The one thing detestable in this entire episode is that it has painted all uniformed people with the same brush.
It is unfortunate, but we live in difficult times when social media has paralysed propriety and correctness, two things on which organisations such as these rely hugely.
When the recent video complaint by a Border Security Force (BSF) constable started doing the round on social media, it was a matter of time before opinions of all kinds were expressed. Social media has a way of empowering people with simply no knowledge of the subject, or connect, to become experts. That was the reason why I declined to go on any television channel to discuss an affair, which must be dealt with purely by the BSF in the way it thinks best. Officials and former officials can step in only to spoil inter-organisation relationships and unnecessarily cast aspersions. What is important for me is to explain, for public information, what the system of logistics is for our troops on the field; a reassuring explanation not to take these aberrations as the system. I am doing this because the video pertains to BSF deployment along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, as evident from the video. People first need to know that BSF is a Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), and is not the Indian Army. It works under the Ministry of Home Affairs and not under the Ministry of Defence.
All along the LoC, BSF units add strength to the Army’s deployment both in ‘No War No Peace’ (NWNP) and wartime conditions. It is trained for irregular operations, NWNP conditions of border management and defensive deployment for conventional operations; not for offensive operations or anything to do with capture of ground. Along the International Border (IB), the BSF deploys itself during peace time. It is only during mobilisation that the Army moves into ‘hot war’ deployment. It is then that the BSF redeploys tactically and in sync with the Army, its units coming under command of the Army. However, in J&K’s LoC environment, BSF units are tactically deployed with the Army and placed under its command, even during NWNP.
There are many connotations of the term ‘under command’, which soldiers understand very well and one need not split hairs over it here; the only one relevant for this explanation is that the operational logistics of these units becomes the responsibility of the Army. The administration is still in the hands of the units themselves; this involves the best use of the resources provided. For example, the cooking of food to the taste and need of the jawans, the hygiene and sanitation and the medical necessities all become a unit's responsibility. It is the responsibility of the controlling organisation under which the unit/sub-unit is placed, to provide the necessities keeping financial and availability aspects in mind. A fine way to understand this is with reference to advance winter stocking (AWS).
The Army caters for AWS in a huge way. The necessity is because the climatic, terrain and human related constraints may cause impediments to the smooth process of daily maintenance, which is the usual way of maintaining deployed troops. Anywhere in India, the Army units will always have a certain amount of reserve stocks in addition to the running stocks, which are under normal consumption. However, the LoC/Line of Actual Control conditions, being what they are, can impose huge constraints on the smooth flow of logistics. Thus stocks of upto predetermined levels based on experience are dumped at the location, where the troops are stationed. Stocks are dumped for a fairly long period in winter. Units thus do not have to look over their shoulders. With the BSF deployed alongside the Army at these locations the same rules apply; the same period of stocking is resorted to. To execute the stocking effort, Army’s staff officers and provisioning logistics units, along with those responsible for transportation, meet frequently from as early as six months before the movement commences. Details are chalked out and demands placed; the procurement process of course takes long in the rear and higher chain.
Finally, in May-June each year, the dumping efforts begin and convoys start moving. These are long convoys one sees winding along mountain roads in Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu sectors; equal amount of effort goes on in the East and the Central sectors of their northern borders. Units receive these stocks at their bases, the biggest commodity being kerosene for cooking and heating purposes, and dry rations. BSF units are also receiving units. Vegetables, fruit and meat are catered through tinned stocks, which are meticulously calculated as per authorisation tables based on the strength of troops. The important thing is that Army and BSF units are responsible to ensure that the stocks delivered to their bases are transported to the posts in summer by vehicle, animal transport or porters. Vehicles are part of unit equipment, and other transport resources are hired as per the needs of the terrain. There is usually no shortage of funds from the government for this, although each year, there is a running feud with financial authorities to enhance the amount.
The long and the short is that, as far as rations and basic comforts such as fuel for warming, drying and cooking are concerned, there is simply no shortage in the system. It is then a question of efficient management by units supervised by their superior formations. Let me outline for the reader the type of concern food for jawans draws from the leadership at all levels. While commanding 15 Corps, I made random calls almost every night to remote posts in the Corps Zone and spoke to the lowest commanders and even individual jawans. There were only three things I discussed with a jawan at the other end; first, the time when he had last been on leave; two, the weather and enemy threats to his security; and three, the quality of rations he was getting. I was particular in placing their minds at rest and then inquiring about the fresh rations, the state of bukharis (kerosene heaters) at the post and even the quantity and state of snow boots. I got some startlingly frank responses and could immediately make amends. For the non-uniformed public community, to whom this article is addressed, it will be good to know that in winter no fresh ration is possible to be supplied but there are sufficient stocks of tinned vegetables, egg powder and dry commodities like ‘Nutri Nuggets’, which are already stocked at posts.
In summer, the vegetables provided by contractors at bases suffer the hazards of transportation by all kinds of means and may not always end up at posts in the form that you will find in Delhi’s mandis. These are constraints we all accept. Through winter, on almost all good weather days, I flew in a Cheetah helicopter to cut off posts at the LoC to meet officers and troops, some in winter cut-off deployment, which means no rear movement for six months. In the helicopter, at the cost of much discomfort, I invariably carried a big box of fresh vegetables, some fruits and a fruit cake for the officers along with as many newspapers of the last seven days I could lay my hands on. Along with it a few bottles of pickle based on the likings of the troops I was visiting. People deployed at the LoC love these novelties.
With all the loose talk about lack of concern from officers for administration of troops, let me candidly state that officers of the Army will go to ridiculous limits to meet the culinary requirements of their jawans. I do remember a time when there was a temporary shortage of rice due to some contract related problems. Units from Assam and South India had a problem meeting the demand. All of us from the flanking North Indian units decided to give all our rice to these units and opted for only chapatis for the next couple of weeks. Unit administration is a command responsibility; the best operational logistics cannot satisfy troops if the unit administration is weak. The regimental system of the Army is a huge plus in this regard. One needs to bless our young officers who merge and integrate with the men and many a time will be found even cooking along with them.
So what has Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav to complain about? Somewhere the unit administration in his BSF unit has gone awry; the operational logistics is uniform for all because the higher headquarters ensures this. The unit administration is based upon the commitment of the Commanding Officer and his administrative staff. Why wasn’t there a system for grievances? The answer is, simply because someone in the chain of administration does not have the experience of being with the men at the posts.
For those casting aspersions on officers and the quality of the food they are served, they need to be informed that officers and men at forward posts eat exactly the same food. Some supplements such as pickles or condiments may be added by the officer at his own cost. In my own unit we ensured that variety was always provided even if some regimental funds had to be spent. Condiments, salad, chutneys and raita are all part of the fun of planning ‘langar menus’ for the men.
It is not for me to cast aspersions on any individual, service or system. There are good and bad people everywhere; equally there are experienced and inexperienced people too. This case should be taken as an expose of possible callousness due to inexperience, lack of commitment or simply a lack of the most important thing which keeps men in such situations going – officer leadership and being in touch with the men.
If there is truth in the allegations obviously someone without sense of commitment was responsible for unit administration and he needs to be taken to task. The one thing detestable in this entire episode is that it has painted all uniformed people with the same brush; unfortunate, but we live in difficult times when social media has paralysed propriety and correctness, two things on which organisations such as these rely hugely.