Police is running India's BSF into the ground

It's just one of the problems plaguing the border force.

 |  6-minute read |   23-02-2017
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Media channels, perhaps realising that the episode of Border Security Force (BSF) constable Tej Bahadur Yadav is not worth more TRPs, have fallen silent on the issue after a flurry of cantankerous discussions that painted the force as all black.

Yadav had posted a video - which went viral - claiming that poor quality food was being served to jawans posted along the border.

The video succeeded in breaking the “conspiracy of silence” about the service conditions of the central armed forces - something that numerous sacrifices by jawans failed to achieve. Prominent personalities and mediapersons drew the government's attention towards the deplorable condition of the forces.

Having served in the BSF - the largest border force of the world - for over 38 years, I can confidently say that the major problems of the force emanate from the fact that policy-level and most of supervisory-level leadership does not belong to it, and those in charge at the top, not being aware of ground realities, are not up to the task of management.

With due regard for some very honourable exceptions, Indian Police Service (IPS) officers on deputation to the BSF do not have an insight into the ethos of the force, neither are they equipped with the wherewithal for that. Further, the transient nature of this parachuted leadership precludes them from developing any interest in familiarising themselves about the same.

The above fact was succinctly brought out by several writers, journalists and other prominent persons in aftermath of Yadav's viral video.

Journalist Shekhar Gupta had tweeted: “Big CPMF problem is IPS Rule at the top. Unlike Army where Generals pay their dues as young officers, IPS never serves with troops at the front.”

His lack of confidence in the ability of the IPS brass to manage the large central armed forces was further articulated in an article in Business Standard on January 14 this year.

MP Minakshi Lekhi (in an article in Frontline) as well as other writers expressed similar views. Abhinav Kumar, an IPS officer who recently joined the BSF on deputation directly as IG, in a piece in The Indian Express on January 17 obliquely referred to the issue by stating that the matter of leadership of the central armed forces will have to be settled by taking into consideration the role of the organisation.

Agreeing with Abhinav, an analysis of the role and tasks of the BSF would be essential. The necessity of having a separate force for guarding the borders of India arose in the aftermath of the Kuchh invasion by Pakistan in 1965, because state police forces were found to be inadequate in guarding the border and handling skirmishes.

The BSF was thereafter raised on December 1, 1965. File notings of then home secretary and discussions in Parliament on the BSF Bill, available on the internet, are clear indicators of the thinking of lawmakers in this regard.

The lawmakers wanted a versatile force capable of maintaining the sanctity of the borders with Pakistan (now Pakistan and Bangladesh) during peace time, while possessing the capabilities to handle minor skirmishes with the enemy and function as the first line of defence.

Organisation and training of the force, therefore, required it to be equipped to withstand the first burnt of enemy attack and hold ground till the Army was mobilised. The force was also needed to assist civil administration whenever the need arose.

bahadur-embed_022317054134.jpg Tej Bahadur Yadav (Photo: Facebook) 

Leadership of the force, hence, needs to be versatile, having specialised training in all of the above aspects. However, the borrowed IPS leadership of BSF does not have this training. IPS officers visibly lack the ability to handle serious conflict situations along the borders, such as unprovoked firing in the Jammu sector. They are often so ignorant about the BSF that they think 60 mm and 81 mm mortar are the same except for 21 mm size difference in the launching tube!

More so, their training and grooming being police-oriented, they tend to impose the practises prevalent in the police force, leading to disastrous consequences.

As the first line of defence, the BSF is organised on Army pattern, with a battalion being the smallest entity capable of functioning independently.

Operational requirements necessitate that identity of the unit be kept intact, thus enabling the command to know the capabilities and limitations of troops intimately and utilise them accordingly during operations as well as times of peace.

About four years ago, the IPS leadership, in spite of contrary advice from cadre officers, convinced the government to order rotation of one-third troops in each unit every year. Thanks to some BSF veterans, the correct picture was projected and the home ministry rescinded the controversial plan, preventing a major dent in the operational efficiency of the force.

Another decision wreaking havoc on efficiency of units and putting a heavy burden on command is the increase in the number of companies from six to seven, without a corresponding increase in support staff. The unit commandant is thus responsible for about 20 per cent additional operational area and administration of men, leading to serious compromise of efficiency.

The decision was implemented in early 2000 on experimental basis, however, there has been total lack of purposeful pursuance by the leadership in spite of several representations by cadre officers. It is this overburdening of command that leads to aberrations like the one manifested in Yadav's video. 

Further, abysmal personnel management by the force speaks of abject failure of the leadership. Cadre review of group A officers due every five years was done last year only under orders from the Delhi High Court after a gap of 25 years!

The entire exercise, which results in temporary relief for a few officers at the middle level, simply does not address long term issues and in that, it has played with the structure of the BSF through unwarranted proliferation of ranks.

Ironically, the cadre review meant for the BSF cadre resulted in enhancing avenues for IPS officers by increasing vacancies at the higher level - mostly reserved for them.

The career management of personnel below officer-level is even worse, with troops getting their first promotion only after 22-23 years. There is a lot of dissatisfaction among all ranks on this account. Acute stagnation has been caused by lack of planning and foresight in growth of the force and intake of personnel. This has also resulted in diluting the standards of training by alternate overburdening and underutilisation of training capacity, thereby adversely effecting operational efficiency.

Perennial shortage and poor quality of clothing and equipment in spite of adequate budget is due to the wrong policy of centralising procurement of major items at force headquarters, leading to lengthy and wasteful processes and long supply chain.

Abject lack of familiarity on the part of the transient IPS leadership regarding the operational philosophy of the force and their inability to lead from the front is a serious cause of concern as well as compromise of national security. Their professional inadequacies are further accentuated by lack of emotional bonding, connect and a sense of regimentation with the force. Most of them are interested in only biding time in the central forces, taking the duty as an all-perks sabbatical.

The political leadership urgently needs to look into the matter and take remedial measures to pass the baton to cadre officers who, after over 50 years of existence in the BSF, have gained sufficient experience and maturity to lead it.

Also read: BSF jawan's video: Don't shoot the messenger


Sanjiv Krishan Sood Sanjiv Krishan Sood @sood_2

The writer is a retired additional director general of the Border Security Force.

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