Address grievances raised by men in uniform

Social media seems to have become the unofficial grievance redressal system for the men in uniform. The past couple of weeks saw around half a dozen video posts surfacing on Facebook raising uncomfortable questions surrounding the working conditions of paramilitary and military personnel in the lower ranks.

The grievances aired on these videos were nothing new as several of the men in lower ranks in the forces would testify. They had these complaints earlier also but it appeared none listened to them.

A system did exist to address these concerns but resolution was never in sight. These videos, which were widely shared, now raise questions not just about the quality of food served to the personnel but about the system which has not been sympathetic in addressing their problems -- whether it is housing, leave, transfer or better facilities in the barracks. Also, the callousness with which they were debunked.

If the dust raised by these videos were not enough, a CISF constable shot dead four of his colleagues, including seniors. Not providing leave was initially raised as the reason for the anger that led to the incident. Later, his family claimed they had informed the force that he is not mentally fit and that he should not be given any fire-arms. Another CISF constable shot himself dead in Bengaluru airport too.

It all started with BSF Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav sharing a video detailing the poor quality of food being served to those posted at the Line of Control (LoC). Then came a CRPF personnel's video post addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding parity on facilities with military. The posts of military personnel also came to the fore protesting against the 'sahayak' system, prompting the new Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat to issue a stern warning not to use social media for grievance redressal.

The frequency with which the videos surfaced showed the failure of the grievance redressal systems in these forces. Resorting to the normal would have meant red-tape and most probably, no action. The personnel felt that taking a risk by using social media is the best way to raise an issue rather than going through the official route where the redressal is a mirage.

Yes, the video posts had its effect. Though a disciplinary sword hangs on Yadav, reports suggest that his colleagues posted at the LoC have started getting better food. For the BSF, Yadav became a troublesome jawan – an “alcoholic” who was “court-martialled” but retained in the force keeping his family in mind. The BSF response to Yadav’s complaint smacked of the typical bureaucratic exercise where the seniors had to be saved.

The force, which was so considerate to Yadav, suddenly gave out personal details disgracing Yadav. But while doing so, the BSF did not answer why an “alcoholic” was posted in a sensitive area. The retort from the security establishment was that there were enough mechanism within the forces to address concerns but these episodes only showed that they were not responsive to the personnel's needs. It showed that the grievance redressal systems in these forces were shallow.

These raise serious questions on the governance philosophy of the forces and the near-neglect of the constabulary, who are left behind in the modernisation drive. Around 65% of the security personnel killed on duty are constables in state police forces. Among the vacancies in the state police for­ces, the highest are among the lower levels.

There are 3.61 lakh vacancies in the post of constables while it is a little over one lakh in the head constable rank. In the paramilitary forces, the vacancies run in to nearly 80,000 while the sanctioned strength is 9.66 lakh. The lower rung personnel appear to be not in the scheme of things. Studies talk about lack of motivation due to overload, not able to have a normal social life and hardships faced in dealing with family issues. The situation is similar for police and paramilitary personnel.

Erratic work hours
A study done for the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) had showed that a large number of personnel who are fatigued due to erratic work hours and lack of sleep are putting themselves and the public at risk. The main reasons identified were erratic duty hours, extended shift duties, lack of proper sleep and poor and untimely food.

Living away from the family and not finding time to meet family members even after duty hours besides smoking, alcohol intake and behaviour of colleagues and superiors were among other reasons cited in the study. Increasing staff strength, decrease in work hours, increasing leave period and improving work atmosphere were among the measures suggested by senior officers to fight fatigue among personnel, the study had said.

There is an urgent need to address the concerns of the lower rung personnel, whether it is state police or paramilitary. The authorities need to come up with a more humane approach rather than flinging the sword of discipline at those who raise complaints. Posting of videos in public domain is surely a question of discipline but it does not take away the import of the issues they have raised.

Moreover, the lower rung's complaints and grievances against their seniors need to be addressed. The feeling among the Constabulary is that the seniors do get better facilities while they have to deal with sometimes sub-human conditions. Some even accuse seniors of ill-treatment. If not addressed, these have the potential to get out of hand, seriously jeopardising the work atmosphere.

The question will also remain how the personnel were forced to raise these issues in public domain. Is there a problem with the grievance redressal system in the forces? That will be one important area where the force chiefs and other senior officials will have to put their heads together. They need to make the grievance redressal system more robust. The seniors need to be more compassionate to their subordinates. An empty promise will not serve any purpose any more.
DH News Service

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