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Home > 2021 > CISF Killings in Sitalkuchi In the Backdrop of an old story, I know | AK (...)

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

CISF Killings in Sitalkuchi In the Backdrop of an old story, I know | AK Biswas

Friday 23 April 2021, by A K Biswas

The Bihar Assembly Elections, 1995 were conducted in various phases to ensure free and fair poll under adequate security cover. The Election Commission of India, converted into a multi-member body in 1989, comprised three retired IAS officers with T. N. Seshan, a former Cabinet Secretary, as the presiding deity. As the Chief Election Commissioner, Seshan’s motto was “to act ruthlessly to ensure free and fair election” in exercise of “the powers vested in me.” And he built up his reputation in this role. In conduct of the Bihar Assembly Elections 1995, he locked horns with big guns of the establishment of Indian politics with aplomb. He not only replaced several lop-ranking state officials, e. g., Director General of Police, V.P. Jain and Home Commissioner Jiya Lal Arya on grounds of lack of coordination but his harsh condemnation did not spare Amiya Kumar Basak, Chief Secretary whom he described as "thoroughly unfit." [1] The collector and the superintendent of police of Gaya were suspended by the Election Commission.

Several companies of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), together with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) etc.---commonly termed as Central Para-Military Forces (acronym, CPMF) etc. were pressed in the election duties in Bihar. An artifice of the authority controlling CISF deployed in Saran Division, Bihar, not without ulterior objective, became hot stuff for media for the areas where I was concerned in responsible position for management and conduct of the assembly poll. My aim here is to highlight how CISF had bogged itself down in meaningless exercises to fritter away energies and attention, besides valuable time of senior executive officers of Election Commission of India and of State administration of Bihar engaged in critical responsibilities connected with the Assembly elections.

The Bihar Assembly elections of 1995 for Tirhut Division and Saran Division, comprising 22% of the state’s population (1991 census) were held in the last two phases --- turn of Saran Division came at the tail end. The Election Commission, with the afore-stated objective, had ensured availability of maximum CPMF, unknown before, for fair and free polling. The maximum numbers of polling booths were earmarked as supersensitive. To identify a booth as ‘supersensitive’ it must be highly vulnerable for jamming of booths, creating obstruction and widespread lawlessness with marked by danger to life of voter in exercise of their right of franchise, booth capturing, loot of ballot papers as well as loot of polled ballot boxes, hooliganism, etc. based on past experience regarding the booth(s) concerned.

The last two phases of the election, thus, enjoyed an enviable attention of the administration, not to speak of media. Almost the entire CPMF deputed for Bihar was rushed to Tirhut and Saran Division. The last phase covered three districts, e. g., Saran, Siwan and Gopalganj. Both Tirhut and Saran Divisions, it is noted, were teeming with security forces at the disposal of the Returning Officers (i. e. District Magistrates). The polling in Tirhut Division, which preceded Saran Division, passed off peaceful, thanks to the meticulous utilization of CPMF. In a surprise personal visit to a polling booth in Muzaffarpur town, I saw one of the notorious characters on north Bihar, known for his involvement in kidnapping, extortion, murder and highhandedness, alighting from his car, to walk some mandatory 200 meters to cast his vote in a booth---something his townsfolks never saw him doing before. He was obliged to do so as his car was prevented from dropping him right at the gate of the polling booth---a privilege his muscle flexing commanded.

Gopalganj, was the native district of Bihar chief minister, Laloo Prasad. His meteoric rise in political horizon signalled the advent of a new era. Intense media hype made a widespread and deep impression that muscle power of the emerging forces was to be blunted as well as neutralised to cripple hooligans from booth-capturing and committing other nefarious irregularities in favour of the ruling party implying Janata Dal. The society was vertically divided into two belligerent camps with the onset of Mandal era. Impartiality and commitment to honesty and uprightness of officers drafted for poll duties, unfortunately, were viewed with gravest suspicion by the Election Commission. The local media inflamed his perception by indulging in kiteflying. Seshan’s first meetings with Districts Magistrates, Superintendents of Police, Divisional Commissioners, Finance Secretary, Home Secretary and Chief Secretary in early October 1994 at Raj Bhawan, Patna left none in doubts about his perception.

On the day of election in Saran Division around 9.30 am or so, I got a communication marked TOP MOST PRIOTITY from the Election Commission calling on me to conduct an enquiry into allegation targeting the District Magistrates/Returning Officers of Saran Division. The complaint, alleging against the integrity and impartiality of the local officers engaged in conduct of the ongoing Assembly poll, coming as it did from Deputy Inspector General of CISF under the Ministry of Home Affairs, merited very high priority. He had questioned the integrity and honesty of the District Magistrates-cum-Returning Officers for their loyalty to the Chief Minister. As a proof, he pointed out as his contention that though several companies of CISF jawans under his command were available for poll duties, they were not deployed in polling booths for duties. According him, the CISF, a fine force, was not allowed to move out of barracks because of motivated and questionable objectives of the District Magistrates for their allegiance to the Chief Minister.

The complainant, a native of Bihar on deputation from Gujarat cadre of IPS, created intense anxiety and concern in officialdom at Patna besides heightened curiosity in the media. I was directed to submit my probe report next day by 5 pm or so, if my memory serves me well. I forgot to mention that I held dual charge as Commissioner, Tirhut Division and Saran Division, a unique instance Bihar did not boast at this critical point of time. I do not know why a grave error of the dimension of holding charges of two Divisions including the one, which was home district of Chief Minister Laloo Prasad by one and the same person dealing with election had escaped attention of the eagled-eyed T. N. Seshan, known as a stickler. The enigma haunts me even now.

All concerned senior officers including District Magistrates, Police Superintendents, Saran, Siwan and Gopalganj apart, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Saran Range, Inspector General, Muzaffarpur Region, senior most officers of the CRPF, BSF, CISF, RPF deputed for election duty for Saran Division attended a meeting convened by me at 9.30 am at Circuit House, Hajipur, District Headquarters of Vaishali. The first thing I wanted to ascertain from the officer commanding the Central Para-Military Force why the CISF, placed at the disposal of Returning Officers for election, was not deployed and utilized across Saran Division in polling duties. A DIG, CRPF who held the operational charge of the CPMF challenged the essence of such complaint, filed by the Deputy Inspector General of CISF to the Election Commission of India most cogently. He explained and contended that the CISF jawans were deployed for election duties in Saran Division by issuing formal orders. But they preferred law and order duties to perform only in urban areas. In case it was not feasible, they opted for duties in areas along metalled roads only. They were opposed against serving in rural areas. The DIG, CRPF did not entertain their requests. He wisely kept the cantankerous CISF jawans confined in the barracks for the day and deployed his boys from the CRPF. The substitutes performed to the entire satisfaction of all concerned. Election in Saran Division passed off peacefully.

The District Magistrates, it is clarified, did not enjoy authority to deploy CPMF for polling duties. They were under disposal of the Officer controlling the CPMF for operational purposes on such occasion. The fact that deployment of the CISF for polling duties in Saran Division was supported by official orders issued in advance, the DIG, CISF had no case at all. Their refusal to perform duties in rural areas were submitted in writing. So, the Deputy Inspector General of CRPF replaced the CISF by boys from CRPF by issuing formal orders. Copies of all relevant orders were made available to me on demand during enquiry. My report was submitted to the Election Commission, having due regard for the timeframe laid down in their communication aforementioned.

The Deputy Inspector General of CISF in Bihar used a subterfuge to camouflage inability of his own force to perform duties in rural areas. His complaint to Election Commission, to speak spade a spade, was concocted, frivolous and without any grain of truth. The complaints were not substantiated by investigation. In conclusion, I reported that the allegations of the DIG, CISF to the Election Commission of India were bundle of lies. They were results of the complainant’s concoction. fabrication, mischief which deserved no attention. So, I requested the ECI to dismiss the complaints of the DIG, CISF.

My report seemed to have fully satisfied the ECI as I did not hear anything from them thereafter. And happily, all turned quiet on the western front.

A unique organisation, CISF as paramilitary forces of India, works for seaways, airways and some of the major installations in India. It plays a major role in Disaster Management and its ‘Fire Wing’ helps during fire accidents in Industries where the CISF is on guard. Security cover to 300 industrial units, government infrastructure projects and facilities and establishments located all over India area is provided by CISF. Vital industrial sectors like atomic power plants, space installations, mines, oil fields and refineries, major ports, heavy engineering, steel plants, barrages, fertiliser units, airports and hydroelectric/thermal power plants owned and controlled by Central Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), and currency note presses producing Indian currency enjoy protection of CISF. Press Information Bureau release disclosed in April 2017 that the government raised the sanctioned strength of the CISF from 145,000 to 180,000 personnel.

Recently the Central Industrial Security Force has been deployed to Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan for providing security cover. Many central universities enjoy identical benefits.

The firing by CISF jawans posted at Amtali MSK (booth no. 5/126) resulted in a tragedy of four deaths and created a public outcry. Post-mortem reports of the dead bodies suggested that the victims were shot in their chests.

Four poor youths, who died in firing by CISF jawans posted at Amtali MSK (booth number 5/126), had bullet wounds in their upper torso. [2] The place of the tragedies, located deep interior of rural West Bengal, bordering the Rangpur district of Bangladesh did not match the notion of CISF’s model as a place for polling duty. This was the common thread with them on similar duty in Saran of Bihar.

An impartial inquiry is well warranted to focus if CISF is attitudinally apathetic to perform law and order duties in rural areas. The inquiry should as well probe if they suffer from an attitudinal hostility against serving in rural areas even in national interests? Their places of deployment in domestic as well as international airports across India, besides universities, prominent industrial establishments, etc. might have filled them with a sense of superiority vis-à-vis election-related duties.

And if of necessity, the CISF has to be utilised for poll duties, attitudinal re-orientation by thorough and appropriate training of jawans must be ensured to meet future challenges. Else avoidable tragedies as witnessed in Sitalkuchi would continue be repeated with governments----state and centre---locked publicly in blaming and accusing each other.

Tailpiece

Of 72 constituencies of Tirhut and Saran Divisions, Janata Dal won 54, i. e., 75%. The State had 324 Assembly seats prior to bifurcation on 15th November 2000. Of the remaining 252, JD won 113 seats which accounts for 45% of the Assembly. This underlines that elsewhere in the state, security arrangements did not match that of Tirhut and Saran Division.

Had the Doubting Thomas in T. N. Seshan not been outrageously provoked by suspicion of malpractices including rigging, Tirhut, and Saran Divisions would not have received priority in security it was accorded in the deployment of forces for polling. With security measures at par with the state as a whole, I have little doubt, route of Janata Dal in 1995 could be a foregone conclusion. Toughest security measures effectively went in favour of Janata Dal as it frustrated the goons, booth-looters and miscreants to influence the polling pattern. JD was voted back to power for a second term.

Laloo Prasad was enormously grateful to Seshan for all the tough measures the ECI had adopted specially for Tirhut and Saran Divisions. He indeed thanked Seshan in the end for the massive electoral exercises of Bihar Assembly in 1995.

(Author: Dr. Atulkrishna Biswas, a former Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur and a retired IAS officer)


[1India Today, CEC postpones elections in Bihar for fourth time, Laloo asked to head caretaker government by Farzand Ahmed, March 31, 1995.

[2The Telegraph 18 April, 2021.

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