‘Assam Rifles’ Dual Control Structure

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    In News

    • Killing of over a dozen civilians in Mon district of Nagaland saw angry crowds vandalise camps of Assam Rifles in the district.

    Background 

    • Issue over the control: Both MHA and MoD have wanted full control of the force for a long time.
    • Proposal: It was in 2013 that MHA first made a proposal to take operational control of the Assam Rifles and merge it with the BSF.
      • The current plan is to merge Assam Rifles with the ITBP.
    • The Indian Army: has actually been pushing for not only total control of Assam Rifles but also operational control over ITBP, which guards the Sino-Indian border and is currently engaged in a standoff with the Chinese PLA in eastern Ladakh.

    Assam Rifles

    • Central armed police forces: Assam Rifles is one of the six central armed police forces (CAPFs) under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
      • The other forces being the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the Sashastra Seema BAL (SSB).
    • Role: It is tasked with the maintenance of law and order in the North East along with the Indian Army and also guards the Indo-Myanmar border in the region.
    • It has a sanctioned strength: of over 63,000 personnel and has 46 battalions apart from administrative and training staff.

    Contributions of Assam Rifles

    • Oldest paramilitary force: Assam Rifles is the oldest paramilitary force raised way back in 1835 in British India with just 750 men.
    • Two World Wars: Since then, it has gone on to fight in two World Wars, the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and used as an anti-insurgency force against militant groups in the North East.
      • In World War I, the force was awarded seventy-six gallantry medals including seven Indian Order of Merit awards and five Indian Distinguished Service Medals for its contribution in Europe and the Middle East during the conflict.
      • In World War II, after the lightning Japanese advance in 1942, the Assam Rifles fought a number of Independent actions behind enemy lines as the task of rear-area defence and rear-guard often fell to them during the Allies retreat into India.
    • Cachar Levy: Raised as a militia to protect British tea estates and their settlements from the raids of the NE tribes, the force was first known as Cachar Levy.
    • Assam Frontier Force: It was reorganised later as Assam Frontier Force as its role was expanded to conduct punitive operations beyond Assam borders.
    • Contribution: Given its contribution in opening the region to administration and commerce, it came to be known as the “right arm of the civil and left arm of the military”.
    • Post-Independence role:
      • Conventional combat role: The Post-Independence role of the Assam Rifles continued to evolve ranging from conventional combat role during Sino-India War 1962, operating in a foreign land as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka in 1987 (Op Pawan) to peacekeeping role in the North-Eastern areas of India.
      • Most awarded paramilitary force: It remains the most awarded paramilitary force in both pre- and post-independent India.

    What makes it unique?

    • Dual control structure: It is the only paramilitary force with a dual control structure.
      • While the administrative control of the force is with the MHA, its operational control is with the Indian Army, which is under the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
      • This means that salaries and infrastructure for the force is provided by the MHA, but the deployment, posting, transfer and deputation of the personnel is decided by the Army.
      • However, being a Central Armed Police force under MHA, its recruitment, perks, promotion of its personnel and retirement policies are governed according to the rules framed by the MHA for CAPFs.
    • Ranks: All its senior ranks, from DG to IG and sector headquarters are manned by officers from the Army.
      • The force is commanded by Lieutenant General from the Indian Army.
    • On the lines of the Indian Army: The force is the only central paramilitary force (CPMF) in the real sense as its operational duties and regimentation are on the lines of the Indian Army.

    Issues

    • Two sets of demands: This has created two sets of demands from both within the Assam Rifles and by MoD and MHA for singular control over the force by one ministry.
    • Perks and benefits: A large section within the force wants to be under the administrative control of the MoD, as that would mean better perks and retirement benefits which are far higher compared to CAPFs under MHA.
    • Retirement: However, Army personnel also retire early, at 35, while the retirement age in CAPF is 60 years.
    • Promotions: CAPF officers have recently been granted non-functional financial upgradation (NFFU) to at least financially address the issue of stagnation in their careers due to a lack of avenues for promotion.
      • But Army personnel also get one rank one pension which is not available to CAPFs.
    • National security: Army has argued that giving the control of the force to MHA or merging it with any other CAPF will confuse the force and jeopardise national security.

    Significance

    • Comprehensive and integrated approach: MHA has argued that all the border guarding forces are under the operational control of the ministry and so Assam Rifles coming under MHA will give border guarding a comprehensive and integrated approach.
    • Functioning: MHA sources say that Assam Rifles continues to function on the pattern set during the 1960s and the ministry would want to make guarding of the Indo-Myanmar border on the lines of other CAPFs.
    • Coordination with Army: Army is of the opinion that the Assam Rifles has worked well in coordination with the Army and frees up the armed forces from many of its responsibilities to focus on its core strengths.
    • A military force: It has also been argued that Assam Rifles was always a military force and not a police force and has been built like that.

    Source: IE