Forget terrorists or Pakistan, the real reason why India is losing its soldiers will leave you numb

It's what all troopers need.

 |  7-minute read |   31-03-2017
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On your TV screens, all you see is the Indian soldier in top-class battle gear fearlessly marching to take on the terrorists. You see scenes on loop, freeze-framed for effect, in which the life of a soldier appears to be tough but glamorous. Meant for bravehearts.

And you thought the government, which never forgets to insert the word “soldiers” to peddle its nationalist credentials, would at least take good care of the jawans in the armed forces and our paramilitary units. But do you know that's not quite the case?

While you have read accounts of soldiers posted in Siachen complaining of low-quality food, or low-rank members of the forces asked to double up as domestic helps for senior army officers (the illustrious “buddy” system), that’s nothing compared to the grave threat to the lives of our precious troops fighting Naxals in India’s red corridor.

A report in India Today by conflict and defence correspondent Jugal Purohit lays bare the ugly truth of how complacent the government can be when it comes to the lives of our soldiers and paramilitary forces.

According to the report, Centre’s top bureaucrat, home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi has said that there’s no funds to protect Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops from Maoist Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which are used widely to target them.

The India Today report says that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has a scathing verdict on the home ministry and its handling of funds to ensure troops’ safety, going on to say that the lack of financial resources are killing our personnel.

The committee has former home minister P Chidambaram as its chair, and has 31 members in total, including ten from Rajya Sabha and 21 from Lok Sabha.

The report highlights how the Parliamentary panel stated that “the regular killing of civilians and CRPF personnel” was happening in Maoist-infested areas in India’s ten affected states, and then demanded to know from the home ministry “whether any mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles were being procured for the protection of the CRPF personnel”.

Guess what was the answer? This: The Home Secretary stated that there was no plan to procure such vehicles as they were prohibitively expensive and there was no money available for the purpose.

In other words, India’s home secretary, in his official statement to the Parliamentary panel of home affairs, has stated that the government would not be obtaining the Mine-Protected Vehicles (MPVs) because it doesn’t have the money!

This, when way back in 2009, then Union home minister had approved the procurement of 352 MPVs for use by the CRPF in Maoist-affected areas. Moreover, recently, the current home ministry from Rajnath Singh had okayed an additional fleet of 180 MPVs for the CRPF as part of its Modernisation Plan II.

What kind of insensitivity makes a government dangle its soldiers at every opportunity, while not even obtaining the long sanctioned protective vehicles (and other gears) for the jawans?

This when the number of IED blasts and resultant CRPF casualties are on an upward graph. As Jugal Purohit notes, between January 1, 2014 and March 27, 2017 – the data is as updated as it can get – the CRPF faced 121 blasts, and recovered 2,354 IEDs across affected states. Purohit notes that the CRPF lost 59 personnel and had 169 injured during this period because of IED explosions.

So what’s the solution the home secretary thinks is possible? “Light bullet-proof vehicles”.

Purohit’s report goes on to detail the grave negligence as he quotes the panel report: “The ministry was trying to work with local manufacturers for bullet-proofing the vehicles. The Joint Secretary further added that the private sector in India was not producing any mine protected vehicles with the level of protection required.”

“The home ministry was in the process of providing 300 light bullet proof vehicles within the next six months,” the India Today piece says. But as Purohit notes, and as one of the members of the parliamentary panel pointed out, “while bullet-proof vehicles were useful in J&K, however, they may not be able to protect personnel in LWE (Left-Wing extremism) affected areas in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, where hundreds of paramilitary and police personnel were getting killed because of mines and ambushes. He also stated that not sanctioning funds for such necessary equipment is grave negligence.”

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs concludes its report on the financial resource allocation within the home ministry with a scathing and no-holds-barred observation:

“The Committee is constrained to observe that lack of financial resources is becoming a reason for casualty of valuable lives of police and CRPF personnel which are being lost in the battle against Left Wing Extremism. The Committee feels that bullet-proof vehicles would not be safe or sufficient for use in LWE areas.”

It goes on to say: “On the other hand, the Ministry feels constrained to procure advanced equipment due to lack of financial resources. In such a scenario, the Committee recommends that the government should explore the opportunities created by the Make In India programme and develop indigenous vehicles. The Committee also recommends that in the meanwhile, the Ministry should explore other measures including import of suitable vehicles.”

Could anything be more hypocritical from a government that has enshrined the soldier as a metonym for its xenophobic ultra-nationalism?

The question of what is causing grave dis-affection among the tribals and other disenfranchised in the red corridor – land grab, lack of infrastructure, abject poverty, not being allowed to access the resources the residents have been taking care of for centuries at a stretch, etc – is a different one, which is the leading cause of the “left-wing extremism” that the government, including the previous one, had no qualms to point a finger at.

In an earlier report, Purohit had pointed out how the hospital in BSF’s training centre and school didn’t even have a surgeon, or an orthopaedic doctor, even though full-fledged commando training was taking place at the site. The injured had to be taken to Jazaribagh hospital about 10km away to avail basic surgery.

The report says, “The BSF's Training Centre and School has just a unit hospital with 20 beds, no special treatment facilities and no specialists, not even a surgeon. It was because of these deficiencies that the six BSF members had to be rushed to the town's civil hospital located about 10km away.”

What explains the continuing neglect of Indian forces on the ground, while turning them into a two-dimensional cardboard cutout for nationalistic chest-beating?

Is it nationalistic to let our soldiers perish or face grave injuries simply because bureaucratic entanglements cannot figure a way out to procure the necessary protective vehicles and battle-gear?

As they say, it’s easier to blame others for your crisis, but it’s difficult to look within and figure out what’s gone so terribly wrong.

Also read: India doesn't respect soldiers, the martyr is a joke



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