New Government, Old Issues

A wish-list to improve the efficiency of the central armed forces

Sanjiv Krishan SoodS.K. Sood

The five Central Armed Forces—Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Sashashtra Seema Bal (SSB) under the ministry of home affairs (MHA), and Assam Rifles (AR) the sixth central armed force which operates under the ministry of defence, have a very important role in the security structure of the country.

These forces must keep pace with the changing operational environment, methodology adopted by adversaries, as well as changing societal norms. Therefore, these forces need to adapt not only to modern technology but also ensure that the man behind the machine is adequately motivated and trained to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. This piece attempts to suggest some measures for the enhancement of the efficiency of these forces, to the new government that will take charge after 4 June 2024.

The reforms in these forces cannot happen without reforms in the ministry of home affairs, which as the ministry controlling these forces, takes all major decisions regarding every aspect of these forces. The officials manning the ministry must have an insight into the needs of these forces, be it border management, internal security or human resource (HR)management. In order to achieve this, the ministry must induct officers who have worked at a functional level in these forces and are well versed with their operational and other constraints.

One important function of the home ministry concerning these forces is in the acquisition of technology for modernising these forces. It must ensure that the technology inducted conforms to the requirements of the field and is not vendor driven. To be fair, the recommendations for the induction of such technology are made by the force itself. However, the policy level leadership of these forces—the IPS officers who make such recommendations, do not have any experience of operating at the ground level in and hence are not well positioned to assess the requirement as they lack insights about the challenges that troops face in the field. Moreover, these leaders being on temporary lien with these forces, do not bring a long-term vision to the table. It is therefore essential that officers from the cadre of these forces are appointed in the ministry so that the perspective of the silent end user is taken into account in selecting technology.

Rajnath Singh with troops of Red Shield Division and AssamRifles during his visit to Headquarters Inspector General Assam Rifles (South) at
Mantripukhri in Imphal
Rajnath Singh with troops of Red Shield Division and Assam Rifles during his visit to Headquarters Inspector General Assam Rifles (South) at Mantripukhri in Imphal

The technology being considered for induction must also be cost effective as there always are budget constraints. For example, the CIBMS (Comprehensive Integrated Border Management Systems) being experimented with are fairly expensive with an equally heavy annual recurring cost. Most of its components are imported, which makes the repairs and maintenance of the equipment after the guarantee period very difficult. The focus therefore must be on building indigenous capacity which will, besides being cost effective, also be easy to maintain.

The government may even consider the creation of a body similar to the Defence Acquisition Council within the MHA for the acquisition of higher technology and large-scale projects. The recommendations of such a body will be binding on the forces as most big technology projects tend to be discarded by the transient leadership because of a lack of perspective.

The bureaucrats, not aware of the ground realities, tend to think that all situations have similar solutions and can be dealt with uniformly. Take for example, the equipping policy of the border guarding forces. The equipment authorised for a battalion of SSB is the same as that of the BSF. So, a unit of SSB is equipped with infantry weapons including MMGs and 81 millimetre mortars just like that of a BSF unit. Authorising these weapons to a BSF unit, especially on the hostile western border with Pakistan and on the Line of Control (LC) in Jammu and Kashmir is justified to an extent as these weapons may have to be used, especially during a war-like situation. However, this is not the case along Nepal and Bhutan borders which are peaceful, heavily populated and permit free movement of people of both countries across the border. While SSB too has a wartime role, however, the possibility of a war in this area being remote, equipping each of their units with these weapons needs to be rationalised. Authorisation of these weapons to BSF units deployed on the east and in anti-insurgency roles too needs a review.

Quoting my personal experience, when going on a private visit to Bhutan, I had no answer to the question of a Bhutanese immigration officer, when he asked me “Why was SSB so heavily armed while Bhutan didn’t even have a regular border guarding force?” My response that the weapons were needed against trans-border criminals failed to convince him.

The government therefore needs to thoroughly review the equipping policy of these forces. Authorisation of equipment should be in accordance with the operational needs and terrain configuration of the area of deployment. Suffice to say that the new government should work towards making an equipping policy based on the functional requirement of the particular force.

Rationalisation of weapons and equipment will also necessitate a review of the organisational structure. The manpower released by rationalising the equipping policy can be redistributed for operational duties and/or authorised to higher headquarters which face acute shortage of manpower and thus have to resort to attachment from units, depleting manpower for actual operations. The review of equipment and organisational structure should aim at removing redundancies to make these forces compact and improve the teeth to tail ratio, thus enhancing efficiency.

In the year 2002 or so, the MHA in its wisdom decided to raise an additional company within each battalion instead of raising additional compact battalions, on the premise that it would lead to financial savings because expenditure on additional staff for battalion headquarters and additional infrastructure will not be incurred. However, the premise was incorrect as later they had to provide additional staff for operational and administration support to this additional company besides constructing barracks and other infrastructure for it. The presumed financial savings therefore have been minimal. The new government must carry out a review of this decision and the original organisational structure must be restored. A major disadvantage of adding one additional company to each unit is that it has increased the burden of supervision on the commandant of the unit exponentially as he now has to supervise almost 20 per cent extra in terms of area of operation as well as human resource management. The resultant dilution of supervision due to overstretched command may perhaps be the cause of increased cases of indiscipline and suicides, etc., in the CPMF.

Needless to say, the operational efficiency of the unit is adversely affected. The government needs to reconsider this and revert to the original six company unit at the earliest. The financial burden of restoring the original organisational structure will be minimal both in terms of infrastructure as well as manpower. In fact, not much additional infrastructure is required because the number of border outposts is fixed and barracks for jawans have already been constructed. The new government must correct the situation by restoring the earlier organisation of units of the CPMF, which besides enhancing the efficiency, also ameliorates to a large extent the acute stagnation that is prevailing at all levels, especially at the mid-level operational leadership.

Another issue that severely hampers the effectiveness of these forces is very frequent withdrawal from core duties and deployment for tasks other than the core responsibility. During the elections for West Bengal and other legislative assemblies in the year 2021, almost one-third of the border guarding forces were withdrawn from the eastern borders for elections. This coupled with celebrations on account of 50 years of independence of Bangladesh, left very little manpower for guarding the border thus compromising the national security and overburdening the remaining manpower.

Extensive deployment of CPMF for smooth and fair conduct of elections is perhaps a compulsion of the government in so far as Parliament and legislative assembly elections are concerned. However, routine deployment of CPMF for elections to local bodies like Panchayats and Tribal Councils prolongs their absence from core functions and is detrimental to national security. Repeated thinning out of borders leaves no time for training, rest and relief, resulting in fatigue and therefore it is not justified. Election-related deployment should be restricted to Parliamentary and Legislative assembly elections only to prevent the ill effects of frequent withdrawal from the original task. The states should train and empower their own state armed police for these roles, besides using the India Reserve Battalions located in their states. The new government must seriously review the utilisation of CPMF for these duties to ensure that the security of borders as well as internal security does not get compromised.

The CPMF which are deployed all over the country, find it difficult to acquire land and thus the creation of infrastructure for troops is hampered badly, leading to adverse living conditions and low morale amongst jawans. The incoming government should initiate measures to simplify the procedure for acquisition of land and allocate adequate funds for the creation of infrastructure.

The ministry has a very important role in the management of human resources of CPMF which is a critical issue afflicting these forces. The policy planners need to ensure that the all-important ‘man behind the machine’ gets due attention. The attrition amongst the personnel is indicative that this is being overlooked. As per a reply submitted by the minister of state for home affairs in the Rajya Sabha on 6 March 2018, as many as 27,862 personnel and officers of the Central Armed Police Forces have either resigned or taken voluntary retirement over the previous three years up to 31 January 2018. The causes ranging from acute stagnation at all levels, disparity in remuneration vis-a-vis army personnel even when deployed at the same location, and non-entitlement to pension need to be urgently addressed. The new government has its task cut out to ensure proper HR management which will in turn go a long way in reducing litigation.

A few years ago, the government had done away with the ranks of Lance Naik (L/Nk) and Naik (Nk), leading to acute stagnation amongst ‘Other Ranks’ in CPMF, besides a sense of loss of status amongst them. Earlier, a jawan would be promoted as L/Nk, Nk and then head constable after every few years, thus fulfilling their career aspirations besides enhancement of salary, even though it involved only a minor change in their work profile. It now takes as much as 22-23 years for a jawan to be promoted to the rank of head constable and therefore they lose motivation over the years.

In addition to this, the introduction of the rank of assistant sub inspector (ASI) too has disturbed the balance of the structure of the smallest sub-unit of a battalion, called the section, and adversely affected the teeth to tail ratio. An ASI with over 30 years of service having to perform the same duties as he was performing as a head constable is demotivating. The financial implications of restoring the old structure of the section is a matter of detail, however it will be minimal because presently the government has to compensate the other ranks through a scheme called assured career progression (ACP) which requires enhancement of their salary every ten years. However, impact in terms of boosting their morale and thus retention of trained manpower will be facilitated.

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