Who should head a force that guards the India-Tibet border, or the India-Bangladesh border, or a force that battles Maoist and Islamist terrorists? The obvious answer would be: a person who has the knowledge, and decades of experience, of guarding borders or fighting terrorists. But no, we have men who are supposed to be experts in policing heading the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). The director generals (DGs) of the BSF, ITBP and SSB which are mandated to play a critical role in India's defence and guarding the country's borders have little domain knowledge and appreciation of the organisational ethos and character of the forces they head, and can’t match even a small portion of the specialised experience that the men they command possess.
Their only qualification: they are IPS officers who, as a former additional DG of the BSF says in this critique of IPS officers heading the country’s Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), are “one exam wonders who just got lucky” (meaning, they passed just one exam -the UPSC civil services exams - to enter the service). IPS officers also head the other two CAPFs - the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which is tasked with guarding vital installations and airport security, and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) which has, among its various tasks, conducting counterinsurgency (CI) and counter-terror (CT) operations in many parts of the country.
But it is not just a leadership issue. The top echelons of the CAPFs remaining the exclusive preserves of IPS officers has been causing great harm to these forces, breeding resentment among the ranks, and leading to an irreversible breakdown of morale. All these forces have their own cadre officers who, despite giving their best to their respective forces, are denied the opportunity of reaching the top ranks. Instead, they have to subdue their professional pride and serve under IPS officers who mostly do not have the required acumen, leadership skills and experience required for the jobs. And in most such cases, IPS officers look at deputation to the CAPFs as convenient and cushy getaways when the going gets tough for them in their own states for myriad reasons.
The 3.13 lakh strong force is deployed throughout the country and plays a key role in insurgency-affected areas of the Northeast, terrorist-infested Kashmir and Maoist-infested areas of India. Most of the 243 battalions of the CRPF, including the 10 CoBRA battalions, are deployed on active duty. The force participated in all the wars fought by independent India and was also part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, besides being part of UN Peacekeeping Missions in Haiti, Namibia, Somalia and the Maldives. But few, just a handful actually, of the IPS officers who come on deputation to the force have any idea of counter-insurgency (CI) and anti-terrorism (AT) operations or even of armed combat, weapons, tactics, intelligence gathering and planning and executing CI or AT operations.
The CRPF recruits men and officers directly and they form the backbone of the force. The officer cadets are trained at the CRPF Academy at Gurgaon before being commissioned into the force while the other ranks are trained at various training centres around the country. The training is rigorous and CRPF cadre officers and men have to undergo continuous training throughout their careers. “Passing courses, including the counter insurgency and counter-terrorism training at our CIAT School is a prerequisite for promotion. It is very much like the army. But the IPS officers who lord over us don’t undergo such training and courses and most of them don’t have the foggiest idea of operations, planning and logistics. Most IPS officers are not trained and oriented towards counter-insurgency operations which is one of the primary mandates of the CRPF. The IPS officers are, at best, specialists in managing simple law and order situations and crime detection and control. They are, thus, unfit to serve in the senior most ranks of the CRPF,” said Surinder Singh, a CRPF officer who retired as a DIG a couple of years ago.
The deep resentment harboured by the thousands of CRPF cadre officers over the dominance, and the domineering attitude of the IPS officers who occupy the top positions in the force is having a gravely deleterious effect on the force. The morale of the cadre officers suffers as they find their career progression avenues shrinking progressively as they go up the ladder. And that is the reason an increasing number of CRPF officers are resigning from service every year. The lateral entry of IPS officers starts at the level of DIG. Eighty per cent of posts at this level are reserved for CRPF cadre officers, but at the next level (of IG), 50 per cent posts are reserved for IPS officers. CRPF cadre officers can occupy only one-third of the posts of additional DG, and above that, all posts are reserved for IPS officers.
CRPF cadre officers, frustrated with poor service conditions and lack of promotional and career advancement avenues, thus suffer from low morale and motivation. This results in them caring little for their own troops. That is why one often hears the complain that unlike in the army, CRPF officers don’t often lead from the front. As for the IPS officers leading the force or manning the senior most positions, they often have no sense of belonging and treat their stints in the CRPF as sinecures. “A commander is supposed to know his men, care about them and be sensitive to their needs. But IPS officers who come to the CRPF on deputation, with some honourable exceptions, couldn’t care less. They opt for deputations to the CRPF as a safe and secure place to park themselves for a few years mostly to avoid inconvenient political and other problems in their cadre states,” said Shyam Bhatnagar, a CRPF cadre officer who retired as a DIG from Chhattisgarh a few years ago.
It is because of the uncaring attitude of the IPS officers that the CRPF, and the others CAPFs as well, suffer from severe infrastructure and equipment shortages. The CRPF troops don’t even have proper clothing, especially in the higher altitudes they are often posted at, and the severe shortage of modern weapons and ammunition, the outdated weapons the troops are equipped with, their poor living conditions and their miserable rations have all been written about extensively. “It is the responsibility of the person who heads the force to ensure that the men under his command are adequately fed, clothed, housed and equipped. But the IPS officers who head the force seldom have any feelings towards the force and thus the men suffer,” said Bhatnagar.
The CRPF thus suffers from a lack of esprit de corps that is so necessary in any uniformed and fighting force. Poor leadership is also held to be responsible for the alarming rise in the number of suicides and fratricides in the force. The irony here, as pointed out by B S R Reddy, a CRPF cadre officer who resigned from service when he was the commandant of a battalion a few years ago and is now a successful coffee planter, is that the CRPF is often inducted into a state when the state police fail to control the law and order situation. “But the very men (the IPS officers) who have failed in their duties in the states are made to head the CRPF. What can be more ironical can that,” he asks.
Of late, IPS officers have become very reluctant to join the CRPF at the level of DIGs. That’s because the DIG is a field posting that often involves planning operations at the ground level and being posted in insurgency affected areas. “This itself proves that IPS officers only want cushy postings and are thus unfit to lead a fighting force,” said Reddy. This is not to say, of course, that all IPS officers who have headed the force lacked the qualities required for the job. There were some notable exceptions like K P S Gill, M N Sabharwal and K Vijay Kumar. But, as they say, they were the exceptions.
If IPS officers are unsuited to head the CRPF, they are even more ill-suited to head the border forces like the BSF, the ITBP and the SSB. The BSF is also deployed in CI and CT duties and is an important part of the security grid in Kashmir and the Maoist-affected areas.
The same problems that plague the CRPF are present in the BSF too, and BSF cadre officers are bristling with resentment over the stranglehold of ill-suited IPS officers on the force’s top ranks. “These IPS officers have no knowledge and experience of border management and the operations we routinely undertake, especially along the Indo-Pak border. They have never served in the borders and then they come and command us. They have no idea of the job and simply sit in their well-appointed offices in the cities far away from operational areas and pass orders which make no sense. And they have no love for or any sort of bond with the BSF. There is no sense of brotherhood between them and the force and, hence, the force suffers. All BSF cadre officers are extremely frustrated at the lack of career progression due to IPS officers occupying the top posts and that has affected the morale of the force,”said Surinder Gill, a former DIG of the BSF.
But the BSF has had its share of good IPS officers like its first DG K F Rustamji, E N Rammohan, Ajai Raj Sharma, R S Mooshahary and Raman Srivastava. But, as with the CRPF, they were exceptions and a bulk of the IPS officers who come on deputation to the force do so just to enjoy the perks and to get away from inconvenient or hostile situations in their cadre states.
The ITBP is headed by R K Pachnanda, a 1983 batch IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre. He is an economic honours graduate and also a law graduate and had served in the CBI, SPG, BSF, CISF, CRPF and NDRF, besides the Bengal Police. Pachnanda was unceremoniously removed as Kolkata Police Commissioner (read this and this) in mid-February 2013 after standing up for a police officer who was murdered on duty by a Trinamool Congress goon. Soon after that, he opted for deputation and has been serving in various CAPFs and in other capacities in New Delhi since then. “His (Pachnanda’s) equations with (Bengal CM) Mamata Banerjee are very bad and so he never wanted to return to Bengal,” said a serving IPS officer in the state.
The ITBP is a specialised border force tasked with guarding the 3,488-kilometre long India-Tibet border. The force was raised after the Indo-China border war of 1962 and is a mountain trained force whose troops and cadre officers are all trained mountaineers and skiers. The ITBP is deployed at very high altitudes and in inhospitable and remote areas that no IPS officer would ever have served in. Thus, ITBP cadre officers and troops are resentful of IPS officers who have never climbed even a low hill or spent a night in the icy heights in a tent or survived a blizzard occupying the most coveted ranks in the force. That these IPS officers have no knowledge of border management, operational requirements, tactics, weapons, patrolling etc and of the ethos of the force also contributes to the many problems that the ITBP is grappling with today. An ITBP officer who did not want to be named recalled an incident when a visiting DG had to be gently corrected when he pointed to a grenade launcher and asked how far it could fire a missile. “These IPS officers often have to be educated about the weapons we have and most don’t even know how to handle the advanced weapons we possess,” he said.
The SSB is mandated to guard the 2450-kilometre long open borders with Nepal and Bhutan and plays a highly specialised role in border management, vigilance, anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling and in preventing cross-border movement of militants. The force is also engaged in CI and CT operations in Kashmir, Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. The complex tasks handled by the SSB are totally alien to IPS officers, but the latter continue to occupy the top posts in the SSB.
The presence of IPS officers in the top ranks of these uniformed forces who are mandated with specialised tasks is causing irreversible damage to the CRPF, BSF, ITBP and even the CISF. It is high time the political leadership steps in and puts an end to the harmful practice of deputing IPS officers to these forces. The cadre officers of these forces are trained and motivated enough to head them and IPS officers should remain confined to their policing roles in the states.
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