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In Bengal Maoist belt,the fight is now between the armed forces

No coordination between two forces,they come to blows and almost exchange fire

Written by Madhuparna Das | Kolkata |
March 6, 2012 3:13:01 am

Maoists may be lying low in Junglemahal following the elimination of Kishenji but what should have been a high point for West Bengal’s armed forces has been marred by infighting,indiscipline and,in many cases,rebellion.

Last week’s clash between Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) and Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) personnel,which escalated to the level that the two forces almost opened fire at each other,is just the latest. There have been cases of an EFR commandant holding a media meet wearing a mask,claiming his life was in danger,India Reserve Battalion airing grievances against superiors,and the government shifting forces out of barracks to buy peace.

Raised for specialised operations and policing,the forces are plagued with lack of coordination and planning,absence of a well-defined command structure,miserable infrastructure and non-professional handling.

Take the clash between EFR,one of the oldest paramilitary forces in West Bengal,and CIF,among the youngest crack commando forces,in Salua,Kharagpur. On February 24,on Mahashivratri day,a CIF man allegedly passed lewd comments at an EFR man’s daughter. Late that night,a mob of EFR men’s family members forced its way into CIF barracks and beat up CIF men,leaving more than 20 injured. However,no departmental action followed,neither was the CIF jawan who allegedly made the lewd remarks identified.

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Four days later,violence erupted between the two forces over an alleged molestation charge. EFR personnel and their family members again entered CIF barracks and set vehicles on fire. No disciplinary action was taken,with the FIR in the molestation charge only naming “unknown miscreants”. Instead,the government organised a “friendly volleyball “ match between the CIF and EFR.

For two days,the violence continued,with EFR men setting CIF vehicles on fire,apart from attacking its camp. The 200-strong CIF unit was eventually shifted out.

According to sources,there had been simmering discontent among EFR men over the inequities in command structure and salary and perks between it and the CIF. Still,the forces with different ethnicity were sheltered side by side in Salua.

Besides,the CIF men stationed there didn’t even have a permanent commandant to ensure discipline or constant monitoring. Commanding officers of CIF generally drop in at times to keep a watch. Incidentally,the same IPS officer holds charge as DIG,EFR,and DIG,CIF.

There is also anger within the Salua EFR families over the government not fulfilling its promises following the Silda attack that left 24 men of the force dead in February 2010. They had been shifted to Salua following this attack. Members of only six families have got government jobs. Families say even the government promise of giving them full salaries for the victims’ remaining years of service remains unfulfilled. Sona,wife of slain Madhukar Subba,says they have been getting only half the amount. After paying monthly rent for the quarters they live in,she says,they barely had enough to meet their needs.

After the Silda attack,DIG,EFR,Binay Chakraborty had stunned everybody by holding a press conference at the force headquarters in Kharagpur with his face covered in a black cloth,citing a high threat perception to him. He had accused SP,West Midnapore,Manoj Verma of not shifting the EFR camp at Silda despite threats from Maoists. Chakraborty was subsequently transferred.

Silda had earlier witnessed another rebellion,when an IRB unit had to be removed in September 2011 after personnel openly complained about mismanagement,lack of infrastructure and “inhuman treatment” by superiors. A month later,the IRB battalion was dismantled from Silda and the jawans were asked to report to Durgapur,the headquarters of IRB. The force was finally disbanded and merged into other forces.

“Problems are allowed to linger while these should be nipped in the bud. In many cases of indisciplined conduct,the offenders are let free. These combine to create a situation in which two police forces of the same government take up arms against each other,” said a senior official of the state armed police.

K L Tamta,IG,Armed Police,refused to comment.

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