A tough life made tougher?

Owing to lesser leaves, excessive workload and fatigue, the number of suicide and fratricides among paramilitary forces are on the rise. Moreover, new rules regarding Risk & Hardship Allowance (RHA) makes things worse

 

In December 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asked all Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to furnish the leave data of paramilitary forces. The Ministry asked these forces to depute a senior officer in the rank of an additional director general (in-charge of human resources) to submit a report regarding this by the first week of January.

The response from CAPF says that the percentage of those who took 75 days leave has decreased in the last three years, especially in 2020. MHA, then asked details of this matter to be submitted by March 9.  

It is pertinent to note that allowing 100 days leave to central paramilitary forces was in discussion since BJP came to power. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, at several occasions spoke about it. In January this year again at an event, he said that his ministry is working on a plan to allow central paramilitary force personnel to spend at least 100 days in a year with their families to improve their job satisfaction level and their performances.

Despite this, the low percentage of CAPF personnel exhausting the allowed 75 days (60 earned leaves and 15 casual leaves) of leave suggests high workload among central paramilitary forces. Speaking to us, an officer from CRPF said, “there has been heavy deployment since 2019, first came general elections then we were deployed in Covid duties, and then Bihar election, now Bengal elections.” 

“From two months before elections are announced, taking leave becomes tougher. This is the reason that most of the paramilitary personnel couldn’t even take  more than 70-80 percent of their allowed leaves,” he added.

The issue of leaves is very much important for the mental health of paramilitary forces, as several reports claimed that the increasing number of suicide and fratricides among paramilitary forces are, due to fatigue and work load. The heavy deployment of forces at election duties and conflict zones is taking a toll on the mental well being and health of paramilitary personnels.

On 23 November 2019, while on Jharkhand election duty, an assistant commandant Rahul Solanki wrote a letter to the chief election commissioner in which he said, “ Sir, I suppose in this country after Terrorists and Naxalites, our JAWANS also have some Human Rights. This kind of pathetic and inhuman attitude of Civil Authorities towards the health and hygiene of jawans is nothing but a violation of their dignity and human rights.”

After this letter, The Quint reported about the pathetic condition under which CRPF jawans are working.

More importantly, the incidents of suicides and fratricides among paramilitary forces are unfortunately not uncommon. According to the NCRB data between 2014-18, 1,902 CAPF personnel died in accidents, while 397 in suicides, totalling 2,199 such casualties from 2014 to 2018.

“The cause-wise analysis of suicidal deaths of CAPF personnel revealed that 25.7%, 10.3% and 8.6% deaths in the country were due to ‘Marriage Related Issues’, ‘Family Problems’ and ‘Services Related Issues’ respectively. 8.6% of suicides in CAPFs were due to  ‘Depression’. However, 49.1% suicides in CAPFs were of unspecified ‘Other Causes’ category,” NCRB report said.

A report by The Wire published in August says that, in 2020 the cases of fratricide and suicide rose in J & K. The reporter Irfan Amin Malik writes in the report, “between January and August 2020, 18 members of the security forces died by suicide and six died in fratricidal incidents, making a total of 24 such deaths.”

One of the infamous incident of fratricide that occurred at Kadena in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh in 2019,  in which a jawan from Indo-Tibetan Border Police shot dead four of his colleagues with an AK-47 rifle and killed himself because his senior didn’t allow him to take leave, despite him informing them well in advance. This is a reminder of how much stressed life a paramilitary personnel live in. There have been hundreds of such cases reported from Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and J&K where paramilitary forces are deployed.

Although official reasons are never disclosed in cases of fratricide, CAPF officials blame it on the working condition. “Paramilitary forces spend months at makeshift tents and toilets, whether they are deployed for, say on Covid duty, Naxal zone or election duty. They live away from home and don’t get enough time with family, that affects their mental well beings,” said a retired CRPF officer.

Another thing to notice here is many CAPF personnel are resigning. According to the latest data released by the MHA, the number of Jawans taking voluntary retirement has increased five times since 2015. While in  2015, 3,422 personnel including gazetted officers of central forces – CRPF, BSF, ITBP, SSB, CISF and Assam Rifles resigned or taken voluntary retirement from service, in 2017 the number reached upto 14,587, more than four times of 2015.

And that in turn is resulting in a huge number of vacant seats in CAPF. As per latest government data BSF has the highest number of vacancies (28,926), followed  by the CRPF (26,506), the CISF (23906), SSB (18,643), the ITBP (5,784) and the Assam Rifles (7,328).

To make it worse, rules regarding availing the Risk and Hardship Allowance for the CAPF have changed. Which is given to troops deployed in Naxal-infested districts like Sukma, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar (Chhattisgarh), Latehar (Jharkhand), Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and Malkangiri (Odisha) and also militancy hotbeds districts like Budgam, Pulwama of South Kashmir and insurgency areas.

Now “if a person proceeds on leave for 31 days in a stretch or more in one stretch, then he won’t be entitled to draw RHA for this complete duration and RHA will be deducted from his pay and allowance for this duration of leave only,” an official memorandum (OM) said. Earlier it wasn’t the case. If a person takes, for example, 40 days of leave, his  RHA for 10 days would get deducted. Also leaves were counted in a calendar month.

Although, in February 2019, the Ministry increased the amount of RHA, for the CAPF from ₹9,700 to ₹17,300 per month for troops up to the rank of Inspector and from ₹16,900 to ₹25,000 for officers. But changes in rules to avail RHA are affecting the decisions of paramilitary personnels to apply for leave.

This matter was recently heard by Delhi High Court. Court while hearing a writ petition Challenging this OM, on February 3, upholded it, but also asked CAPF to count leaves in a calendar month instead of in a stretch.

It is clear that what is happening in reality is far from the promises made.

(Cover:  Photo by Yawar Nazir/Nur via Getty Images)

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