Polluted water, poor health for men at icy heights

Around 20% of 89,433 personnel suffer from high altitude-induced hypertension while there are a number of cases of cardiac complications and liver diseases among others.

They guard the contentious India-China border, but most of the ITBP guards deployed in the icy heights of Himalayas have to drink water obtained from “polluted” rivulets and springs and do not have adequate power supply at border outposts (BOPs).

Moreover, around 20% of 89,433 personnel suffer from high altitude-induced hypertension while there are a number of cases of cardiac complications and liver diseases among others.

These findings form part of a report on the working conditions of border guarding forces — Assam Rifles, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Border Security Force (BSF) — tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament on Wednesday.

While the multi-party panel headed by former home minister and Congress MP P Chidambaram has acknowledged the “innovative” ideas of serving ready-to-eat meals, it was not satisfied with the arrangements made for the personnel when it came to drinking water.

Reminding that clean drinking water is a “fundamental right of every person”, the panel said it was “surprised to observe that in 82% of BOPs, drinking water is obtained from rivulets and springs which are polluted, and at some places the level of contamination is alarming.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has told the committee that “a system of boiling water for five minutes” is done to remove contamination, besides providing “sufficient” number of water filters at all BOPs. However, it admitted that only 18% BOPs have the facility of obtaining potable water.

The panel also observed that power supply is “neither regular nor sufficient” and wanted the MHA to prioritise this task and implement it immediately.

The MHA had told the committee that only 24% of BOPs have regular power supply while others run on generators.

Another area of concern for the panel was the inadequate training facilities. The committee was “extremely anguished” to know that the personnel “deployed in the treacherous hills of the north” were not trained to use sophisticated gadgets like eight-lane firing simulator or interactive touch display.

The committee felt that modernisation of the force must be given utmost priority as the personnel “not only have to face any enemy across the border but also the vagaries of nature”.

Touching upon the health conditions, the MHA referred to a study by the ITBP in collaboration with the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 2013-15 which had shown that 20% of the personnel were suffering from high altitude-induced hypertension.

The number of personnel currently suffering from liver diseases is 115.

According to figures provided by the MHA, 141 personnel were treated for high pulmonary edema, acute cerebral edema and loss of memory, while another 20 were treated for cold injuries like chilblains, snow blindness, immersion and trench foot this year. This year’s figures are less compared to last year’s when it was 168 and 238 respectively.

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Polluted water, poor health for men at icy heights

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