Eroding discipline

INDIAN ARMED FORCES : Discipline and welfare go hand in hand. Excessive emphasis on either of these vital aspects in the armed forces could be disastr

Fifty nine commandos of the elite Cobra Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on their way to Gaya in Bihar conspired to break the norms of discipline and proceeded to their respective homes for a short break and rejoin duties thereafter. They had undergone a six-month training stint in Srinagar and were under orders to report to their Battalion in Gaya. No leave was granted.

Yet they chose to throw the rules to winds and proceed to their homes. Having left Jammu on February 2, they were to report in the Battalion on the February 4. Instead, they reported on the evening of February 7. Their desertion and subsequent contemplation of disciplinary action against them appeared in the media later.

In an almost similar case of a constable of Central Industrial Security Force, the Supreme Court ruled in December last that desertion is an act of serious misconduct and that indiscipline in the armed forces must be “viewed seriously”. The CISF man was held guilty of deserting the Force for five days.

The recent incidents of the person­nel of the Border Security Force, the CRPF, and even the Indian Army giving vent to their grievances in the social media indicate that all is not well with our armed forces. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar admitted in the Parliament on February 7 that increased use of social media by the troops to air their grievances violated discipline.

Incidents of fratricide, suicides and confrontation between the officers and men have been on the increase casting a shadow on the man-management aspects of these forces. The officer-jawan relations which play a vital role in the performance of their duties and more importantly in war, have received a setback.

Expressing his concern over such incidents, General Bikram Singh, then army chief, had issued directives to the adjutant general branch of the army headquarters to carry out a study and analyse the reasons for such incidents from 2003 onwards. Over 1,200 suicides by army personnel in just over a decade is a matter of serious concern.

The incident of Nyoma in May 2012, wherein a brawl between the officers and jawans resulted in injuries to three officers was particularly shameful. Nothing could be more humiliating than to be beaten up by the very men whom they command. This was followed by another incident in Patiala in October 2012, when 10 jawans fled from their regiment after an altercation with the officers who reportedly insisted on their doing certain menial tasks. The jawans were court martialled.

Reasons for such incidents could be many, the first and the foremost being the absence of regular interaction between the officers and men. Even informal interaction between the officers and men during PT (physical training) and games can do wonders in establishing a good rapport and sorting out grievances.

Scant attention to welfare of men has led to ugly situations. Discipline and welfare go hand in hand. Excessive emphasis on either of these vital aspects in the armed forces could prove disastrous. A balance has to be struck.A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General last year commented adversely on the quality of food served to the jawans, particularly in the North Eastern states and in Jammu and Kashmir. The report commended the jawans, who despite the inferior quality of food proffered to them, preferred to remain silent. The army reportedly spends over Rs 1,500 crore on rations for the 13 lakh personnel but the quality is abysmally bad.

A Parliamentary Committee led by Congress MP P Bhattacharya was shocked by the pathetic conditions in which the CISF personnel live in their camp near the Delhi airport. Over 4,000 personnel of the CISF who guard the airport live in the camp. The situation is no better in other paramilitary forces barring the Assam Rifles which is governed by a different set of rules being operationally under the army.

Family matters

With the joint family concept gradually eroding, responsibility of the armed forces personnel has become a matter of concern. Gone are the days when other family members took care of the families of the men posted in far-flung areas. Any disturbance at home upsets the men in uniform resulting in erratic behaviour. They insist on visiting their homes regularly. Denial of leave tends to have an adverse impact which at times end up in suicides or fratricides.

In the case of the Cobra personnel who chose to disobey orders, the administrative authorities could have granted them leave en-route to their Battalion. They had not been granted any leave during the preceding six months to visit their homes. Strict disciplinary action even on minor offences will deter the personnel from indulging in acts of misdemeanour. Not only does it serve as a corrective measure but also acts as a deterrent to others.

Quite often, personnel sacked from the paramilitary forces for serious offences manage to seek relief from the courts that are sympathetic to recalcitrant men. Such relief granted to the sacked personnel has a debilitating effect on the discipline of the force.

A BSF head constable who slapped his superior in 2013 was ordered to be reinstated in July last year by the Delhi High Court. There are instances galore where personnel dismissed from service for serious acts of misconduct like assaulting a superior or remaining absent from duties for long durations have been reinstated with all accruing benefits. The return of such delinquent personnel vitiates the atmosphere.

There can be no denying the fact that the officers of the armed forces may err at times in the dispensation of justice. But reinstatement of most sacked personnel is detrimental to the discipline of the armed forces.

While every delinquent’s case needs to be viewed sympathetically, the overall interest of the armed forces and the nation needs to be given serious thought by the judiciary.

(The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police, CRPF)

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