Assam Rifles

Context: Mizoram Chief Minister has asked the Assam Rifles to shift its base from the heart of State capital Aizawl to outskirts of the city at the earliest besides stepping up vigil along the border with Myanmar to check drug trafficking.

  • One of the battalions of the Assam Rifles, India’s oldest paramilitary force established in 1835 as the Cachar Levy, had moved to the State capital in 2019.
  • Shifting of Assam Rifles bases from urban centres in the Northeast has been a sentimental issue, as the paramilitary force is seen as a reminder of many a conflict.

Analysis

Central Armed Police Forces in India

  • Assam Rifles (AR)
  • Border Security Force (BSF)
  • Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)
  • Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)
  • Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)
  • National Security Guard (NSG)
  • Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)
  1. Assam Rifles is the only paramilitary force which is not solely controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)
  2. The Assam Rifles functions under the administrative control of the Home Ministry while the operational control lies with the Ministry of Defence (It is headed by Army personnel who come under the Ministry of Defence).
  3. At present, it fulfils the dual role of maintaining internal security in the North-eastern region and guarding the Indo-Myanmar Border.
  4. The HQs of all the Central Armed Police Forces are located at Delhi, except that of Assam Rifles (AR) which is at Shillong.

History of Assam Rifles

  • The Assam Rifles was formed under the British in 1835 by the name of Cachar Levy to assist the British rulers in maintaining peace in the Northeast.
  • Its Battalions rendered great service by assisting the British in Europe and West Asia during the World War I.
  • These battalions were then renamed Assam Rifles. They continued to be regular armed police battalions, but with the ‘Rifles’ tag, which was a matter of honour for their competence, on par with any regular Army battalion.

Why Dual Control?

  • It was after the Chinese aggression in 1962 in Arunachal Pradesh that the Assam Rifles battalions were placed under the operational control of the Army.
  • Assam Rifles personnel who were acclimatised to the region were better suited for operations then.
  • It needs to be remembered that one of the major causes for India’s defeat was the fact that the regular Army units were not used to the extreme weather.
  • The decision taken then was in keeping with the requirements. This is not the case anymore.
  • All Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are acclimatised to almost every region of the country now due to country-wide deployment of all CAPF battalions.
  • The operational role performed by the ITBP at 18,700 feet in Ladakh is testimony enough to its capability to guard the border in any part of the country.
  • If ITBP can guard the India-China border in Ladakh, there is no reason why it cannot guard the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh and beyond.
  • The concept of having two masters for an organisation — one for administrative control and another for operational control — is not only absurd but also leads to problems of coordination. Therefore, the Home Ministry’s move to merge all its 55,000-strong Assam Rifles with the ITBP is a step in the right direction.

Opposed to the Move

  • The Army argues that the Assam Rifles should be merged with it, to ensure national security.
  • It requires no wisdom to conclude that the Army would lose its promotional avenues once this paramilitary force is merged with the ITBP, as it would be directly under the control of the Home Ministry.
  • At present, nearly 80% of officers’ ranks from Major upwards are held by Army officers on deputation. A Lieutenant-General of the Army holds the post of Director General of Assam Rifles. It is natural for the Army to oppose the move.
  • The Home Ministry took up the issue of a merger with the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
  • The matter is also in the Delhi High Court now after retired personnel filed a petition saying they were facing difficulties in drawing pension because of dual control.

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