Lok Sabha election 2019: Rush hour for central forces on poll duty
Personnel of the central armed police forces (CAPF) who will ensure security during the summer’s Lok Sabha elections will move 78 times across the country between April 11 and May 23, the most they have in at least the past 15 years, data from the Election Commission (EC) shows.
According to an official aware of the details, the election schedule in past years allowed for easier and fewer trips for the troops. Data from EC shows that in 2004, the troops moved 50 times; in 2009, 58 times; and in 2014, 68 times.
The schedule is drawn up after due deliberation, taking into account security and the local issues of each state including festivals and examination dates, an EC official said on condition of anonymity.
For instance, a former EC official who asked not to be identified explained, EC will always try and ensure that areas that require special attention such as those afflicted by Left Wing extremism (LWE) go to polls in the same phase so that there is “a comprehensive security blanket in place.” The Union home ministry did not respond to queries on the movement of personnel.
CAPF personnel are used for security during elections along with the state police. The poll panel pays a honorarium ranging from Rs 2,500 for officers to Rs 1,500 for troopers for election duty, usually 15 days or less.
The total deployment of such personnel for these coming elections is 450-500 companies, including companies already positioned in various states. This is one of the highest deployments ever. Frequent movement forces lead to severe “command and control” issues CAPF officials admitted.
Troops are moved by special trains which always do not get priority. “Trains carrying troops are often made to made wait for long hours. Reaching basics such as food and water to the men becomes a logistical nightmare,” a senior CAPF official said on condition of anonymity. Moving men from train stations to their area of deployment isn’t hassle-free either. And by the time troops are on the third deployment, fatigue sets in. “It leads to discipline issues. Tired and fatigued troops are bound to underperform,” a senior official in the home ministry said on condition of anonymity. Finally, during elections companies are often made by drawing men from different companies and battalions and led by officers who have little knowledge of the troops. “But that said, the troops and CAPF leadership understand that this is required to keep democratic polity going,” the home ministry official said.
If the duty period exceeds 15 days, the honorarium increases by between Rs 750 and Rs 1,250 a week.
The EC relies on CAPF for their “superior training, rigorous field experience, perceived neutrality, and strict discipline” the home ministry official said.
Deployment of personnel is done based on consultation with the chief electoral officer (CEO) of the state and the ministry of home affairs. Also taken into account are factors such as the law and order situation, and an assessment of how smooth the election process is likely to be in the state in question.