In a crucial move to reform the security apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who visited the state after the Shopian rape case, announced a roadmap, giving greater responsibility to the J&K police for counter-terrorism operations and assigning only a secondary role to paramilitary forces. More significantly Chidambaram envisaged replacing the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) with the J&K police. While deliberating reorganization of the CRPF in the militancy-hit state and handing over their duties of guarding vital installations and protecting VIPs to the state’s police, the Union Home Minister supported the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who wants the paramilitary forces to play only a minor role in the state. Later, after three youths died in protests against these rape incidents, Abdullah ordered the complete removal of the CRPF from Shopian district.
The CRPF replaced the BSF in March 2007 for counterinsurgency operations in addition to guarding vital installations in the Valley and providing security to VIPs. With the agitation continuing in J&K, Chidambaram asked senior officers of the CRPF to ensure that field officers and jawans adhere strictly by the Standing Operating Procedures (SOP) and Code of Conduct. There have been several instances when CRPF personnel did not follow the SOPs. For example, non-compliance of SOPs resulted in the death of 11 CRPF men in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh in June when Naxalites triggered a landmine blast. In the high-level meeting that followed it came to the light that the CRPF had hired a private truck for their movement but a road opening party was not sent ahead as required by the SOPs.
The highhandedness of the CRPF while tackling insurgency in J&K and elsewhere has been pointed out, but most people would also agree that the oldest paramilitary force in the country has been working under most hostile conditions, without proper equipment or training. With 203 battalions and personnel strength of over 200,000, the CRPF is the largest paramilitary force in the world. It has been used against Naxalite extremism, pan-Islamic terrorism and separatism, for VIP security and temple security, and election duties, apart from providing security to sports events. While the number of battalions has increased, little attention has been paid to their training. For example, about 80 per cent of the CRPF personnel spend 75 per cent of their service life in continuous deployment, which raises questions about their fitness. In a period of, say 20 years, CRPF men fight with the same knowledge they had acquired 20 years back. By contrast, extremist groups - whether Maoist or jihadi - upgrade themselves continuously with cutting-edge technology and weapons.
Continuous deployment is compounded by dismal living conditions as only a few states provide them with permanent structures as living quarters. For example, in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, CRPF men live in government schools or dilapidated buildings, when deployed to fight the Maoists, which then become the target for attacks. Election duties in Naxal-infested states placed the force in the line of fire and constant dangers due to the rough terrain, jungles and ambushes. Continuous deployment also takes its toll due to physical ailments. According to the Indian Express (“Battle-hardy CRPF fights diseases,” 3 May 2009), about 25 per cent of the 2.6 lakh-strong force is suffering from serious diseases. From 2005 to 2008, almost 50 per cent of the workforce suffered from serious ailments like cancer, hepatitis, hypertension, heart problems, AIDS or revealed psychiatric symptoms and skin diseases.
According to the latest records, 27,000 CRPF personnel are suffering from hypertension, 7,000 are suffering from diabetes, 700 have got cancer, 6,000 have Hepatitis and about 1,300 are HIV positive. More than 52,000 personnel are suffering from various skin ailments, 16,300 have got malaria, 6,200 developed heart problems and roughly an equal number is suffering from depression and psychiatric conditions. These figures are most alarming.
In the adverse conditions in which the CRPF personnel have to perform their duties, lapses and errors are inevitable, and which are dutifully reported in the media like the Shopian case. Apart from the SOPs pointed out by the Home Minister, the CRPF personnel need much more: sophisticated equipment like automatic grenade launchers (AGL), Carl Gustav rocket launchers (CGRL), medium machine guns (MMG), sniper rifles, night vision devices (NVD), deep search metal detectors (DSMD), bomb disposal dog squads, explosive detectors, Aanti-mine vehicles, etc., improved communications and training with these new tools to improve their skills. Pay and perks, and motivational sessions are other important issues to be prioritized if the CRPF is to be made an effective paramilitary force. The government also needs to give serious consideration to deployment and living conditions to enhance the operational capability of the CRPF.