A video by a Border Security Force (BSF) Constable, Tej Bahadur Yadav, posted on his face book account and alleging that troops deployed along the Line of Control (LOC) are being served bad, inedible food, has gone viral on social media.

The BSF has, in its statement with regard to the incident, spoken of harsh serving conditions which pose “difficult challenges” while reiterating that “ration is authorised to all, including officers at the LoC and available in good quality, quantity and variety.”

The BSF has also said that the Constable is a habitual offender prone to “absenteeism without permission, chronic alcoholism, misbehaving and using force with superior officers, besides other acts against good order and discipline.”

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has tweetd from his personal Twitter account to say that he has directed the Home Secretary to look into the matter and seek a report from the BSF.

As the official machinery sets into motion there are some issues that need to be seen in perspective. First and foremost and the one which has a direct impact on operations pertains to the deployment of Tej Bahadur in a high intensity and sensitive operational area. If he is a psychologically unstable, alcoholic and prone to violence than he is a walking talking time bomb, a disaster waiting to happen.  He can kill his officers or his colleagues; he can be derelict on duty and compromise the security of his entire company.

Under the circumstances, what he has done is the least of the many drastic and dangerous steps that he could have taken. It seems that, in this instance, all instructions for psychological profiling of troops deployed in high intensity operational areas and keeping them under constant watch have been blatantly ignored. How many more such cases are there in the rank and file of the organisation?

This is a very serious issue to which the BSF has admitted and the Home Ministry should take immediate cognisance of the same. Tej Bahadur Yadav has also said that he is on duty for eleven hours continuously day after day. This is against all standing instructions and standard operating procedures on the subject, whereby, a soldier is not allowed to work at a stretch and without regular breaks through turnovers. The duty rosters are inspected by officer from company onwards right up to the level of the Commanding Officer, so how has such a situation come to pass? It seems that soldiers of the company involved in administrative duty are far in excess of what is required, which is putting unnecessary and avoidable pressure on those operationally deployed. This can be done only with the tacit approval of all officers up the chain of command.

There is the very critical aspect of security that also needs to be looked into. Here we have a BSF soldier taking Selfies (probably with a stick) right on the LOC and there is no senior around to check him! How has such a situation come to pass?

So far as the quality of food is concerned, in case it is of the type that has been shown on the video then it is a serious matter indeed. The Armed Forces of the country are known to provide wholesome food and nutrition to troops and they do so with a fair degree of pride. It may be noted that officers are supposed to randomly visit the kitchen and dining hall. They check the premises for hygiene and cleanliness; taste the food and give comments on the duty register, which is sent to the Commanding Officer for perusal.

It would be interesting to see whether officers of the sub-unit have been raising concerns about the quality of food to their seniors through the medium of the many checks that are in place.  It also has to be investigated whether such a complaint of food has been made earlier by the personnel of the company and has been ignored by the command hierarchy.

In case it is the army that is responsible for providing food to the company the responsibility of the BSF officers to ensure that the food is of acceptable quantity and quality becomes even more critical. Had a complaint been registered it would have followed a well established redressal mechanism that goes up the chain of command to the level of the ministry.

Those instructed to conduct an enquiry into the subject must dwell minutely of all aspects listed above. The matter goes much beyond bad food and has serious operational consequences. It cannot be brushed aside as is being attempted. All those responsible for this lapse, especially the officers, need to be given exemplary censure.

Para-military forces are normally commanded at the higher level by officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) who consider such deputation to be a punishment posting. They stay aloof from the troops, much like the officers of the Pakistan army, and leave their administration to the lower levels.  The troops become rudderless and are, as such, susceptible to lax discipline and even corruption. It is a fact that, in some instances, they are attached to the army for operational purposes but for their logistics they are more or less autonomous. The army is also not responsible for their discipline.

The lack of commitment at the officers’ level in the paramilitary forces has come up for debate and scrutiny a large number of times. It has been spoken off when large bodies of troop have been massacred during anti-naxal operations mainly due to bad operational planning, bad procedures and most importantly, lack of leadership. 

It is the first time that this debate has come in the forefront during this term of the NDA government. It is hoped that the incident will serve as a lesson and corrective action will be taken before a larger tragedy takes place.