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Deployment of Central Forces in the North East: Need for a Realistic Security Audit

Gautam Sen is a retired IDAS officer who has served in senior positions at the Centre and in a north-east State Government.
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  • July 15, 2015

    While presiding over a meeting of the Chief Ministers of North-East (NE) states on July 11 at Guwahati, the Home Minister called for a realistic audit of the deployment of central security forces in the region. The Minister hinted at a reduction of these forces, given the Centre’s appraisal that the internal, i.e., insurgency, situation in the region has improved, and taking into account the high level of such deployment during the past few years. The implication of the Home Minister’s remarks is that the Union Government expects the NE states to bear greater responsibility for internal security management in the future. The Minister has, however, assured the chief ministers concerned that Central forces would not be denied to their states if required.

    Issues of Concern

    The views of the Union Government need to be evaluated in the backdrop of the actual scenario prevailing in the North-East states over the past two to three years. Nagaland remains in a state of political ferment and continues to contend with latent insurgency. Central security forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Assam Rifles have not been able to prevent extortion by the underground groups. In fact, civil society groups like the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation have had to intervene and oppose extortion. Further, the state has continued to witness incidents of security concern: insurgents have intercepted a state government minister’s vehicle and shot at a chief minister`s media adviser; more than one insurgent group has engaged in hostile activities in the wake of the NSCN(K)’s withdrawal from its ceasefire accord with the Centre; and a total collapse of the law and order machinery occurred in Dimapur over an alleged rape case. The issue of autonomy in the eastern Nagaland districts of Mon, Kiphere, Tuensang and Longleng has not yet been put to rest. In addition, a significant border fracas had occurred in the disputed areas of Golaghat and Wokha districts of Assam and Nagaland, respectively.

    Nor have other NE states, with the exception of Tripura and Mizoram, been completely free of the activities of anti-national elements. Border management, particularly with Myanmar, remains an issue as was evident during the recent assault on the army contingent in Chandel District of Manipur. Hostile action has also been prevalent in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Though the activities of the Garo National Front in Meghalaya and the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland have been contained to a great extent, they still retain the potential to disrupt public life. The situation in the Bodoland Territorial Area District, comprising Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri and Kokrajhar, are not totally free from communal tension.

    It is undeniable that the primary responsibility for maintaining law and order as per the constitutional provision rests with the state government. However, the fact of the matter is that over the years the capacity of the NE states to ensure credible security has eroded. The causes are many, including declining administrative ability, financial mismanagement, inappropriate recruitment, etc. An interesting fact is that in some of the NE states the strength of the police establishment is nearly 30 per cent of the total personnel strength (which itself is very high vis-à-vis the population of the State) of the state government concerned. Despite financial support from the Centre for upgrading the state police`s operational capacity, apart from the deployment of Central forces, the overall situation has been in a state of flux and even sensitive in some areas of the region. In fact, continued dependence on the Centre has led to a situation where state governments expect the Union Government to step in every time the security situation deteriorates.

    The Centre had been executing a police modernisation scheme for the states. This scheme, broadly financed by the Centre, involves augmentation of the state police’s permanent infrastructure, their equipment and logistics, and also provides for the raising of India Reserve Battalions (IRBs). The operational-cum-maintenance expenditure, as per the scheme, was borne by the states. This scheme has benefitted the NE states substantially.

    But apropos the 14th Finance Commission`s recommendations, the Union Government has totally de-linked the police modernisation scheme from Central assistance beginning with the current financial year. This decision will adversely impact the ability of NE states to assume greater responsibility for maintaining their internal security situation. The Union Government could have drawn up a plan for the gradual reduction of Central financial support for the NE state police forces, instead of withdrawing it totally and, that too abruptly. The likely adverse impact of this move was highlighted by no less a person than a Member of the Finance Commission (in a dissenting note on the recommendations made). One outcome of this decision could be that, eventually, more Central forces might be required at select areas and locations since support from the state police may not be adequate when the need arises. In the ultimate analysis, it is finances and political will that are likely to matter.

    The finances of the NE states are, however, not robust enough to enable them to increase internal security expenditure. As a consequence of the 14th Finance Commission`s recommendations, total Central assistance (inclusive of tax devolution and grants) to these states will de-facto decline because the outflow of Central funds to the states will reduce consequent upon the Union Government eliminating Central assistance from schemes like police modernisation, backward regions grant funds, etc. This will compel these states to deploy a higher proportion of funds for developmental expenditure from their own resources. The resultant financial situation may not enable the NE states to upgrade their police machinery. And there will be a consequential fall-out in the security sphere.

    Way Forward

    An audit of the deployment of Central forces as hinted by the Union Home Minister may be worthwhile, provided it is undertaken holistically, i.e., by taking into account numerous relevant audit reviews carried out earlier by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG). The North Eastern Council (NEC), which has a security adviser, could be associated with this exercise. But the NEC has not been allowed to perform its inherent security role by both the Centre and the NE state governments. In this backdrop, the Inter-State Council (ISC) machinery, which has a wide ambit under Article 263 of the Constitution to delve into matters of common interest to some States and the Centre, could be activated.

    The security audit, to be done in a realistic frame, may include some interlocutors (with experience in the intelligence apparatus) who had interacted or are interacting with insurgent groups, and one or two officers (serving or retired) of the C&AG`s department at the level of Deputy Auditor General (Secretary equivalent) given their understanding of the functioning of the state government machinery at various tiers as well as their independence of approach. The outcome of the security audit may be considered and decided upon by a group of the ISC consisting of the Union Home Minister and the NE Chief Ministers, before final approval by the Prime Minister. This may be a politically acceptable way to bring about more discipline in internal security management and optimisation in resource deployment.

    Gautam Sen (IDAS: Retd.) was Adviser to the North Eastern Council and the Government of Nagaland, and is presently Adviser to a former Chief Minister of Nagaland and current Member of the Lok Sabha.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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