CAPF: The neglected second child of Indian Defense
2017 has been the deadliest year in the past seven years for India’s Centrally Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Many of these deaths are often caused in situations where the CAPF are the primary respondents to security crises. And as terrorist insurgencies, Maoist activity, and separatist movements intensify across the country, the government continues to rely more and more on the CAPF to maintain internal security and stability. Yet, even as these situations escalate, the CAPF continue to face institutional, financial and reputational challenges that cripple their effectiveness and malign their contribution to Indian national security.
Despite facing similar risks and fulfilling similar duties there has historically been a great disparity in the monetary benefits and societal perception of the Defense forces and the CAPF forces. The Army, Navy and Air Force, whom we often mistake as the whole of India’s defense forces, fall under the purview of the Ministry of Defense. On the other hand, the Centrally Armed Police Forces are federal-level armed police organizations under the Ministry of Home Affairs. There are five CAPF forces, with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) being the two largest. Often, CAPFs are incorrectly referred to as the Central Para Military Forces but they are far from paramilitary in nature. Instead, their mandate is to assist state police organizations under special circumstances like communal riots, insurgency, and border skirmishes. Unfortunately, the classification of the CAPF as a part of the Home Ministry creates the impression that the CAPF deals with less dangerous situations than do the conventional Defense forces. Because of this, despite their role as first-responders to multiple security threats in the country, CAPF personnel have never enjoyed the same prestige, benefits and pay as their counterparts in the Defense Forces.
One of the most crippling factors for both the morale and effectiveness of the CAPF is the lack of stable and effective leadership. The top rungs of leadership for the CAPF consist of Indian Police Service officers who are transplanted from the Police forces into the CAPF leadership. This policy creates a clear lack of incentive for CAPF officers. CAPF officers cannot rise up to the highest ranks of the forces they often dedicate their whole lives to. This lack of career progression means that fewer and fewer youth are choosing to join the CAPF. Additionally, the fact that IPS officers are put in charge of the CAPF creates a communication gap and a lack of understanding. The IPS officers are unable to understand the particular demands on their CAPF subordinates given that they simply have never worked those positions before. Furthermore, since the IPS officers usually hold these positions for only 3-5 years, CAPF leadership is constantly in flux, limiting long-term initiatives and straining relationships between said leadership and personnel.
Although the incongruity in prestige and honor can be explained away by citing public perception, the pay gap between CAPF and Defense forces at the same rank is shocking. Salary documents provided by the BSF to the news agency Mint reveal that there is a wage gap ranging from 2.5% to 48%, even after the Seventh Pay Commission was implemented, between pay scales of the BSF and the Army. These wage gaps reveal an unsettling reality - CAPF personnel have a much lower quality of life than their counterparts in the Defense Forces. The Directors-General of CAPF forces have asked the Commission to create a uniform band or a national allowance grid where every soldier, whether from the Army, Navy, Air Force or these central forces, deployed in an identical area at identical post level is given equal pay. However, their pleas, although heard, have failed to translate into concrete wage reform.
Apart from the wage gap, CAPF personnel find themselves living in destitute conditions. Poor living quarters, inadequate protective gear and lack of proper nutrition are just the tip of the iceberg. The causes of this are two-fold: thinly spread resources and rampant corruption. The resources allotted by the government for the CAPF within the Home Ministry are far less than those allotted to the Defense Ministry. Furthermore, a majority of defense spending goes towards benefits and infrastructure building for forces whereas the resources of the Home Ministry are more thinly spread across various initiatives and not just spent on the CAPF. Additionally, the plague of corruption has spread through the CAPF forces with officers siphoning food ration and equipment budgets to line their own pockets. The spike in corruption and dip in the standard of living for CAPF personnel has led to an alarming increase in CAPF personnel resigning from their posts and leaving the services. It is essential that the government ensures a significant increase in standard of living for CAPF personnel in order that we don't lose men and women committed to the service of their country. It is absurd that we expect the men and women of the CAPF forces to properly defend our nation if the government cannot provide for their basic necessities.
The thinly spread resources of the CAPF are put under further strain due to the unabated expansion of the forces. Although the government and Home Ministry have previously discussed that this expansion must be checked, the ranks of the CAPF continue to grow. This is because of exaggerated demand for CAPF services from state governments and the inability of the central government to seek long-term solutions to the problem. At the state level, there is a devastating lack of police personnel which leads to over-reliance on CAPF forces for tasks that should be conventionally be handled by state police. There has been an increased cognizance of this issue and a greater effort to improve the situation. Case in point being the recent order by the Supreme Court allowing the Centre to withdraw CAPF battalions from Darjeeling where they were going to be used to maintain peace and order during an election – a task easily carried out by state police.
There has been, however, a monumental improvement in monetary ‘benefits’ for the CAPF forces. Previously, special allowances that were given for dangerous areas and/or extra risk to members of Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force were not given to members of the CAPF forces. However, under the Seventh Central Pay Commission that was brought into effect on July 1, 2017, this has changed. CAPF personnel and Defense personnel will receive benefits on the basis of the same ‘Risk and Hardship Matrix.’ The Matrix is a tool used to determine the compensation to defense personnel working in treacherous terrain and volatile regions which was previously used primarily for Defense forces but will now be applied uniformly across the CAPF and Defense Forces. For example, CRPF personnel deployed in Naxal-hit areas will have their benefits go up from Rs 8,400-16,800 per month to Rs 17,300-25,000 per month which is on par with their Defence personnel counterparts. Additionally, CAPFs have also been given access to a number of other privileges that were only for Defence forces or were previously far less significant. This includes government approval of the Seventh Central Pay Commission’s suggestions that both defense and CAPF personnel be given the same level of ex-gratia (out of moral obligation/kindness) lump sum compensation in case of death in the line of duty. A life lost in service to the nation must be honored regardless of title and the central government has begun to recognize this.
The situation of the CAPF personnel, unfortunately, does not have an immediate quick-fix. It stems from systemic bias, institutional inadequacies and sheer lack of concern. Despite the revisions in the Seventh Pay Commission, there is a long way to go in order to ensure that CAPF personnel are given the monetary compensation and respect that they need and deserve. It is important that the government focus on alleviating the long-term causes of the CAPF grievances including weak leadership structures, lack of proper equipment and food due to mishandling of resources, and excessive strain on the CAPF due to lack of effective state police forces. The CAPF, although regarded as merely a paramilitary forces, are often the first responders to most internal threats and conflicts. It is essential, then, if India is to have an effective defense apparatus, that the CAPF have the full support of the Indian government.
Beverly Lobo is a sophomore at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and the Editor-in-Chief of India Ink.