By Rajnish Singh
New Delhi, Oct 4 : After becoming the first Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) Director General to travel to high-altitude border outposts (BOPs) situated between 13,000 and 14,500 feet in Himachal Pradesh to meet force personnel, Surjeet Singh Deswal said that his “jawans are doing quite a tough job there, but their morale and commitment is high”.
Sharing his experience, the 1984-batch Haryana cadre IPS officer told IANS that the basic challenge in those BOPs were the “high topography and extreme weather conditions.”
He, however, stressed that his troops were well-trained and experienced, and their performance was excellent in those challenging areas.
In the second week of September, Deswal traversed 103 km on foot to high-altitude BOPs and border areas in Himachal Pradesh to meet the ITBP personnel and know about the real problems they face during their deployment and patrolling.
Leading by an example in fitness and camaraderie, Deswal, along with other senior officers from the ITBP headquarters, crossed the undulating terrain and few fast-flowing mountain rivers during a four-day long journey which started at a height of 13,000 feet.
Low on oxygen but high on “josh” (enthusiasm), he said that he walked for almost 8-10 hours every day during his visit to the various BOPs, the highest one at 14,500 feet.
This was not his first high-altitude tour.
In June this year, the ITBP chief went to Lipulekh Pass on the border between Uttarakhand and Tibet on foot before trekking 42 km to meet ITBP personnel guarding the Amarnath Yatra in July.
“It is my duty to visit the border outposts. I am duty-bound to visit the last post manned by our men, regardless of the height or the tough terrain. We visited only hard areas and tough terrain. Some of the posts were not connected by the roads. Even jawans have to walk these areas. So, we have to walk,” he said.
Deswal, who was awarded the Indian Police Medal for meritorious service in 2001 and President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 2012, initiated the effort and a team of officers, including Inspectors Generals and Commandants, accompanied him during the walk.
“These terrains are very hard. Our jawans and officers walk with huge luggage and all their logistical needs. They conduct patrols on foot,” he said, adding that in the last four-five years, there is an increase in the roads in these areas and more and more BOPs are being road connected.
Despite of increased road connection and transport connection to such BOPs, Deswal said the “hardships are still there in some areas”.
“Now, almost 25 per cent of our BOPs are yet to be connected by roads. They are connected by air.
“So all connection is through helicopters. They are facilitated with everything….”
On the problems, Deswal said that in some of the areas above the 11,000 feet, the oxygen level starts decreasing.
“It is about the tree line. And it is otherwise also a tough terrain for all of the troopers. In spite of this, they (ITBP troopers) are perfectly guarding the border in all this terrain. Our BOPs are located up to the height of 14,500 feet. So, jawans are doing quite a tough job there. But with their morale and commitment high, they are protecting the border with China sincerely and with confidence.”
Asked how did he felt during his arduous high-altitude visit at age of 58, Deswal said: “Its my duty to visit all of them. It is my mandate to visit them whatever may be the heights or whatever may be the difficulties.”
His visit, Deswal said, filled the ITBP personnel deployed at the BOPs with confidence as it sent a message that their senior officers are taking care of them.
“At such interactions, their problems are also sorted out. And if there is any deficiency in the arrangement for them, that is also sorted out. So, it helps them a lot.”
As to what kind of problems he observed during his visit to those BOPs, Deswal said as far as logistical arrangements are concerned, they are quite good now.
“As far as ration is concerned and extreme weather conditions, the clothing is concerned, it is quite good. All things are being made available to all ranks.”
ITBP, a specialized mountain force, is presently deployed on border guarding duties from Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh covering the 3,488 km India-China border and manning Border Outposts on altitudes ranging from 9,000 feet to 18,700 feet in the western, central and eastern sectors of the border.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)