India's Para Military Forces Need Radical Restructuring!

"We have created a monster in the shape of the fourth largest Para Military Force in the world which is making a big hole in the taxpayer’s pocket."

India's Para Military Forces Need Radical Restructuring!

Structuring, Role and Employment of PMF

A taxpayer is puzzled at the scale and range of our 10 lakh or so Paramilitary Forces (PMF) the fourth largest in the world. Though an indispensable requirement, these continue to proliferate at an unrealistic and unimaginable pace. I believe a decision was taken two years ago to further recruit another 1.23 lakh personnel (nearly 123 battalions).

This would take the strength of central forces to nearly 11 lakh-more or less equivalent to the strength of the regular Army. Therefore, crucial questions arise? Why can’t we merge those forces which are performing the same tasks? What are the major disadvantages of multiplicity and why have the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the National Security Council (NSC) not rationalized this situation?

Do we need these forces at this scale when finally, for instance after the Dantewada incident in 2010 (75 jawans of Central Reserve Police Force were killed by Maoists), we are still wanting the Army and are now going to recruit Ex-Servicemen for the tasks. If that is so, then the PMF needs a serious look and total restructuring.

Types of PMF and Their Proliferation

Today, India has 15-16 types of PMF: CRPF, Border Security Force (BSF), National Security Gaurd (NSG), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Defence Security Corps (DSC), Assam Rifles, Railway Protection Force (RPF), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), India Reserve battalions (IRB) and some more outfits like the CRPF's Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (COBRA) a commando force of nearly 10,000 personnel organized on the lines of Greyhound’s in Andhra Pradesh.

In addition to the Territorial Army (TA), Rashtriya Rifles (RR), a Garud Force the IAF has been planning to raise for defence of airfields and the Army. The question is, what are we trying to achieve?

Several proposals are still pending with the Government which when implemented would increase the expenditure. Indian Reserve Battalions to get 35,000 personnel (sanctioned in Dec. 2007), Assam Rifles to get 26 additional battalions (sanctioned Jan 2010) ITBP to get an additional battalion for Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) warfare and disaster management, CRPF to get 13 additional battalions for anti-Naxalite operations (sanctioned Jan 2008).

That is not all; CRPF has created its own Spy Wing (sanctioned in Feb 2005).  It wants to set up a Disaster Management Institute at Latur, Maharashtra (cost 100 crore), It wants more institutes: An Internal Security Academy at Mt Abu, an all India Police Academy, an OTS and a recruit training institute (sanctioned Nov 2006) And now there is a proposal to bifurcate the CRPF, one half to deal with soft targets and the other for dealing with hard targets.

RPF is to raise a women’s battalion and awaits Hi-Tech equipment for nearly 100 crores (sanctioned in Oct 2008). ITBP has three training institutes and wants two more and a satellite facility. One can go on and on with the list of demands of each PMF!

Basic and Enlarged Role of PMF During War & Peace

There cannot be any disagreement on the issue that when war breaks out, there are many peacetime duties mostly of a Police nature which are required to be carried out at the border. Prevention of smuggling, protection of check posts, patrolling, safeguarding of installations close to the border as well as protection of bridges, railway lines or even tackling dacoits, are just a few of these.

If the Army was to undertake such tasks, then it would need two types of units: one for Police duties during peace and the other for military operations during war. This would weaken the Army. Accordingly, the PMF are required for protection of the border in peace as well as to restore order within the country when the Police fail to do so.

The roles of PMF have however been enlarged to include: Protection of industrial and administrative establishments which are of National importance (by RPF), the environment and of construction for in inaccessible areas like building of roads in northern borders (by the Border Roads Organisation) and so on. Most of these PMF are organized on the pattern of the Indian Army but do not come under the Army or the Army Act.

They carry light weapons and follow separate chains of command except in sensitive areas like Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) where even during peace, PMF deployed at the Line of Control (LoC) are placed under the Army’s operational command. It is essential that PMF are so organised, trained and equipped, that they are in a position to convert to an active operational role at the outbreak of hostilities when placed under the Army. This is generally the pattern followed all over the world. No reason why it should not be followed in India.

Role Of ITBP/BSF and the Need for a Merger

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ITBP trooper maintaining vigil (File photo)

In the last 60 years or so, a variety of PMF have sprung up. Some raised in a hurry like the ITBP after the Sino-Indian agreement on trade was signed in 1954. Its task was to provide protection to the border check posts on the Indo-Tibetan border. As the Army was not able to spare troops, after 1962, the ITBP was expanded to operate as a guerrilla force. Its role has since been brought at par with the BSF, raised in 1965.

Therefore, a force which should have either merged with the BSF or dispensed with has now acquired a separate identity. In Mar 2008, a decision was taken to raise 13 additional battalions to be deployed on the Sino-Indian border. It is also raising a women’s battalion (commando) to be deployed at Nathula in Sikkim to frisk traders and for protection of VIPs even at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Multiplicity of Forces and Need for Integration

As regards multiplicity of forces: This means a separate Director General (DG) and the connected hierarchical structure for each PMF, separate training establishments, separate budget and rules and regulations for service and recruitment and a distinct chain of command under separate ministries. Further, each PMF wants more units, more funds, more officers, better accommodation and weapons and additional transport to perform its tasks. The bureaucracy and ministries under whose control these functions, in turn feel justified to get such recommendations through.

As a result, fragmentation of effort and competition with each other for narrow interests cannot be avoided. Assam Rifles, a 31-battalion force is now raising another 31 battalions for the Indo-Myanmar border. The raising of each battalion costs 10-12 crore. Besides, led by regular officers, the Army will find it difficult to provide them the additional officers in view of its own shortage of nearly 50% against its authorisation.

There are sufficient examples to show that similar tasks are being performed by different PMFs. For instance, the ITBP, BSF or the Assam Rifles, but on different channels. In an operational sector controlled by the Army, one may find the BSF, Assam Rifles or the ITBP units deployed side by side in addition to the regular Army units at the international border. Or there may be Village Guards, CRPF or a medley of state and central intelligence agencies.

Besides, there is the DSC for providing protection and security cover to the Army, Navy and IAF installations and Ordnance Depots, CISF for providing security cover to Public Sector undertakings (PSU), BRO for developing road communications in remote areas and RPF for providing security cover to the Railways.

Now the issue is that when the NSC was formed and became functional with appointed NSA, their first important task should have been whether India can afford the luxury of having such many PMF? Further, multiplicity of PMF has created the most serious problem: Lack of coordination:

PMF Must Effectively Support the Army

If these forces are to support the Army besides taking on the first shock at the border, then a number of important issues need looking into: their equipment, officer cadre and its age group (an older Colonel will not be in a position to handle stressful assignments at the border) and training. India’s current and future security environment requires the conversion of resources to a war time machine in the shortest possible time.

Assam Rifles and the Rashtriya Rifles are the only PMF whose units can be treated at par with regular army units except that they do not carry heavy weapons. The remaining PMF have Police officers except the BSF which has a sprinkling of army officers. Units with a Police orientation meant for dealing with law and order situations cannot be expected to operate in battlefield conditions.

An interesting situation arises when along a single line of communication say Tezpur-Tawang road in 4 Corps area; a number of PMF units are maintained with each force having its own transit camp, check posts, transport columns, even a small hospital and block timings to move. Therefore, departmental battles at Delhi, duplication of command and control channels has indeed led to unhealthy rivalries amongst the PMF and between the Army and the PMF.

Emulating Other Countries and Their Forces

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Ukrainian Border Guards maintaining vigil (File photo) 

In most of the foreign countries, PMF are designed for employment in four distinct areas: A border defence or a police force patterned on an army culture, a police oriented internal security force, an organization for training the youth and a People’s Militia to help expand armed forces in an emergency. What stops India from adopting this concept?

Take Russia’s example on whom we are dependent for supply of nearly 80% of equipment and weapons for our armed forces: They have Frontier Guards to protect the border which touches nearly a dozen or so countries. When an independent unit of Frontier Guards is in the same area as Army garrison, the former is grouped with it.

Review Structure of PMF for Speedy Interaction with Armed Forces

Why not in India? As regards internal security forces, their basic training is akin to the Army’s. The integration of these PMF with regular forces is far easier. China has its Public Security forces, a People’s militia, a protection and construction corps and local forces.

Notice this: the diversity is minimal, and their pattern has emerged after trial and error and of course with experience. In both cases, the Border Guards are so designed that they can take the first shock. The recruitment of their officers, equipment and state of training are on the army lines.

Russia’s Frontier Guards are headed by a senior General from the army. We, in India, can take a cue from foreign countries as we can ill afford to have such a large variety of PMF especially where the tasks are duplicated. Accordingly, a national policy should be evolved after reviewing the entire structure of the PMF including their equipment, training, officer cadre and the need for quick interaction with the armed forces.

The concept evolved would need to keep certain broad principles in view summarised in the following sub paragraphs.

1) Those PMF whose purpose is to guard the international border during peace and which are currently deployed for this purpose should be merged and re-designated as Border Guards. In this category fall the BSF, Coast Guards, ITBP and the State Armed Police (SAP). These forces would need an army orientation except for the Coast Guards who are meant for the Navy-Each force should be commanded by a senior service officer. The recruitment should be based on the service pattern.

The entire PMF should have a single code of conduct and one set of regulations.  While it should be primarily offered by regular officers on deputation, its own corps of officers should be recruited on the army pattern. Above all, this force should come under the Ministry of Defence and not the Ministry of Home Affairs.

2) Those forces which are meant for internal security and restoration of law and order should come under the Ministry of Home Affairs and should have a police orientation. In this category will fall the Assam rifles, CRPF, RPF, CISF, Home Guards and the Indian Reserve Battalions. Various Land armies like those in Karnataka and Rashtriya Rifles should also be included in the Internal Security force. The Village and Home Guards should be merged with the TA. This leaves the NSG and SPG at the disposal of the Centre, while the states will have their Police and SAP to look after law and order problems specifically related to the states.

3) Finally, after restructuring, besides the three services, India will have: The Border Guards under the Ministry of Defence, an Internal Security force under the Ministry of Home Affairs, TA-the Citizens Volunteer Militia to help the armed forces expand immediately at the commencement of hostilities and to relieve them from static duties, BRO for construction purposes in remote areas and the NCC for training the youth.

Maximum use of Ex-Servicemen should be made by employing them in the PMF.  This is a workable concept in which there can be minor differences of opinion. Obviously, this concept would draw ‘flak’ from the existing hierarchies of PMF and the Bureaucracy due to a ‘resistance to change’. But unless we act now the PMF would continue to proliferate at the taxpayers' cost!

To sum up, India is in the thick of terrorism. Multiplicity and resultant lack of coordination are an obstacle and a serious handicap in tackling it. This aspect is slowly but surely dawning on our Government, and therefore, we are now asking for the Army to counter it. I suggest to the Honourable Prime Minister, Home Minister, Defence Minister and concerned heads of all our Military and PMF to objectively consider restructuring the PMFs and tame this ‘monster’ that we have created.

Further, the People of India need to be involved in tackling Terrorism, and this can best be done by expanding the TA (Citizen’s Militia)

We have created a monster in the shape of the fourth largest PMF in the world which is making a big hole in the taxpayer’s pocket. There is a crucial need to reorganize these. All we need is a Border Security Force, an Internal Security Force, TA (Citizen’s Militia), National Cadet Corps (NCC) and a Border Construction Force (BRO). It is ardently proposed that the Honourable PM gets a detailed briefing from the three Chiefs, DG’s of PMF, the Home Minister, Defence Minister, NSA and so on to take a final call on this proposal.

In the present confused and unpredictable scenario within the country and at our borders, chances of a two-front war between India and Pak-China combine seem remote, but can we rule it out? No! A set back here can be disastrous for the country. Let there be no doubt about it! We cannot take it for granted and must remain prepared for it.

(Maj Gen VK Madhok is a product of the 1st Course JSW/NDA and was commissioned into the 3 GR. He was the BGS HQ Southern Command and the COS at HQ 4 Corps. He retired as the ADG (TA). He lives in Pune. The author can be reached on Email:[email protected]. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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