One of the immediate fallouts of the September 7 explosion at the Delhi High Court was a change in guard. A decision was taken to replace the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (RAC), which was guarding the premises until the blast, with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), thus adding yet again to the plethora of responsibilities assigned to this force.
This is also an example of the country’s policy on the bourgeoning population of paramilitary forces, who have been pushed from one area of responsibility to the other, without much thought. The narrative on the paramilitary forces (now called the Central Armed Police Forces, CAPFs) is indeed one of rapid numerical growth as well as of enormously expanded responsibilities. The CAPFs, with a strength of 780,000 personnel, now resemble a second army for the country. And this number is projected to grow, probably to overcome the Indian Army numbering about 1.1 million, in few years. The CAPF organisations will remain the largest government employers for many years to come.
While such astounding growth is a necessity for the country in some measure, what is baffling is the blurring of the functional distinctiveness among the forces. Traditional responsibilities of these forces organised under seven different names range from acting as border guarding forces to protecting law and order by fighting rioters, insurgents and terrorists. While none of these original duties have lost their relevance, today to distinguish the forces on the basis of their responsibilities is indeed a difficult task.
Post-Kargil war, the CRPF was recommended to be the primary counter-insurgency (COIN) force. However, almost after a decade of such recommendation, it continues to be the Chalte Raho Pyare Force (translating into Carry on Marching Force), a loose reference to its assumption of mind-boggling array of duties. The same fate has befallen on the rest of the CAPFs as well. The Border Security Force (BSF), whose role is “security of India’s border and matters connected therewith”, operates on election duties, riot control in states that are far removed from the Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh borders.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, supposed to be guarding the Indo-Tibetan border, are deployed to protect Indian mission in Afghanistan that gives the personnel about five times their normal salary. Post-1998 Mumbai attack, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel are available for deployment to protect private installations, in return for a payment. This is in addition to their deployments for VIP security, disaster management and also as a Formed Police Unit of the UN at Haiti. Personnel of the National Security Guards, an elite counter-terrorism commando force, are also deployed in VIP protection. The list goes on.
The internal security challenges and the perennial demand for forces for routine law and order duties has led the home ministry to gloss over the specific duties for which these forces were raised. The 80 battalions of Central forces deployed in the Naxal theatres include the BSF, the ITBP, the CISF, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) apart from the CRPF.
Whereas such deployment can be justified on the ground of shortages of forces required to assist the state police forces, what remain inexcusable are the political decisions to misuse even the CAPFs, passing out after advanced COIN training. And both the Central and state governments have been guilty of this. Earlier this year, New Delhi deployed the personnel of the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA), a 10-battalion-strong force within the CRPF raised specifically for carrying out anti-Naxal duties, in poll-bound and Congress-ruled Assam. Almost in the same vein, a large number of CRPF personnel, after being trained by counter-insurgency and jungle warfare schools, are deployed for VIP protection duties, constituting a complete waste of their talent and training.
As the home ministry’s decades-long modernisation programme for the CAPFs focuses on augmenting the capacity of the forces, won’t it be a better idea to simply merge the CAPF organisations under one head? Why maintain seven different organisations if the CAPFs, irrespective of the colour of their badges, are to carry out similar duties? If need be, there can be only two different divisions among the CAPFs—one, for COIN duties, and the other for the rest. It will take care of the competition for resources among the different CAPF organisations; address the problem of coordination among them; allow better rotation of forces between stressful and not so stressful duties; and consolidate seven modernisation plans into one. If we accept that the Indian Army is doing well under just one supreme command, why not bring the CAPFs under a similar arrangement?
This article appeared at Express Buzz and is reprinted with permission