Children of a lesser God?

Central Armed Police Forces

CAPF persons in front of Special A/C Coach for CAPFs from Mangalore to Katra Express Train at Mangalore Central Railway Station. DH Photo/ Govindraj Javali

Soon after the Pulwama attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy on February 14, in which 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives, the government suddenly woke up to the grievances of the personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) — the CRPF, the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Indo Tibetan Border Police, the Seema Suraksha Bal and the oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles.

The first step taken was to allow the personnel to travel by air from Delhi/Jammu to Srinagar while proceeding or returning from leave or duty. Earlier, officers of and above the rank of Inspector only were allowed to travel by air. Now, it stands extended to all ranks, thereby benefitting 7.8 lakh personnel.

A few days later, the Ministry of Home Affairs enhanced the ‘Risk and Hardship’ allowance of all paramilitary personnel serving in highly disturbed areas in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra affected by Left-wing Extremism, and in parts of J&K which have been the hotbed of terrorism in recent years. And justifiably so. While the Army personnel working in similar arduous conditions were doled out higher allowances, the CAPF personnel were paid much lower. This had led
to much disaffection within the ranks.

Unfortunately, the CAPF are a neglected lot when it comes to pay structure, facilities and allowances. Until the strike by CRPF and CISF personnel across the country in 1979, the personnel of CAPF were entitled to just 34 days annual leave and eight days casual leave in accordance with the Central Civil Services Rules by which they were governed. With most battalions of CRPF deployed in the North East in the 1960s and 70s, it took over three to six days for the personnel to reach their hometowns by trains for which they were sanctioned up to five days journey period depending upon the distance to their home towns. To add to their woes, they were issued Railway Warrants once a year to visit their hometowns. Beyond that, they had to bear the expenses for journey from their own pocket.

After the strike, their leave entitlement was enhanced to 60 days leave and another 15 days casual leave annually. Some relief came their way when they were given Additional Free Leave Pass on compassionate grounds, like serious illness, marriage or death in the family. This was restricted to issue of Railway Warrant only to one’s hometown while the return journey had to be paid for from his own pocket. Thankfully, a few years back, the government extended the facility for use of Railway Warrant for return journey, too. But it has been restricted to personnel posted in field areas only and not to those in the static centres or institutions. 

Certain other minor facilities like retention of uniforms and accoutrements on completion of their life period, too, were given and the strike was called off. Before the strike was called off, as many as 22 personnel of Army and the CISF, including a Major and two Army soldiers, were killed in the Army-CISF clash in Bokaro in June 1979. Army had to be called in to quell the strike by over a thousand CISF personnel.

It speaks volumes of their resilience and forbearance that despite their pathetic living conditions, comparatively poor pay scales, arduous and highly risky nature of duties, CAPF personnel ungrudgingly serve the nation in every corner of the country. Frequent movement from one corner of the country to another has been a bane for them.

To add to their woes are the appalling living conditions of these men. A visit by a parliamentary committee two years back was “shocked by the pathetic conditions” in which around 4,000 personnel of the CISF guarding the New Delhi airport were staying. Although every effort is made by the CAPFs to ameliorate the living conditions, the situation remains grim. Except for those personnel who are posted in static institutions like the Group Centres, training institutions and permanent locations, the rest have to bear it out in semi-permanent accommodation.

Crucial demands

While the country was mourning the martyrdom of CRPF personnel in Pulwama and later gloated over the Balakot airstrike, hundreds of former CAPF personnel gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on March 3 to draw the government’s attention to their long-standing demands. Among the main grouse against the government is the fact that their demand for restoration of pension to those recruited post-2004 has not been met despite several representations. If the Defence personnel can be given the pension, why not the CAPF personnel who, too, guard the country’s borders and maintain law and order within. Grave injustice is being done to the personnel who joined these forces after 2004.  

While the Canteen Stores Department (CSD) is exempted from GST up to 50%, this privilege is not granted to CAPFs. They perforce have to buy items at market rates from Central Police Canteens (CPCs). Only Defence personnel have access to CSD Canteens.

Though there has been a strident cry for according martyr status to those killed in action, the government appears to be dragging its feet on the matter. It has been ambiguously stated by the government that no such term is used for Defence personnel who die in action either. Among their other demands are reserved coaches in important trains for CAPF personnel, enhancement of ex-gratia amount to Rs 1 crore for all widows of CAPF personnel and opening of schools on the lines of Sainik Schools for the wards of CAPF personnel.

Many among the protesting retired personnel asked if they have to wait for another serious incident to give the government a jolt before they accede to their demands. Why this step motherly treatment for the CAPF personnel, they ask. Are we children of a lesser God?

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)

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