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So many lives but little value

How much value does the Indian State put on the lives of its soldiers and law-enforcers? The answer to that question is connected not only to the country’s ability to defend itself against its internal enemies but also provides a jarring clue to why the battle against Maoist terror is far from being fought on a war-footing.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2010 21:58 IST

How much value does the Indian State put on the lives of its soldiers and law-enforcers? The answer to that question is connected not only to the country’s ability to defend itself against its internal enemies but also provides a jarring clue to why the battle against Maoist terror is far from being fought on a war-footing. The attack on an Eastern Frontiers Rifles (EFR) camp in West Bengal on Monday was a blatant warning that Maoist violence has no intention of stalling and going into a huddle while the central and state governments firm up strategic and logistic details of countering the menace.

Maoist guerrilla wing chief Kishenji subsequently stated that more such attacks would take place unless the Centre refrained from launching its proposed anti-Maoist surge. We simply can’t afford to remain unprepared each and every time. On February 7 at the chief ministers’ meet on internal security, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram emphasised the need for an adequate armed force to take on the Maoists. The PM pointed to home ministry figures — till September 2009, about 394,000 posts — about 20 per cent of the sanctioned posts — in the state police forces are lying vacant. You need numbers to fight. But along with firming up the numbers comes the quality of training. The Maoists work along a specific asymmetrical terrain and using the old Maoist tactic of ‘moving among people as a fish swims in the sea’. Thus, the extra need, as the PM underlined, to ensure “good infrastructure for our police forces to be effective and efficient”. If around 80 per cent of the police budget in all states is used for salaries, allowances and pensions, the only way to ensure proper training is to up the budgets earmarked for infrastructure and training.

The Multi-Agency Centre in the Intelligence Bureau now shares intelligence with state agencies. Such intelligence has to percolate further down so that action — both in terms of policy as well as law and order — is taken. Referring to Maoist intercepts gathered, the Solicitor General of India told the Supreme Court on Monday that police officers virtually carry “a death band” when they enter the Maoist-territory. That is a sad reflection on how the Indian State is equipped to take on its enemies. It is also a sad state of how it values the lives of its own men.