In the wake of Independence, a contentious administrative issue was over the retention of CRP (Crown Representative Police). As the Constitution designated ‘law and order’ as a State subject, the relevance of having a Central police force was questioned by everyone, except Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who argued vehemently and boldly in favour of it.
From having just two battalions as the CRP, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has now expanded to being a three-and-a-half lakh-strong force consisting of specialist wings like the Rapid Action Force, the COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), and the Special Duty Group. It is the largest paramilitary force in the world and no other security force of the country has seen expansion at such a rapid rate.
Providing integrated security to a diverse country of continental size is not an easy task. Resolving certain conflicts requires immediate solutions for which regular armed forces cannot be deployed. Hence, we require paramilitary forces, and the CRPF is the most sought-after one because of its flexibility and versatility. The force has earned its place as the ‘peacekeeper of the nation’.
April 9 is observed as ‘Valour Day’ by the CRPF because it was on this day in 1965 that an ordinary battalion of the CRPF repulsed an attack by a Pakistani brigade. Similarly, October 21 is observed as ‘Commemoration Day’ by all police forces, as a mark of respect to the CRPF soldiers who, in their fight against the Chinese Army in 1959, at Hot Springs, Leh, made the supreme sacrifice.
However, this glowing track record pales into insignificance when we consider the mass casualties the Force has had to suffer. In April 2010, at least 75 of its soldiers were killed by Maoists, numbering about 300, in Dantewada early morning when they were returning after a night-long patrol. And last year, the Pulwama attack happened.
Pressure on soldiers
What made Pulwama different from the earlier episodes of mass casualties was the unparalleled response from the political leadership, civil society and all other stakeholders to the attack. A year after the attack, it is time for the nation to take a relook at the main agency dealing with conflicts in different territorial zones. The frequent movements lock, stock and barrel are taking its toll. There are increasing cases of suicides and fratricides. The anguish caused because of prolonged periods of duty away from one’s family members adds to the pressure experienced the soldiers having their fingers constantly on the trigger guard, where a delay in response by even seconds can cost them their lives. Though the Home Minister recently stated that CRPF jawans would get to spend 100 days with their families every year, considering the present levels of commitment, 100 days of leave is an impossible dream for a soldier.
An easier way out here would be to revisit the government’s decision on tasking specific Central Paramilitary Forces exclusively with certain operations. It should be compulsory for recruits to all Central Police Forces to be deployed to anti-insurgency roles during their first 15 years of service, when they are newly trained and fighting fit. They can be shifted, in the next 10 years, to border duties. The last phase of their career should be in static duties. That way, the present system of a soldier ending up performing a high-risk job till the last day of his service, just because he happened to be allotted to CRPF after a common selection process, can be avoided and he can look forward to easier duties during the later phase of his career.
Rehabilitation of retired personnel
Also, as the Force is deployed to the last man, the welfare and morale of the soldiers needs to be taken care of. A large number of personnel are taking voluntary retirement, but there is no rehabilitation policy. The creation of a Welfare and Rehabilitation Board has not made any impact. Provision of canteen facilities, without tax exemption, hardly gives the soldiers any relief. Another demand that needs to be considered is that of a One Rank, One Pension scheme.
And finally, it is high time the Force develops home-grown leadership. Elements like a healthy work culture, ethos and regimentation are very crucial for any armed force and they are best guarded by officers born on the cadre. The long overdue Non-Functional Financial Upgradation (NFU) materialised only after judicial intervention. However, the top leadership — made up of IPS officers on deputation — is reluctant to implement it. The first anniversary of the Pulwama attacks should enable all stakeholders to device ways and means to plug the loopholes and address the system failures in a Force that still remains the most formidable in internal security matters.
K.V. Madhusudhanan retired as IG of training and northeastern sector of the CRPF in 2012