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Time to merge troops under home ministry

When forces assigned to a particular mission end up doing slightly different things, it is called ‘mission creep’. Guarding the Himalayan frontiers requires an entirely different set of skills, equipment, mindset and organisational structure compared to protecting the vice president from assassins.

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A few days ago I walked into a rally in the narrow, crowded lanes of Hyderabad’s old city.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen was celebrating its 53rd anniversary with a procession that took it through communally sensitive areas.

In addition to the khaki-clad local policemen, I also saw a detail of armed security personnel. Sporting camouflage-patterned combat fatigues and a no-nonsense demeanour, they walked in single files on either side of the congested lane.

Their epaulettes identified them as belonging to the ‘BSF’, the Border Security Force. Now according to the Union ministry of home affairs, the BSF ‘keeps vigil along the line of control in J&K, the Indo-Pak border and the Indo-Bangladesh border’.

But here it was, in Hyderabad, keeping vigil along Abid Road.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police was raised to guard India’s boundaries with China. But in February last, home minister P Chidambaram inaugurated a new ITBP camp at Idayapatti, near Madurai, a few thousand miles away from the northern borders.

The camp, he explained, would not only allow South Indian ITBP personnel to stay close to their families, but would also allow them to assist state governments in times of any emergency.

Over the years, this force has been used to protect VIPs in New Delhi, carry out counter-insurgency operations in J&K, protect Manasarovar yatra pilgrims, and secure Indian facilities in Afghanistan.

The efficient, smart and often female personnel you encounter at airports are from the Central Industrial Security Force. It was first raised to secure vital public-sector units. In response to terrorist threats, it is now also deployed at a few large private corporations.

Another 128 private corporations have requested its protection, a service for which they are required to, and are ready to, pay. And a CISF contingent is guarding the UN mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By now you might have realised that there is a gap between the stated missions and the actual jobs that our central paramilitary forces are tasked with. This gap is widening.

When forces assigned to a particular mission end up doing slightly different things, it is called ‘mission creep’. Guarding the Himalayan frontiers requires an entirely different set of skills, equipment, mindset and organisational structure compared to protecting the vice president from assassins.

Mixing up the two not only creates inefficiencies but risks undermining their overall effectiveness. In the case of our paramilitary forces, ‘mission creep’ is too mild a phrase to describe the actual situation.

The gap is widening not because of a shortage of manpower, funds, or a sense of purpose. An ITBP recruitment rally in January, in Bareilly, UP, attracted over 100,000 aspirants for a mere 416 positions.

Chidambaram has not only provided ‘huge amounts for procurement’ of modern equipment but also pushed the expansion programme through the government machinery.

So our paramilitary forces will almost certainly have many more battalions and better weapons in the years to come. However, without structural reforms, it is unlikely that the outlays will lead to better outcomes.

Why do we need BSF for the border with Pakistan, but the ITBP for the border with China and the Sashastra Seema Bal for the borders with Nepal and Bhutan? Why should the Assam Rifles be distinct from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)?

My colleague Bibhu Prasad Routray argues that it is a good idea to merge the various central paramilitary forces into a single force. Indeed, given that most of them are doing each others’ jobs anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to bring them under one chain of command?

If this is way too radical, then why not rationalise them into three forces with distinct roles - internal security, border security, and infrastructure security? This is as good for accountability as it is for the forces to develop greater competence within their domains.

In fact, massive expansion of central paramilitary forces without structural reforms could end up being counterproductive. The most important links in the internal security chain are the beat constable, the local police station, and the deputy superintendent of police. Policing is a state subject.

The massive expansion of central paramilitary forces after 26/11 belies the total refusal of all state governments to implement the Supreme Court-ordered police reforms.

Indian states persist with a colonial police structure designed to keep a subject population under the rulers’ thumb. Persuading them to change is hard enough. If a state government comes to believe that it has easy access to large numbers of central forces, it will have fewer incentives to improve its own police force.

The goal of internal security should not be about sending the CRPF (and certainly not the BSF) to Hyderabad. It should be about ensuring that the Andhra Pradesh police can handle the task without outside help.

Nitin Pai is founder & fellow  for geopolitics at Takshashila
Institution and editor of Pragati —The Indian National Interest Review

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