the highest number of fratricidal incidents took place in the CRPF (11) followed by the BSF (nine). While the data regarding the incidents came to be released, the data regarding the number of deaths that took place in these incidents was not released. Suicides remain another grave concern of the paramilitary forces. Government data updated till August last year showed that a total of 680 CAPF died by suicide in the last six years.
However, the ministry stated that more personnel died by suicides between 2015-2020 in comparison with to 323 soldiers killed during encounters. The number has shot up to 123 in 2017, decreased to 96 in 2018 and rose to 129 in 2019, 137 in 2020 and 153 in 2021 [report on the Demands for Grants of the MHA (2022-23) tabled in Parliament].
Among major problems, the forces face an issue of unregulated expansion and infrastructural deficiencies and shortfall in availability of amenities, despite rapid expansion in the past decade. Comfort is hard to find. BSF has risen to almost 200 units and amenities available on ground are being redistributed. There is no accommodation at BOPs/ battalion headquarters.
“Despite the budget being provided and funds coming up, the soldiers still have duty stretching to 15-20 hours. Even if it is less than that, they only get interrupted sleep,” says a retired senior BSF officer. Interestingly, given the uneven nature of expansion of these forces and rapid growth in numbers, stagnation has built in. The expansion now is almost at a standstill. “Expansion may not have taken place in the number of units, but expansion has taken place by adding additional company to each unit. In the last decade, expansion has taken place in this manner. When we were expanding, our promotional avenues were better. Now our promotional avenues have stagnated,” he adds.
The CRPF personnel are suffering from stagnation the most. Personnel in the CRPF are stagnating at the level of assistant commandant for 12-13 years. In comparison, in the BSF this number stands at 8-10 years. The worst affected in both these forces is the constabulary, who end up in the same post for twenty odd years. In case of the BSF, the force was raised to be a six-company battalion. However, in the early 2000s, since raising battalions got expensive, government decided to do away with the battalion head-quarter and add additional service companies to each unit. From 2003-2004, now BSF units are seven company units. Assistant commandant has been added to the unit, but avenues further ahead have not been opening up. If the battalion had been raised, then there would have been proper paraphernalia. Battalion would have been raised, land would have been bought, buildings would have been built. Subsequently, promotional avenues would have been created.
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