Interview | Director General, Central Reserve Police Force, R.R. Bhatnagar

IEDs remain a matter of concern for CRPF

Director General, Central Reserve Police Force, R.R. Bhatnagar

What is the current strength of the CRPF? Any more raisings on the anvil?

We don’t share any numbers. You can excuse me for that.


A few years back, because of rapid raisings, newly-raised personnel were being trained in Group centres. What is the situation now?

Efforts are being made to ensure recruitments happen on a regular basis. What happens is that the recruitment itself is not done on a yearly basis, because it is done through the commission and because of certain unavoidable reasons the recruitment is done almost once in two years. So, the number of vacancies almost doubles, which sometimes leads to the numbers being higher than our capacity to be able to train them through the Recruit Training Centres (RTCs). So, we are trying to change this system of recruitment from this year. The SSC which does the recruitment have changed the system from this year. And we are hopeful that they would now be able to complete it within a period of one year so that this problem itself will get resolved.


What is the CRPF’s current deployment across Jammu and Kashmir and left-wing theatres? How much will these numbers change after the Amarnath Yatra?

We have a certain regular deployment in Jammu and Kashmir, and the yatra is another event which takes place yearly. The security forces are supplemented at that point of time. And after the yatra concludes then we fall back to our regular levels of deployment.


In what ways did security arrangements this year for the Amarnath Yatra differ from previous years?

Every year we learn from our experiences and we have very close collaborations with the Jammu and Kashmir police and the other security agencies, and the army for the yatra arrangements. A lot of new initiatives have been taken like tagging the vehicles with RFID devices, also bar coding slips for the pilgrims and many other such steps. Looking at the different threat situations and inputs, the arrangements are tweaked and changes are made to the arrangements. And this year, by now more than 2,72,000 people have already been to the shrine. At this point of time, the yatra is in full swing.


Do you think the restrictions on the movement of civilian and tourist movement on the highway was necessary for the smooth conduct of the yatra?

Looking at the movement of the yatris as well as the convoys, because of the new threat from vehicle-borne IEDs that we have seen, it is important that the roads at least at that point of time be momentarily regulated. The traffic needs to be regulated. The decision to restrict the traffic was in the best interests of security. Also, it’s not that the road is not available to others, the road has been blocked only at certain times.


Specific to the Jammu and Kashmir theatre, what is the CRPF’s primary role? Does it carry out independent operations too?

Yes, we carry out independent operations also with the Jammu and Kashmir police in certain areas. In certain other areas, we operate in conjunction with the army and the Jammu and Kashmir police. We have both kinds of capabilities. We can carry out any anti-terrorist operations. We have our quick-action teams which are well-trained and well-equipped and have a good experience. And we are also capable of handling law and order situations, be it the stone pelting or the bandhs, the strike calls or any other situation that may arise. So, we are a full-spectrum force. We have the capability to handle all aspects of the problem.


Recently the government claimed about reduction in militancy-related activities. What do you think led to this improvement in the overall security situation?

As you have seen that the security forces have the upper hand, there have been good intelligence-based operations which have been very successful in neutralising most of the tanzeems there, including their commanders. And on the law and order side also, we have thorough training and better coordination with Jammu and Kashmir police and better equipment, better protective gear to improve the security situation. We have also been able to now fine-tune our controlling of the situation where there is very heavy stone pelting. You would have seen that this time the injury, the casualty to the civilians is much less, even the injury to our troops is also much less. So, we have developed the kind of standard operating procedures (SOPs) where we are able to control the law and order situation and the stone pelting much better. And in most cases, you would have seen that despite heavy stone pelting, anti-terror operations have still been successful.


Has the use of pellet guns been reduced by some measure?

We always try to use as much non-lethal force as possible and that too in a graded manner. The use of pellet guns also sometimes becomes essential looking at the situation, but as you would have seen this year the number of injuries have been much less. And we are also using deflectors so that the injuries, the pellets do not go upwards, in a controlled fashion.


One of the most common explanations after every surprise attack is that SOPs were not followed. Under what circumstances are SOPs not followed? Does this lead to revision of SOPs given the circumstances?

Like I said, if you look at any situation, you do a threat assessment, you look at what the inputs are. And you look at what kind of a strategy would be best for that situation. SOPs are the basic framework through which we operate, however, it is for the field commander given the situation and given the threat and the kind of intelligence input that they have to be able to revise it the way they want. So, they have a bit of flexibility. The whole purpose of the SOP is to do a task better. And if the local commander feels that there are some deviations that he needs to make to be able to do his task better, then that is up to him. And the SOPs are also periodically revised, given the fact that there are changed situations, changed threats, changed tactics of the militants. So, the SOPs are also something which are constantly being revised.


FORCE correspondent Yunus Dar in conversation with CRPF DG R.R. Bhatnagar


How would you describe the situation in both your theatres? What are their peculiarities and what are the challenges in both?

If you look at the Maoist theatre today, a lot of progress has been made in the last few years. The area which was under their influence has shrunk substantially. In certain states, substantial progress has been made, and in certain other states where it still remains, because of the administrative and security vacuum, Maoist operations are continuing. We are opening new camps, going into their heartlands and we are regularly dominating their core areas and also carrying out operations. And there is very good coordination between all the states which are involved. Out of the 10 states which are affected by the Maoist problem, and Chhattisgarh remains the epicenter and there is very good cooperation from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, so in all the states there is good coordination in fighting the Maoists and that is bringing us good results.


The CRPF is planning to offer full body protection to its personnel deployed in Jammu and Kashmir and also a distinct gear for women. When will this be operationalised?

The full body protection in terms of the law and order has been procured in large numbers. They are already being used. Similarly, for the women personnel there was no full body protector which was specifically designed for them. That is something we have been working on for quite some time, and now they have made the prototype. They have done a lot of work on the materials, on the sizing, and the outlook of the gear. It has been developed now and it will also be soon, after the transfer of technology (ToT) would again be produced and we would be able to supply these body protectors to our women personnel. It should come soon now.


What is the percentage of women personnel in the CRPF, any plans to enhance their strength? 

We have about five per cent women personnel in the force. We have got six Mahila battalions. We also have got sanctions in the Rapid Action Force (RAF). So, there are certain specific vacancies for the women in the force and they are today working in most of the theatres with their male counterparts.


According to the recently released government data, incidences of depression and suicides continue to be high in the CRPF. How are you addressing this issue?

If you were to look at deaths due to natural causes that always remains the largest number. If you were to look at the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), there are substantial numbers and the retirement age is 60. There are some losses that we have because of accidents, and there are some losses in operations. Otherwise, suicide has always been a matter of concern for us. But fortunately, in the last few years, we have done a lot of work on that. There is a significant research which has gone into it as to how we could contain it, as to how we could help the person who is under depression, who is having certain psychological issue, which we need to address. So, we have developed a lot of SOPs on how to go about this. Last year specially, we had made a special booklet on this. We had commissioned a board of officers and taken the help of professionals also to be able to design the kind of mechanism that would be required to deal with the stress levels that we have, to deal with the kind of isolation that is there.

Earlier, joint families were more common. The kind of connect that people had then has become less, it’s more of a digital world now. So, we are also trying to see as to how best we can help our colleague who suffer from mental stress. It could be because of the domestic problems, which is mostly the case in these incidents. It’s also about the stressful work environment. We are looking at building up a team of counsellors who can counsel such people. We conduct regular camps and training, as well as wellness courses. All our officers try and develop a connect with the jawans who are among them. Among the jawans also, we try and have buddy pairs so that they can share each other’s problems, and later we can help them. There are a lot of measures that we are taking and we are always working on it. It’s always one of our prime concerns.


The CRPF is increasingly involved in counter-insurgency operations across the country, how are you improving the quality of such training at the schools of the force?

If we look at the training part, we have more than 36 institutions across the length and breadth of the country. And we have very specialised institutions for different kind of trainings that we impart. If we were to look at the RAF that basically deals with law and order situation, we have RAF Academy of Public Order (RAPO), situated in Meerut. If you look at the jungle warfare, the COBRAS, they have their own training centres. Then we have a number of Counter-Insurgency Training Schools (CIATs). We also have a lot of RTCs, a lot of centres of excellence for different kinds of things. For shooting skills, we have one centre. For IED training, we have developed our own institute of IED management. For canine training, we have our own setup today.

We are a very multi-faceted force. We have got different training institutes. And there are no issues about that. We are well-equipped, and whenever a jawan is posted in a specific theatre, be it Jammu and Kashmir or the Maoist theatre in the Northeast, he has to undergo the induction training. So, we are arranging pre-induction trainings also. And then whatever our training capabilities are, we supplement them with the training capabilities of our sister institutions as well as the army. So, in terms of the training, we have a fairly competent system. Of course, there might be some new training institutes which have been opened. And as you know, the infrastructure takes a little time to build. We make do with temporary, semi-permanent kind of infrastructure. But there is no compromise as far as training is concerned.


Since the CRPF is involved with the army in counter-terror operations in Kashmir, is the weaponry at par with the army for such specialised operations?

We have no problems about the kind of weapons or the equipment, whether it is protection or surveillance equipment, we are well equipped. And we are competent to deal with all challenges as far as terrorism is concerned.


Any new weapons acquisitions in the pipeline?

We are always on the lookout for the new technology that would help us in the theatres and also the kind of technology that is required. We are trying to induct new technologies. IEDs are a big matter of concern for us. To be able to detect and defuse them is one of our biggest concerns. Then protection, in terms of personnel protection we can provide or the kind of vehicular protection that we can provide. So, the force is always on a lookout for new technologies in the market. Even if you were to look at the trauma care, when the jawan gets injured what is the best that we can give to him. So, we look at all aspects of new products and technologies that would assist us in meeting our objectives and able to deal with the challenges that we have.


Any more comments?

I would like to add the CRPF has great traditions of valour and sacrifice, and it is a very professional force. A force with a lot of experience, which is successfully meeting most of the challenges that are there in the internal security scenario. Our jawans are well-motivated and our officers lead from the front.


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