The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) that guards the LAC with China has sought from the government a continued deployment of its troops in internal security duties so that it can give a “healthy break” to its personnel who man high-altitude icy locations, leading to various health issues among them, official sources said.
The force has put across this point recently before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs and the home ministry in the wake of the Centre mulling on an “ambitious” proposal to gradually remove border-guarding forces from security duties in the hinterland.
The sources told PTI that the ITBP has informed the lawmakers that owing to its primary task of guarding the front marred by very harsh weather conditions and high-altitude locations, it desires to be continuously included in internal security duties across the country so that its personnel “can be rotated between the hard deployment along the LAC and the normal plains”.
“The force has sought continuation of the 60:40 ratio deployment, the former percentage being the deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is largely in the high mountains. This arrangement allows rotation of the troops, who face very harsh, sub-zero and hard climatic and terrain conditions along the front,” an official said.
“The ITBP troops are exposed to various cold weather-related ailments like chilblains and hypothermia due to the rarefied air, blizzards and snowfall. Hence, they need a break from these regions to keep themselves healthy in the physical, mental and emotional sense,” he explained.
Most of the posts of the mountain warfare-trained ITBP are located between 9,000 feet and 18,700 feet in the western, middle and eastern sectors of the 3,488-km-long LAC that runs from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
The government had recently begun working on a plan to gradually decrease the role of the three border-guarding forces, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) being the other two, in internal security duties with an aim to strengthen frontier security.
According to the proposal, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is stated to be working on a “model” where the burden of internal security duties, including the holding of elections, will be largely borne by the country”s largest paramilitary force, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The about 3.25-lakh-personnel strong CRPF is already designated as the lead internal security force of the country.
Every year, thousands of troops of these border forces are withdrawn from the front and sent for the conduct of elections, apart from duties to strengthen the law-and-order arms of various state police forces in view of the challenging internal security scenario in their domain.
The adverse effect of a withdrawal of border battalions has been underlined in a recent analytical report on “Human Trafficking and Border Security”, prepared by a senior BSF commander working along the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal.
“Under-deployment of border-guarding forces on the international boundary and their withdrawal from the border for internal security duties adversely affect border management,” the report prepared by BSF Deputy Inspector General (intelligence) S S Guleria has said.
The officer is posted at the south Bengal frontier of the BSF that is headquartered in Kolkata.
A senior officer added that as much as 40-50 per cent of the manpower of these forces is withdrawn from the border when they are requisitioned for tasks like the conduct of various types of elections that keep coming one after the other across the country.
“This withdrawal severely hampers the task of guarding the borders against the attempts made by infiltrators and terrorists to cross over and smuggle arms, narcotics, wildlife products and fake Indian currency,” the officer said.
These border-guarding forces have been directed by the home ministry in the past to strengthen the security at their respective fronts by operationalising more posts (bases) and reducing the inter-border outpost distance.
While the BSF is tasked with guarding the sensitive international borders with Pakistan (over 3,300 kms) and Bangladesh (4,096 kms), the ITBP mans the 3,488-km LAC with China and the SSB guards the open Indian fronts with Nepal (1,751 kms) and Bhutan (699 kms).