Monday, 22 October 2012

Heavy attrition, suicides bleed paramilitary forces

A high attrition rate in paramilitary forces forced the government to commission a study by IIM-Ahmedabad on the reasons for such high churn.

What the study found comes as no surprise to those familiar with working conditions in the paramilitary forces. It said continuous posting in difficult areas, long working hours, sleep deprivation, denial of leave, lack of healthcare facilities and delay in promotions and pay parity were all leading to unbearable stress among personnel.

The situation, say insiders, is grimmer than what the statistics reveal. Personnel often say it is easier to fight a war on the border than be in a continuous battle inside one's own country. "In a war you know where the bullet is going to come from. Fighting Naxals in the jungle, you do not even know where you are," said a CRPF man who has served in Chhattisgarh.

Add to it the challenge of fighting two enemies at a time - the 'double M', Maoists and malaria. "You are either going to die of a bullet or of a mosquito bite. The healthcare facilities are poor and at times we have to spend out of our own pocket for treatment that too after traveling great distances in treacherous terrains," said another CRPF man.

Living in a jungle, they say, is far worse than serving in any other terrain. "In areas such as tiger reserves, nothing is allowed to be built, not even toilets. So jawans are forced to defecate in the open. We once lost a jawan to a wild animal while he was relieving himself," said an officer engaged in anti-naxal operations in Bihar.

In the Army, difficult postings are generally followed by periods in peace positions. That does not happen quite so frequently in the paramilitary. Denial or delay in grant of leave adds to the gloom. The IIM study has recorded that many jawans are granted leave after their leave requirement is over. "This leads to alienation from family, the only stress buster for our personnel. In such deprivation many jawans take to alcohol further wrecking their condition," said a CRPF officer.

The force, rightly or wrongly, has also been accused of numerous human rights violations which have hardly helped in keeping morale high. "The prime example is the Baseguda encounter where civilians got caught in the crossfire. The jawans thought they had conducted a successful operation. But despite suffering critical injuries, they were castigated. The situation they were in, they could not have operated in any other way," said a senior CRPF officer.

Likewise, ever since India has committed to decreasing casualties on the Indo-Bangla border forcing BSF men to use non-lethal weapons against smugglers, the personnel have suffered unprecedented attacks. "Cattle smugglers now operate with impunity. Government should legalize the trade if it does not want us to use force to stop them," said a BSF officer.

Add delay in promotions and pay parity (at officer level), and the disillusionment is complete. "While people in the Army get three promotions in 13 years, it takes us 24 years to reach the same position. Also, no matter how illustrious our career, we will never reach the top in the force. It will always go to an IPS officer. So you can't have aspirations," said a BSF cadre officer.

The force believes the government only listens to its grievances without setting any remedial action. Not surprisingly, only a couple of months ago, a clutch of senior BSF officials have approached the high court on promotions and pay parity.

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