Home minister P Chidambaram recently met Indian Air Force chief NAK Browne to address concerns raised by police and security forces operating in Maoist-affected Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh over what they feel is the IAF’s apparent reluctance to provide support during operations against the rebels.
The cabinet committee on security (CCS) had tasked the IAF with lending a shoulder to the ground forces more than two years ago. But the governments of the two states — the worst hit by Maoist violence — have been complaining about the air force’s stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs), which the agencies felt were casting doubts on their leadership abilities, particularly when it came to transporting personnel and in casualty evacuation.
Both the police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) feel the IAF SOPs are more hindrance than help and are worried about the impact on the morale of the ground forces.
The high-level meeting discussed one such incident where eight injured jawans of the Jharkhand Police and the CRPF had to be evacuated from Mandal, near Latehar district, on April 9. “Two of the injured were sinking and would have just bled to death,” a senior state police officer told HT.
An MI-17 helicopter of the IAF did take off from Ranchi for Mandal but returned due to a technical snag. The CCS had mandated that two choppers be deployed at Ranchi but no second chopper was stationed there. The IAF explained the absence by saying the state had not provided the infrastructure needed to maintain the helicopter.
But Jharkhand DGP GS Rath told HT, "The air force is too protocol-oriented and not accommodative enough. Finally, two state pilots rose to the occasion and precious lives were saved."
The two pilots, Capt Sheelpriya Verma and co-pilot RP Maurya, who flew to Mandal and evacuated the jawans, have been given commendation certificates by the Jharkhand DGP and CRPF director general K Vijay Kumar.
The IAF denies any reluctance on its part but differences between the two crucial arms reflect how the battle against the insurgents is being fought. It was pointed out at the meeting that while the ground forces often go into uncharted territories — to wage war against what the PM refers to as the biggest internal security
threat - the air force wants the helipads to be completely sanitised, which is not always possible.
In a written reply on the issue, the air force said it "continues to carry out successful operations despite the lack of infrastructure. There have been instances of aircraft being hit by offensive action but this does not deter the air force. There has never been any reluctance in carrying out any mission that has been tasked through the appropriate channel".