Despite the India-Pakistan conflict escalating after the Indian Air Force carried out air strikes in Pakistan's Balakot and additional paramilitary forces being deployed in the Kashmir Valley to quell any insurgency, the issue of pay parity among Indian security forces continues to simmer.
Family members of soldiers killed in combat have expressed a sense of satisfaction that Indian has finally taken tough action against Pakistan. These families have been feeling the absence of their breadwinners.
Mita, wife of Bablu Santra who was killed in the Pulwama attack, said in Kolkata that the IAF operation will not bring back her husband. "But I don't want any son to be martyred in the future."
But the kin of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans killed in Pulwama believe that the government needs to come up with a quantitative policy to end the discrimination against paramilitary forces, especially as they are also given the task of tackling conflict in insurgency-hit areas and all border states.
Binu Jha's husband HK Jha, a deputy CRPF commandant who died on 4 July, 2014, battling Maoist insurgents, explains the problems she faced after her husband's death. A housewife, Binu decided to relocate to Delhi to escape the barbs she had to endure from her relatives and those around her.
She struggled to find accommodation as well a job and a school for her two children. Her husband's colleagues in the CRPF were helpful, but she soon realised that the paramilitary force had no institutional mechanism in place to help her.
"It has been an uphill task. As a widow, the CRPF offered me a job of a head constable, which I declined. I am entitled to my husband's basic pay at the time of his death. Apart from the emotional trauma I suffered after his death, life in general has been an uphill task," she said.
Binu is not alone. Thousands of widows of soldiers who served the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPF) are battling tremendous odds to keep their hearths burning. Although the strength of the CPF has risen steadily — so much so that the CRPF today is three lakh-strong — widows of CPF troopers killed in action believe that authorities don't pay as much attention to their needs as they do to address the concerns of widows of the armed forces.
Director General (retired) of the CRPF Pranay Sharma concedes as much, saying that even he knows of instances where the insurance money after the death of a jawan has not reached the widow, with the jawan's parents and other family members insisting that the money be given to them. "Several such cases have gone to court, which creates further confusion and delay," he said.
Widows of CPF troops complain that while the insurance cover provided to a Border Security Force (BSF) jawan works out to around Rs 20 lakh, that given to a jawan of the armed forces is around Rs 37.5 lakh. They are also not entitled to many of the benefits extended to armymen killed in the field because BSF personnel are not accorded the status of a martyr.
"My husband performed the same duty as that of an army jawan. Why should we be discriminated against? The principle of equal pay for equal work should apply. After all, the CRPF is deployed alongside the army," said the widow of one such soldier.
There is no doubt that a significant pay gap exists between the personnel of the CPF and Indian Army. While the transport allowance (Rs 1,800) and remote hardship allowance (Rs 6,930) are the same for the two forces at the rank of havaldar, the ration money given to a BSF jawan is taxable but is tax free for an army soldier. The pension a CPF jawan receives is dependent on the contributions he makes to the pension fund, while army jawans receive OROP (One Rank, One Pension). BSF jawans are also not entitled to House Rent Allowance in their home towns and have much less access to family accommodation as compared to their counterparts in the army.
Major (retired) DP Singh, a Kargil War veteran, is of the opinion that there should be a uniform policy of compensation for men in uniform. "There is disparity of compensation across the states for jawans who died performing their duty," he pointed out.
BSF Director General of Police (retired) Prakash Singh agrees that the government has to ensure there are no major differences between the service conditions of the army and paramilitary forces, but at the same time, he believes there will be differences because of the nature of the jobs.
"There are going to be some differences between the Central police forces and the state police, otherwise very soon, everyone will start clamouring for equal salaries. Tomorrow, the Home Guards will say they, too, perform the same duties, so their salary should be at par with that of the armed forces," he added.
Singh is also critical of the rapid expansion witnessed in the CRPF. "There has been too much expansion within the CRPF, and its strength has risen to three lakh. This has created promotional blockages, especially from the post of deputy commandant to commandant and then to the deputy inspector general," he said.
"I have always maintained that the force that should be strengthened is the state police force in terms of their manpower, equipment and weaponry. But instead of building up the resources of their police, states have come to rely heavily on the CRPF. We need local police to tackle the Maoist problem in Chhattisgarh. They know the terrain and local conditions. Someone from Punjab is not going to be familiar with those surroundings," Singh explained.
Director General of Police (retired) SM Khanna does not agree. He believes that inter-service discrimination favours the IAS bureaucracy, which frames the rules in its favour. "Take the question of pension, for example. A retired IAS officer's pension is higher than that of officers of other services. That is discriminatory," he highlighted.
Moreover, DGP SVM Tripathi, who served in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police on retirement, said the nut and bolt work is done by paramilitary forces, but the public holds the armed forces in much higher regard.
"Their work is appreciated much more than that of the state police. The army has more resources, though I am not denigrating their contribution. But public esteem plays a potent factor in shaping perception and building the morale of a workforce," Tripathi said.
On the issue of pension disparity, he said, "Army personnel retire at a much earlier age. An army jawan retires by 37, while a constable in the paramilitary forces will retire between 57 and 60 years of age. There is a trade-off here, which is why the army jawan is entitled to a higher pension."
Furthermore, CRPF DGP (retired) Shivaji Cairae expressed surprise at how the Pulwama attack on the CRPF took place.
"Obviously, the Standard Operating Procedures were not followed. I served in both Tripura and Manipur during a time when insurgency was at its peak, and landmines were laid along roads. We were very particular. Road opening patrols had to move ahead and ensure that the area was clear. All these procedures took a long time — a week and sometimes more — but we made sure no untoward incident happened," he said.
During his tenure in Jharkhand, to circumvent the problem of mines, Cairae instructed CRPF jawans to move around on cycles while travelling over dirt roads, and each jawan had to maintain a distance of 15 feet between them.
"This way, only one jawan runs the risk of being blown up. When they faced an ambush, they jumped off their bikes and ran for cover, one to the left and the other to the right. Their training followed the syllabi of the Jungle Warfare School. The result was that our casualty numbers remained very low," Cairae said.
A senior officer in the CRPF, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pulwama attack had the second-largest loss of troops in the past nine years — the highest was the loss of 75 CRPF troopers in a landmine explosion in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada in April 2010.
"Since then, we have been strengthening our systems and working towards better coordination between the police and army. Our force was headless for two years till the Sukma massacre, when Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar was appointed the Director General of the CRPF. At that time, the SOPs were not followed, which led to the death of 25 of our men," he said.
On the issue of inter-service disparity, he pointed out that the government had agreed to fly troops, and that they expected them to meet many of their other demands.
There is little doubt that there is considerable dissatisfaction towards the service conditions within the paramilitary forces, as can be seen by the attrition levels. To cite one example, more than 2,583 troopers sought voluntary retirement in 2014, and 7,166 personnel (3 percent) left the force in three years between 2012 and 2014. This is also reflected in the fact that nearly 60 percent of those selected as officers in the BSF from the IPS have declined to join the service.
Politicians have often promised to improve their working conditions, but little has been done on the ground. The latest to join the bandwagon is Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has promised that jawans of paramilitary forces killed in action will be given martyr status. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also made several promises before he came to power at the Centre, but these were not fulfilled. However, the tough stand he has taken against terrorism and Pakistan may see the implementation of a more nuanced policy favouring paramilitary services.
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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2019 14:27:25 IST