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SOURCE: SUNDAY GUARDIAN LIVE

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which is tackling the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces along with the Indian army at India’s Eastern border, has been seeking helicopters for itself for more than 20 years now, but hasn’t yet got them, mostly due to bureaucratic apathy that is not uncommon among the corridors of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Officials aware of the development told The Sunday Guardian that the plan (for the ITBP to have helicopters) was conceived in the late 1990s and the process was started soon after; however, till now, not even one helicopter has been operationalised. “After a lot of moving of files, from one place to another, in 2013, a tender was first floated for twin engine helicopters that could carry 10 passengers or 1.5 tonne of weight to high altitudes. Then, revised tenders were floated. For the last 4-5 years, the ITBP has been told that the plan is the ‘final phase’,” an official said.

The last such promise was made by Minister of state for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy, who in October last year, stated that the process to get two helicopters for ITBP on wet-lease was in the “last stage”. Under a wet lease contract system, the organisation or person who owns the aircraft provides the aircraft as well as the crew members to the lessee (in this case the ITBP) and also takes care of the maintenance of the aircraft.

Officials on Friday confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that despite almost eight months after Reddy’s statement, the ITBP still did not have a single helicopter of its own at its disposal.

Out of approximately 90,000 ITBP personnel, close to 15,000 or 1/6 of its total troops, are deployed at a height of more than 9,000 feet and it is to help these 15,000 plus troops in time of medical emergencies that the helicopters are missed the most.

The officials said that as of now, ITBP’s helicopter needs are met by BSF and IAF, who in many cases, due to genuine reasons, are not able to provide the same at a short notice.

The ITBP, which guards 3,488 km of the Indo-China border, has a total 56 battalions out of which 32 are deployed in border guarding, 11 in internal security, eight in anti-Naxal Operations (ANO) and five are reserved for rest and recuperation.

As per a Parliamentary standing committee report on the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2018, the housing satisfaction level in ITBP was 13.41% which was one of the lowest among the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) with the organisation facing a shortfall of 16,537 residential quarters for its officials.

More alarmingly, in 82% of the BoPs (border operating posts), drinking water was obtained from rivulets and springs which were found to be highly polluted. The committee had also found that the ITBP was facing vacancies of eight Specialist Medical officers and 93 Medical Officers which it had termed “quite alarming”.