WITHDRAWING CRPF

A CRPF personnel using slingshot during protests - Photo by: Bilal Bahadur

[stextbox id=”info”]Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stumbles on his moves to replace the CRPF by police, stating that state lacked enough police strength. What nobody tells is that more than the type, the numbers of men in uniform is a problem.[/stextbox]

Almost five years after it replaced the Border Security Force (BSF) in Kashmir, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is in sharp focus. Last fortnight the force was accused of excesses while dealing with protests in Baramulla and the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah decided to withdraw it from the town to help cool the situation.

But well before the members of Unified Headquarters would submit a detailed blueprint offering the Chief Minister a mechanism to go for the first phase of ‘substitution’ – a term indicating replacing the CRPF by J&K Police, his Delhi jaunt forced the status quo ante. No changes anywhere.

“We have over 70 battalions of the CRPF and the state police’s strength is not even one-third of it. Five battalions of the state police which include India Reserve Police (IRP) are undergoing training. So any rash decision in this aspect can be detrimental to state’s security”, Omar Abdullah told reporters after his meetings with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the Home Minister P Chidambaram. “A lot is required to be done in terms of augmenting the numbers of JKP, upgrading their equipment and improving their levels of training.” In Kashmir alone CRPF has 58 battalions with a strength of around 1000 each.

Since Chief Minister’s statement in the July 1 meeting of the Unified Headquarters was made public, the post-meeting ‘correction’ had added to the credibility crisis. Omar was very clear in his statement and it had its own logic. “The deployment plan of the police and paramilitary forces has to be re-worked as per the present situation which is a law and order situation and not a militancy situation as was in the 1990s,” official spokesman quoted him saying in the meeting. “In the changed scenario, the police is supposed to be better equipped and trained to deal with law and order situation and as such a change in mindset of the force is also required”. He asked the state police chief, DG CRPF and other concerned to formulate an effective plan in this regard within 10 days. At the same time, he directed for placement of magistrates in every district. “No law and order situation or protests should be dealt without the presence of a magistrate,” he directed.

Authorities took the directions very seriously given the fast deteriorating law and order situation. The same night (June 30), CRPF was withdrawn in Baramulla. For most the night, trucks were ferrying the soldiers out of the town that was simmering with anger over the murders of four young men.

It had its own problems. As over 1500 paramilitary men moved into the barracks within the district, there was nobody to replace them. Apart from the executive police, there were barely 150 cops that, according to reports, were mobilized. As the situation refused to improve and the protests continued, the police said that they could not manage it. The result: army was requested to conduct a flag march. Reports suggest that initially CRPF was asked to resume duties but it refused.

Even this triggered another controversy. Going by the directions issued by the Chief Minister that no force should deal law and order in absence of a magistrate, the Deputy Commissioner Baramulla had issued a direction for every force including the army. This triggered a fierce reaction. Armed forces took a strong exception and the issue was taken up at the highest level. If reports appearing in certain Delhi based newspapers are to be taken at face value then the Defence Minister was totally against deploying the army for law and order duties. This was why the flag march was barely a 15-minute affair.

Amidst these controversies another major incident took place (July 5). An additional Deputy Commissioner in Baramulla Mohammad Ashraf Shantoo tasked to enquire into the killings of youth by CRPF (June 29) encountered an “interesting” incident. While perusing the CRPF documents, the magistrate found certain documents missing. He seized the register. In the evening a senior officer of the force (53 Bn) barged into his office and snatched the file. As the incident was reported, authorities denied it the same day.

It was later the visit of chief minister to Delhi that put the lid on these controversies. He said state police force lacks the numbers and the training to tackle the situation.

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