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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Days after constable’s videos: At LoC base, BSF men say ‘at least someone spoke up’

A BSF spokesperson says he had been removed from the area to ensure that he does not “accuse his commanding officer, or other superior officer, of putting pressure on him.

Written by Arun Sharma | Khet (poonch) |
Updated: January 16, 2017 12:44:23 pm
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The BSF constable breaks into a smile at the mention of Tej Bahadur Yadav’s name and says, “Theek kiya. Ab sab theek hai (He did the right thing, now everything is fine),” before hurriedly boarding a truck headed to Gali Maidan, a forward location along the Line of Control (LoC). Days after Tej Bahadur Yadav, a BSF constable of the 29 Battalion near Poonch posted clips from a series of four videos — with visuals of a half-burnt parantha and dal that’s “more of turmeric and salt” — and alleged corruption by senior officials, here in Khet, a BSF base 8 km from the battalion headquarters at Mandi in Poonch where Yadav was posted when he shot the videos, there is a quiet admiration among the personnel for what Yadav did.

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They mostly speak in hushed tones, without giving their names or identities, simply saying that at least someone had the “courage to speak up”. After Yadav’s videos went viral, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had asked the Union Home Secretary to immediately seek a report from the BSF and take appropriate action.

Yadav has now been shifted from the base at Khet to another unit at Rajouri, around 110 km away. A BSF spokesperson says he had been removed from the area to ensure that he does not “accuse his commanding officer, or other superior officer, of putting pressure on him. He can now depose during the inquiry fearlessly’’. Parveen Kumar, the Commanding Officer of the battalion, refused to speak to The Sunday Express.

A senior BSF officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, says it was only on December 29, a few days before Yadav uploaded the videos, that he was moved from the battalion headquarters at Mandi to Khet, to “meet a staff shortage” – the Khet base has nearly 20 personnel.

Khet, a small village with a population of nearly 500, is situated at an altitude of nearly 1,700 meters above sea level and records about 2 ft of snow during the winter months. At Khet, the BSF has an administrative base, a row of low-lying unplastered buildings along the road to the forward post at Sawjian. The Khet base serves as a warehouse of sorts from where ration and men are transported to forward locations along the LoC.

One of Yadav’s colleagues says he has been a “low medical category employee” ever since he lost “some fingers” on “one of his hands”, and that he was usually given “soft jobs”. For the last two years at Mandi, he had been tasked to operate the water motor pump, and earlier, while he was posted with the battalion in Agartala, did gardening work, says the colleague.

However, in one of his videos, Yadav, in BSF fatigues and holding a gun, is seen on duty as part of a road opening patrol (ROP). When asked how “a low medical category employee” could be sent to Khet, a tough terrain which sees heavy snowfall, a BSF personnel said the company commander had sent him there to do jobs such as supervising supplies to forward locations.

Since the 29 Battalion of the BSF comes under the operational control of the Army, the ration to the headquarters at Mandi, the Khet base and forward locations along the LoC is supplied by the Field Supply Depot (FSD) of the Army’s 93 Infantry Brigade at Poonch. Defence Ministry spokesperson Lt Colonel Manish Mehta confirmed that the 29 Battalion was being “supplied the same ration, at the similar scale” as that prescribed for Army soldiers.

A senior officer says that until December 31 last year, there had been fresh supply of vegetables to the Khet base and that from January 1 this year, tinned food came from the winter stock – a normal practice to ensure regular supply of ration to the jawans in case the road gets cuts off due to heavy snowfall. This year too, the season’s first snowfall had blocked the road to Khet for two days, says Mohammad Sadiq, a local villager, adding that it was reopened only on January 10. When Yadav shot the video – at Bedar, nearly half km from the Khet base — it was first snowfall of the year, says Sadiq. Five days later, inches of snow line both sides of the road.

The BSF continues to maintain that Yadav had a troubled past. “Right from his early days in the force, he needed regular counseling… He was a habitual offender of absenteeism without permission, chronic alcoholism, misbehaving and using force with superior officers and other acts against food order and discipline,’’ says the spokesperson, adding that it was for these reasons that Yadav “served mostly in headquarters under supervision of some dedicated superior officer”.

The spokesperson says Yadav was sent to the Khet administrative base “on an experimental basis to observe improvements of the past counseling’’. He says the DIG and the Commanding Officer had visited the Khet base last week, but there were no complaints from Yadav or the others.

Personnel at the battalion headquarters say Yadav was due to retire on January 31 and that BSF officers had approved his request for voluntary retirement, which he had made nearly three months ago. Yadav served in the BSF for nearly 22 years and had about 7 years of service left, says one of his colleagues.

Back in Mandi, Yadav is now the talk of the town, with locals openly discussing his “courage” for raking up an “important issue”. “Everything meant for the defence forces is being sold in the market – whether it is milk, ration, eggs or liquor,’’ says local PDP leader Shamim Ganaie. “You go to any shop and you will find items with labels that say ‘for defence use’ and ‘not for sale’,” he says, adding, “how one can expect our borders to be safe when our jawans are going hungry?’’

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