Monday’s Maoist attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in West Midnapore exposed the weaknesses of the force.
“The average age of EFR personnel is more than 45 while that of a central paramilitary soldier is between 30 and 35,” said a police official not willing to be quoted.
The Eastern Frontier Rifles is a unit of the West Bengal government and functions under the state armed police department. Twenty-four troopers died in the attack.
“I am 52 now. Will my reflex match that of young (Maoist) fighters? I’m here only to increase the headcount,” said an assistant sub-inspector in a camp in Lalgarh, 160 km south-west of Kolkata.
Most of the EFR troopers join their jobs as jawans (equivalent of a constable) and retire in the same position.
“Without infrastructure development and appropriate training, we can hardly put up resistance,” said Bijitaswa Raut, general secretary of the West Bengal Police Association.
Policemen here are overburdened with work. For two and a half years they have been working for 12-14 hours a day, thanks to about 10,000 vacancies in the Bengal police.
“Very few of us have even the experience of taking part in street fights with local criminals. How can we take on Maoists? Women constables wielding INSAS rifles have used only sticks for most of their career,” said a sub-inspector.
INSAS is the acronym for ‘Indian small arms system’ and consists of an assault rifle, a light machine gun and a carbine.
There are about 1,200 police persons in the Maoist-affected areas now.