Victims of the Virus

The CAPFs are following all the guidelines to keep their personnel safe and healthy during this pandemic

Smruti D

The paramilitary forces have been exemplary in acting swiftly during the coronavirus pandemic in India. They swung into action immediately by screening passengers at airports, replacing and supporting the over-exhausted state police forces in their respective states and distributing food to the needy.

CISF stands guard at IGI airport during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in New Delhi picture by Prem Singh

Early this year, the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), which have an experience of dealing with opponents in all theatres of operations, found themselves on the streets of some of the most peaceful cities fighting an unseen enemy. As infections spread, the news of exhausted police personnel working overtime, surfaced. Maharashtra, which has the highest number of Covid-19 cases, requested for a number of CAPF companies to work alongside Maharashtra police. This was also because some police personnel had tested Covid-19 positive.

Recently, on May 13, the Maharashtra state government asked the centre to dispatch 20 more companies of the CAPF, in addition to the 32 companies which were already deployed in the state. The centre, so far, has dispatched 10 companies which had to be recalled from Jammu. One can imagine the kind of efforts security personnel have put in to deal with the present crisis. While they assist state and central governments, they have also become victims of the virus.



The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has recorded 369 cases till now. On May 26, one new case was reported from New Delhi, taking the number of active positive cases to 141. So far, 226 personnel have recovered. However, the CRPF reported its first coronavirus death on April 29. Fifty-five-year-old sub-inspector (SI) Mohammed Ikram Hussain of 31st battalion died from Covid-19 at Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital. On May 21, assistant sub inspector (ASI) Panchdev Ram, who belonged to the 84th battalion, succumbed to the virus in Delhi. He was suffering from liver cancer.

The direct exposure and regular contact with people has made the CRPF personnel vulnerable to the virus infection and resulted in such large number of cases. The maximum number of cases among the CRPF have been found in Delhi. A CRPF officer, who does not wish to be named, says that the camps in Delhi are smaller as compared to other places, and surrounded by densely populated neighbourhoods.

Soldiers have always been provided poor living conditions which lack basic facilities. This has been one of the many causes which triggers dissatisfaction in the personnel and leads to depression. It is also one of the reasons behind high attrition level. In 2015, the attrition rate jumped 62 per cent. From 2008 to 2014, the numbers were worrying as a total of 30,297 personnel dropped from these services. A report submitted to the ministry of home affairs (MHA) in 2014, among other things stated that poor living conditions make the personnel vulnerable to diseases and behavioural issues.

In 2018, the government data recorded that in the last three years (from January 2015-January 2018), as many as 27,862 personnel and officers of the CAPF quit service. Out of which, 11,198 belonged to the Border Security Force (BSF) and 10,620 to the CRPF. Since 2016, the rate of voluntary retirement went up by a whopping 450 per cent. The reasons behind the drop are varied—lack of social life, high stress-level due to hostile nature of places they are deployed in, lack of good infrastructure, basic amenities at places of deployment and lack of career growth within the forces. In March 2018, it was reported that the BSF personnel faced drinking water problems at border outposts (BOPs) in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, bordering Pakistan. Of the 66 outposts, only two had piped drinking water. For other requirement the personnel had to depend on tankers. The BSF’s work in this area is ongoing with central and state governments.

Unplanned expansion of the forces is also a grey area which result in problems. In an article for ‘The Quint’, S.K. Sood wrote, “Unplanned expansion and recruitment over last few years, besides playing truant with career growth of personnel, has also diluted standards of training by overburdening training institutions which have limited infrastructure. This has direct implications on efficiency of the force, as trainees coming out of the Academy are professionally and mentally inadequate to withstand pressures of life at borders.”

All these factors together make the emotional well-being of jawans precarious. In 2019, the government had informed Parliament that the number of suicides among the forces was 128, the highest in the last three years among the CAPFs and the Assam Rifles (AR).

Coming back to the Covid-19 cases among the CRPF and what is being done to prevent the spread, the CRPF officer says, “Adequate precautions have been taken, both by the force and individuals. The problem is that none of the camps of the CAPF has been designed keeping Covid in mind. They were never designed to have six feet distance between them.”

“One barrack consists of three storeys, has six rooms on a floor and houses 180 men. Which means, each room has 10 beds. Obviously, distancing problems are going to arise. For every 60 people, there are eight toilets and eight baths. They are sufficient otherwise but not in present circumstances. Under these circumstances, we would need one room for one soldier with separate baths and toilets, which is not possible and cannot be done overnight. It is not practically possible anywhere.”

The CRPF is doing its best to stop the spread of diseases. “Due to shortage of space, we made makeshift arrangements, and added more beds by setting up tents. To maintain social distancing, different time slots were alloted barrack wise for meals in the mess and to use washrooms and toilets. Major efforts are being made to control cases from rising. The CRPF is deployed across the country and it is a matter of satisfaction that the spread of cases is seen in just one campus, not elsewhere in the country,” says the officer.

The BSF has recorded the maximum number of Covid-19 positive cases. The current number of infected BSF personnel is 413 out of which 317 have recovered. The recovery rate is more than 75 per cent. Only two deaths have occurred so far.

Talking to FORCE, BSF PRO Shubhendu Bhardwaj says, “From day one of the announcement of this pandemic and after the ministry of health and family welfare’s announcement of guidelines to take precautions against infections, the BSF started implementing all those instructions on ground. But our level of exposure to people is high because our companies and units have been deployed on ground to maintain law and order in Delhi and other major cities. The BSF has been maintaining social distancing alongwith following all the other guidelines.”

He said that after some BSF men tested positive, they carried out a drive to trace the primary, secondary and tertiary contacts and sent them to quarantine as per instructions. Quarantined members are tested as per protocols. If tested positive they are treated in Covid19 designated hospitals.

If a personnel tests positive in Delhi, they are sent to the CAPF Referral Hospital at Greater Noida or AIIMS Jhajjar. “All over the country, the maximum number of BSF patients were asymptomatic. They were admitted to the closest hospitals of the force and after release, were moved to quarantine again,” he says.

“Whenever someone comes from temporary duty or a leave, they are kept in quarantine. The administrative workplaces of the BSF also maintain the orders that the Department of Personnel Training (DoPT) and ministry of home affairs (MHA) have laid down,” says the PRO.

Only 33 per cent people in administrative offices follow a shift routine so that there isn’t any crowding. On the field, social distancing is strictly followed in the barracks. The bathrooms  are regularly sanitised and food is cooked hygienically.

Border Security Force (BSF) personnel stands guard outside LNJP Hospital during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 in the old quarters of New Delhi . Picture by Prem Singh

Covid-19 positive cases in the CAPF are nearly 1,200. Twenty fresh cases were reported in the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) on May 26, taking the total number of cases to 184, out of which 116 have recovered. Eighteen out of 20 cases were from the unit that guards the New Delhi international airport. The number of personnel who have recovered from the virus stands at 132. On May 29, a CISF soldier, Susanta Kumar Ghosh, died because of Covid-19, thus taking the total number of deaths to three. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) has reported 189 cases so far, out which 121 have been discharged. Of the total 41 cases within the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), nine have been discharged.

Tackling militancy in Kashmir, fighting Left-Wing Extremism in different parts in India, controlling crowds during large-scale events and guarding the Indian borders, the operations undertaken by the CAPFs are many and varied. Travelling from one place to the other only to face violence at most places they are posted in, is both, physically and mentally exhausting. The minimum that can be done to make their living conditions better at camps is making sure the infrastructure matches modern times. The government should prioritise creating spaces where soldiers feel comfortable and do not have to struggle for basic necessities like water. The shoulders that India’s security rests on deserve to get the rest they need.


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