CRPF: Taking stock of the situation
In a recent development, the strategic anti-Naxal operations command headquarters of the CRPF has been shifted from Kolkata to right into the heart of the Naxal violence-hit state of Chhattisgarh by the Centre in the wake of 37 men of the paramilitary being massacred by Naxals in a span of less than two months. Top sources in the security establishment said the Union Home Ministry, after reviewing the April 24 Naxal ambush in the Sukma district that killed 25 CRPF men, ordered the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to immediately shift the central zone command of the force to Raipur, without even bothering for the basic logistics to be put in place. This order comes roughly seven years after it was shifted from Raipur to Kolkata owing to "logistical and connectivity issues" that gave the West Bengal capital an upper hand over its Chhattisgarh counterpart. The newly appointed CRPF Director General Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar has been asked to ensure that the command begins functioning from Raipur before the high-level meeting of Left-wing extremism (LWE) hit states on Raipur on Monday. The central zone, an operational field formation, was raised on August 7, 2009 and was tasked to oversee the CRPF troops deployment across the entire 'red belt' of the LWE hit states from West Bengal to Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.
The central zone has jurisdiction and deployment of troops over about 42 per cent of the geographical area of the country from the Bay of Bengal in the east to Madhya Pradesh in the west and from the international border with Nepal in the north to Odisha in the south. It comprises eight sectors, 13 ranges, 17 group centres, 83 battalions, eight composite hospitals, 2 central weapons store, two central training colleges, three recruit training centres, a counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism school, 6 ANTS (Anti Naxal Training School) of the CRPF, the country's largest paramilitary with about 3-lakh personnel in its ranks. It is also designated as the lead security force for conducting anti-Naxal operations. It was moved to Kolkata in July 2010 for want of better connectivity through rail and air transport for the command office, days after the Dantewada ambush where Naxals had carried out their biggest attack against security forces and brutally killed 75 CRPF men and a Chhattisgarh police jawan on April 6 that year. According to sources in the security establishment, the Union Home Ministry, after reviewing the April 24 Naxal ambush in the Sukma district that killed 25 CRPF men, ordered the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to immediately shift the central zone command of the force to Raipur, without even bothering for the basic logistics to be put in place. The command office has been tasked to convene meetings and strategies joint operations with the Indian Air Force, the Border Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police force and various state police forces to carry out special anti-Naxal offensives along the southern border tip of Bastar where Sukma's border meet four neighbouring states that too suffer from the LWE menace.
Shedding some light on the conditions and functioning of the CRPF on ground, in a recent column for The Indian Express, Maj. Gen. (Retd) G D Bakshi writes "In contrast to the Army where jawans retire at 35-37 years of age to maintain a young age profile of the force so as to keep it combat-worthy. Rarely does a CRPF battalion operate as a cohesive entity, and train and operate together. Hence, unlike Army units, these CRPF battalions do not develop as corporate entities. Simply put, these units are designed to deal with aggravated law and order situations and not undertake high-risk combat operations which require rigorous individual and collective training. The problem is compounded by the fact that the senior leadership is almost all-parachuted from the IPS, and has generally never served in lower ranks of the BSF/CRPF/ITBP units. This is a serious lacuna. The parachuted leadership is not aware of the operating conditions at the working level and tends to be aloof, disconnected and at times insensitive to local issues. Unlike the Army, they do not lead from the front but act as managers." In another recent column of the Hindu, highlighting the plight of CRPF jawans in Sukma, some dismal facts come to the fore. Poor connectivity is quite nearly a permanent feature there. Lack of cellular towers in the area means that most of the time their mobile phones are reduced to music players. This is the most minor complaint they have. For the 150 men posted here, the jawans have no dormitories; there are 30 accommodated in a large shed. There are not enough beds so some sleep on the floor. There are no cabinets to store their belongings. All 150 share six toilets; inevitably the queues are long every morning. The tin roof turns the shed into an oven and the ceiling fans barely serve the purpose. There is no electricity in some parts of Sukma; the camp has five generators, but those are effectively decorative. With the supplies that come once a month, it is impossible to run the generators for an entire month with the fuel they are provided. Inevitably, this has a serious impact on their physical health. In their barracks, the heat is overpowering, but on patrol, there is more than sweat to deal with: plants and insects provide itches. Most of them suffer from rashes and infections in sensitive body parts. Consulting a doctor for this also difficult. To make matters worse, The nearest CPRF field hospitals are seven kilometres away in opposite directions, in Chintalnar and in Chintagufa. But the men cannot drive there or even walk the road because that would make them easy targets for the extremists. In order to counter that, they must deploy a "road-opening party" — at least 70 jawans struggling through the forest, each carrying 15 to 20 kg: weapon and ammunition, rations, and lots of water to cope with the over 40°C heat. (On longer patrols, the load doubles, as they must carry their own food and the means to prepare it.) The result: it takes hours to get anywhere. The jawans' task is supposed to be anti-Maoist operations. But, as with many CRPF bases in the area, protecting road projects takes up much of the time, a job that feels thankless. Crooked contractors, the jawans say bitterly, stretch out jobs to make profits, while security personnel die. On top of such difficult work conditions, they are blamed by the police and administration for everything to hide their own incompetence.
The only way to get proper inputs is human intelligence. But they don't know the dialect, and local forces are not posted with them. They say that everyone is hostile, even the civil police. Leaves are acquired with utmost difficulty and with so much uncertainty that travel also becomes hassle-ridden procedure – notwithstanding any emergency. "Prisoners live better," a jawan says, "and yet the government wants us to fight like Black Cat commandos." A senior officer wearily sums it up: "We die of weather and diseases. Those who survive, the living conditions kill us.
Those who survive that, the Maoists and the IEDs [improvised explosive devices] kill. Death is always staring at us." Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh will hold a meeting with Chief Ministers of 10 Maoist-hit states on Monday to discuss steps to tackle the menace. The conclave would discuss ways to revamp intelligence gathering mechanism, take a close look at on-going operations against Naxalites, identify problem areas and devise ways to minimise casualties among the security forces. Indeed, much needs to be acknowledged and done to facilitate better and optimal functioning of the security personnel keeping in mind and respecting the fact that they are professionals in the line of duty for the nation.