BSF is hardly fit, look into it

The Border Security Force (BSF) is far from fighting fit. It is losing more personnel to mental illness and lifestyle diseases than enemy fire, says Director General K K Sharma. A study conducted by its medical directorate found that in 2016, there were 71 reported cases of cardiac arrests compared to 18 deaths due to firing from across the border. Data from another study revealed a similar trend. Of 774 deaths of BSF personnel over a 21-month period in 2015-16, 25 were military operation-related casualties. The rest were due to a variety of illnesses (316) and cardiac arrest (117). The loss of paramilitary troopers to stress, suicide, mental illnesses and stress-related diseases is not recent. But it is certainly reason for serious concern as the problem is showing no signs of abating.

Guarding India’s frontiers is a major challenge, which requires the full attention and alertness of our personnel deployed there. This will not be possible if BSF troops are not in the best mental and physical shape. Although the BSF was raised to guard India’s borders during peacetime and to support and supplement the army’s operations during war, the security environment in which the BSF has been operating in recent decades has been one of daily tension and combat. This is so not only because security along India’s border with Pakistan, especially along the Line of Control, has become very fragile on account of Pakistan’s frequent violation of the ceasefire but also because India’s frontiers with Pakistan and Bangladesh are routinely infiltrated by terrorists, militants, traffickers and illegal migrants. Additionally, the BSF is being deployed in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations which means that its personnel face extreme emotional and other pressure over a long period.

Prolonged exposure to high stress situations causes a variety of mental and physical illnesses. To make matters worse, BSF troops rarely get time off from work. Although eligible for annual leave and other benefits, they are not sanctioned leave. Indeed, rarely do they get a night’s rest. There have been instances of officers humiliating those in the lower ranks. It has often culminated in troops turning their weapons on themselves or others in the force. Although the BSF has taken some steps to help its personnel cope better with stress – it has reportedly introduced yoga and stress management in the daily routine of the troops — but this is not enough. People, especially in combat situations, should have some rest and recreation daily. They need healthy food and timely meals and time with their families. Authorities in Delhi must take note of the problems that are stressing the BSF troops. Mere breathing exercises will not rid the system of rot.

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