Saturday, February 27, 2010

With An Arm Tied

Hit hard The EFR camp in Silda, W. Bengal, that was recently attacked by Maoists

Our ill-equipped and untrained cops are easy Maoist targets

Last year, the Maoist-affected states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa received nearly Rs 190 crore in central funds to modernise their police. By the end of the financial year, the four states, which have been bearing the brunt of Maoist attacks for decades, had spent only Rs 120 crore—most of it on police housing rather than on modernisation.

At a time when countless policemen are dying from Maoist and jehadi violence, most states continue to indulge in the luxury of not spending money where it matters. Last week, when Maoists killed 24 policemen in an attack on the Silda camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in West Bengal, it brought home an ugly truth about India’s internal security architecture. The fact is, while thousands of crores continue to be spent on the military, India’s police forces have all along been suffering from monumental neglect.

A CAG report of last year gives a fair insight into how terrible this neglect is. West Bengal—where Naxals first took up the gun over four decades ago—turned out to be one of the worst performers. The report found that in West Bengal “adequate weapons were not supplied to the extremist-prone police stations. Bomb detection equipment for three districts could not be procured as the supplier, a government of India corporation which was paid an advance, had gone into liquidation”.

Similarly, the West Bengal police did not receive any live training for “handling useful weapons”, “crippling” the performance of the police. The detailed chapters of the report are littered with similar observations pointing out the chronic shortage of men and weapons that plagues the state’s police.

“Recent Maoist attacks have taken place in states where the CMs haven’t been able to strengthen the police.”Prakash Singh, Ex. DGP
In neighbouring Jharkhand, the story is not any better. While raising the preparedness of the police forces is critical to the success of anti-Maoist operations, in this state, training for counter-insurgency operations is a joke. Only 68 policemen out of the earmarked 15,939 were put through commando and counter-insurgency courses. And only 446 of the earmarked cops completed a course in weapons and tactics. In fact, Jharkhand too has been terrible at spending funds sanctioned by the central government to modernise its force. Out of the allocation of Rs 32 crore in the last fiscal year, the state has been able to spend only a paltry Rs 12 crore.

Vinod Rai, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, was so disturbed by his department’s findings that he shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year. Rai pointed out how “most police stations continue to depend on outdated and obsolete weapons, the police communication network was non-functional, the mobility of the force had been ignored and there was a severe shortage of police personnel in most states”.

W. Bengal I-G Benoy Chakraborty laments the government’s neglect of police forces

He also pointed out that states like Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa have been the worst performers when it came to filling up police vacancies. Orissa, which has borne its fair share of Maoist violence, has nearly 10,000 vacancies for policemen. Even if this shortfall were to be made up, the state lacks adequate training facilities to keep the men in shape. In Bihar, a mere “10 per cent of the total force” was trained in one training centre. The “training infrastructure was inadequate in the training schools”, the CAG noted. In his letter to the prime minister, Rai pointed out “there was a severe shortage of police personnel in all the categories in the state”. Even the available force, Rai said, “is not being trained at regular intervals as per Bureau of Police Research & Development norms, which inhibits them from tackling security-related incidents effectively”.

But some states have shown the way forward in gearing up to tackle insurgency. Chhattisgarh took a page out of Andhra Pradesh’s book and created two schools for specialised training: a jungle warfare school was set up in Kanker district, and a special task force, manned by former Indian army special forces personnel, began to train the police force in earnest. All this has resulted in the creation of a formidable police force that is prepared to operate from the mother bases, spending several days at a stretch in Maoist-infested jungles. The jungle warfare course has now become mandatory for all police personnel in the state; they are sent to the jungle warfare school soon after undergoing basic training.

But the all-India situation for policemen continues to remain grim. Union home secretary G.K. Pillai recently pointed out that the manpower shortage in the police was crippling. The actual police-public ratio, he pointed out, stood at 130 policemen for every 1,00,000 people, which is much below the minimum UN-prescribed standard of 220 policemen for every 1,00,000 citizens. India, if one were to go by this standard, falls short by nearly 6,00,000 policemen.

Former director general of police Prakash Singh, who has been pushing for police reforms, is more caustic in his observations on the sorry state of affairs. “The infrastructure in some states is very, very shoddy and disgusting. It is significant that the biggest Maoist attacks have taken place in West Bengal and Bihar, where the chief ministers have not been able to strengthen the police force,” he says. According to him, the situation is so critical that the use of force (against the Maoists) has become a necessity. “The government should prevent the creation of a liberation army, since the Maoists are already 10,000-strong. They are a powerful instrument (aimed at) subverting the Indian state and must be tackled on a war footing,” he says.

But tackling the extremist threat on a war footing is easier said than done. With decades of neglect behind them and state governments being strangely inhibited about implementing the 2006 Supreme Court guidelines on police reforms, most states continue to suffer from an ill-equipped and demoralised police force. Ironically, while recent history has forced governments to look into improving the police infrastructure in “Maoist-affected districts”, the Maoists themselves have shown no such rules of engagement. They have changed tack and begun to target the police in districts that had never reported any rebel presence earlier. With the Maoists stealing the initiative, the plight of the much-harassed Indian policeman is indeed pitiable—and needs to be addressed on a war footing.

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