Muddle around awards

POLICE GALLANTRY MEDALS

At the Valour Day Investiture ceremony held recently, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu presented police medals for gallantry to 50 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Among them, were two personnel who were awarded the medal after nearly 25 years of their gallant action in Punjab. The medals were awarded on a verdict of a high court — unheard of in the past. A precedent has been set which may prove malefic in future.

Thirteen years after the police medal for gallantry was awarded to IPS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre Dharmendra Chaudhary, Deputy Inspector General of Police of Ratlam Range, it was withdrawn in October last, through a notification of the President’s secretariat. This drastic action was necessitated on the recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission that found the officer guilty of staging a fake encounter.

Two others – Sub Inspector Gurmeet Singh of the Punjab Police and Sub Inspector Lalit Kumar of Jharkhand Police — were also stripped of their police medals for gallantry, the former for his conviction in a murder case, and the latter for having been found guilty in a disciplinary case.

In October 2008, three IPS officers of the then Andhra Pradesh cadre – A Shivashankar, Shriram Tiwari and Nalin Prabhat – were charge sheeted for falsifying their cases to get the police gallantry awards. Their names were included in the report of an encounter with the Maoists in December 1999 in which three central committee members were killed. Despite them not being present at the scene of the encounter, they were all awarded the medals. It goes to the credit of a bunch of IPS officers of the state who brought the matter to the notice of the government, which promptly charge sheeted
them.

That the police gallantry medals have lost their sheen is quite evident from the fact that most of these medals are now doled out not on merit of each case, but on factors that cast aspersions on the integrity of the officers who vie for these awards, and also, those in the chain of command who recommend these cases.

A good number of these gallantry medals are doled out due to media hype. In June 2013, when an Indian Air Force helicopter on a rescue mission in Uttarakhand crashed with five crew members, nine National Disaster Relief Force personnel and six Indo Tibetan Border Police personnel died instantly.

Two pilots were awarded the Kirti Chakra and the Shaurya Chakra, and the remaining were awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry). This led to disaffection among the families of the martyred personnel of the NDRF and the ITBP, who felt that they, too, could be awarded the gallantry medals as in the case of the airmen.

Since the discrimination was too prominent to be overlooked and under intense pressure from the bereaved families, the Ministry of Home Affairs recommended the award of the Police Medal for Gallantry to all 15 personnel of the NDRF and the ITBP to the President of India.

Compared to this, the CRPF men combating Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other Left-wing extremist-affected areas have put up a brave fight in encounters before sacrificing their lives. As a natural corollary, it follows that all personnel killed in encounters should also be awarded the police medals. Once a wrong precedent has been set, the government has a lot to answer when others are overlooked for the honour.

In the case of the Air Force officers killed in the helicopter crash, the question arises as to how the degree of their bravery was evaluated as to award them different categories of gallantry medals when they all perished in the same accident.

This is not to mean that all gallantry medals awarded to police and paramilitary personnel are undeserving of the honour. While many have deservingly got the medals for valour displayed in face of grave danger and threat to life, there are instances galore where the gallantry medals have been doled out to undeserving personnel.

The proclivity by senior officers to garner the police gallantry medals needs to be monitored, too. Until 1974, police officers were not given any allowances that the medals carried with them. Officers are expected to lead the men at even grave risk to their lives and hence no monetary benefit was extended to them that was given to personnel of lower ranks.

Medal allowance

Since December 1974, the medal allowance has been paid to the officers, too. It is now Rs 2,000 for the police medal for gallantry and Rs 3,000 for the President’s police medal for gallantry.

Personnel involved in fake encounters should not only be sacked from service but even tried in the court of law for the commission of murder. Until there is a sense of fear, fake encounters will continue and medals doled out to dishonest officials for their misdeeds.

Some decades ago, the recommendations for the award of gallantry medals were accompanied by reports from Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau about the authenticity of encounters. This practice seems to have been dispensed with, and hence, the impunity with which fake encounters take place and medals awarded.

While in the paramilitary forces, a court of inquiry is conducted to cull out the facts to specify individual acts of gallantry, but in the state police, the first information report alone plays a major role in recommending the award of gallantry medals.

It would be appropriate for the Ministry of Home Affairs to frame guidelines with exacting checks and balances so that fake encounters become a thing of the past and medals are not awarded to the undeserving policemen. Severe action against those found guilty of fake encounters or falsifying records to bag the gallantry medals will serve as a deterrent to others. The sooner it is done, the better.

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)

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