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Why Is BSF the IPS & Army’s ‘Poor Cousin’, Even After 54 Years?

What’s stopping BSF from higher goals? A major impediment is the transient policy-making leadership.

Updated
Opinion
6 min read
Image of BSF jawans used for representational purposes.
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The Border Security Force, the largest border guarding force in the world, celebrated its 54th Raising day on 1 December. Tasked with guarding borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, the force has a vital role in ensuring the security and integrity of nation.

53 years ago, policy makers conceived of a force capable of guarding borders during peace, and to assist the army as the first line of defence during hostilities, because of the inability of the disparate State Armed Forces to stand up to even minor threats from Pakistani forces, and lack of uniformity in dealing with its counterparts.

Operational philosophy, organisation and training of the force was therefore militaristic, and the force performed extremely well during the 1971 war.
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Caught Between IPS & Army’s Hegemony

The force has grown from about 25,000 in 1965, to about 2.5 lakhs now. This mammoth growth has been in spurts, causing many problems of human resource management. The policy planners erred in ensuring a smooth phased expansion to prevent the personnel management dilemma that the force is now faced with.

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Although rapid expansion ensured the comparative rapid elevation of personnel, the organisational efficiency suffered because the emerging leadership was not experienced enough for higher responsibilities.

However, the one-time benefits of such rapid expansion has reached its saturation point, and the personnel are now stagnating for long periods, leading to dissatisfaction and demoralisation.

A jawan takes anything from 20 to 24 years to earn his first promotion. The situation of the cadre officers of the force has always been precarious, with most of them retiring at the middle rungs.

Very few are able to reach supervisory levels because most of the positions at that level are occupied by IPS officers on deputation. Thus, the rich experience of cadre officers cannot be garnered at policy-making levels.

Efforts to address the problem of stagnation have lacked vision, and amounted only to fire fighting. For example, in order to bring parity with the police, the ranks of Lance Naik were abolished, thus disturbing the rank structure of a “section” which is the basic sub-unit. Similarly, the introduction of the rank of assistant sub inspector has disturbed the structure of “platoon”.

BSF Jawan Gets 25% Lesser Than Army Counterpart

The cadre review exercise for officers has, without aiming for long-term solutions, resulted only in one-time postponement of stagnation through proliferation of ranks in the battalions. Avenues created at higher levels do not accrue to cadre officers because of the rule position, and these have been usurped by IPS officers.

A BSF person faces double jeopardy. He has been termed a civilian employee and his salary, allowances and post-retirement benefits are regulated by civil rules. But unlike civil employees, he retires at the age of 57, thus losing the benefit of three years of service vis-à-vis them.

He frequently encounters life-threatening situations, but is now not entitled to pension which his counterpart in defence forces get.

Large numbers of BSF units are deployed on the Line of Control, and perform the same duties as the Army. Yet, he gets almost 25 percent less than his Army counterpart. Further, in case of an unfortunate death in the line of duty, the family of a deceased BSF soldier is deprived of many benefits available to the family of an Army Jawan, because there is no provision for a BSF soldier to be declared a martyr.

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Troubled Borders, Daunting Living Conditions

BSF personnel spend most of their life on BOPs where the extended duty hours – sometimes 16 per day, enable only an interrupted sleep. To make matters worse, the living conditions at most of the BOPs are unsatisfactory. A recent report stated that out of the 66 BOPs in Barmer sector of BSF, only two had facilities for piped drinking water. The rest depended upon water tankers.

The condition is further worsened by rapid expansion, over-burdening existing accommodation.

The above conditions coupled with the inability to meet urgent family obligations, cause a lot of stress, resulting in a high rate of attrition. As per a reply to a parliament question, 11,192 BSF personnel have either resigned or proceeded on voluntary retirement from 2015 up-to Jan 2018.

The prevalent security environment now – both internal and external – is vastly different from that in 1965. The proxy war by Pakistan has kept our western borders troubled, requiring aggressive border management practices.

BSF’s Strategies Need to be Re-Invented

The Bangladesh border grapples with a threat of a different kind, with armed cattle smugglers attacking BSF soldiers, when intercepted. Heavy population density, lack of development and employment opportunities makes these borders highly crime prone. The BSF is thus faced with the policy dilemma of averting use of force to conform to the national objective of maintaining good relations with Bangladesh, and ensuring the safety and security of soldiers, while preventing crime.

Change in security environment and emphasis on comprehensive border management, rather than simple border guarding, necessitates modification of strategies employed by the BSF.

Man-power intensive border guarding practices are no longer adequate, and suitable technology has to be introduced to assist border men. Technological interventions in the shape of first and second generation NVDs have had a rather limited effect, and the situation on ground remains unchanged. These devices, besides having out lived their life, are cumbersome and not user-friendly. The organisation also has not invested in familiarizing troops with the usage of these devices, which is another reason for reluctance on the part of troops to use them.

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BSF Mindset Needs a Generational Change

The technology sought to be introduced is generally vendor-driven, which more often than not, fails on ground. Trials must be carried out over an extended period in operational conditions before induction. Aspects of training in their use, maintenance etc must also be built in the contract to prevent long turn over time for repairs. Proper facilities should be created at BOPs to derive optimum advantage from devices like Thermal Imagers.

Like all hierarchical (uniformed) organisations, innovative ideas are rarely encouraged and some laudable individual efforts have not received the encouragement that they deserve.

Annual competition to encourage innovation remains just an event, and none of the projects have been taken up for large scale production to ease the burden on troops.

The mindset of the commanders therefore, requires a generational change, as the constabulary now is educated and well-informed. To be able to adopt “smart border management” practices they should be encouraged to come up with innovative ideas and adequate training in use of technical gadgets introduced in the force.

New Training Aspects Should Be Incorporated

The training philosophy also needs to orient itself with the present day operational environment. While western borders need aggressive domination and “Ek goli ek dushman” type of training is still relevant, the eastern borders require troops to exercise restraint. This must therefore be incorporated in the basic induction training, and also when troops get deployed in those areas.

The operational environment on borders after the fence came up, requires troops to be trained in soft skills, as they have to interact with farmers on a regular basis. These also therefore should be incorporated in the curriculum at different levels.

Frequent deployment in counter-insurgency operations also necessitates incorporation of these aspects in the training.

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At a Crossroads

As mentioned above, border guarding is rapidly transforming into integrated border management where several agencies are equal stake holders. Borders will, in the near future, transform from barriers to bridges between nations. A smart border man therefore has to be aware of the developing scenario and understand the functioning of different agencies involved with the functioning of “integrated check posts” and “land custom stations” to facilitate the hassle-free movement of personnel and goods across the borders.

After 53 years of existence, BSF finds itself at a crossroads. It has to adapt to a rapidly changing environment on the borders. One of the major impediments in this is the transient policy-making leadership.

Trained in policing duties, they are unable to come to grips with the complexities a large organisation like the BSF, and the dynamics of border management. The government has to give a serious thought and rectify this anomalous situation by handing over the baton to cadre officers, who, over the years, have acquired enough experience and maturity to take up the responsibility.

(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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