Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s open admission that the amount of remuneration received by VDF personnel in the state is not sufficient with the nature of work and duties they are performing certainly sends mixed signals. He was speaking at the 12th Raising Day function of VDF recently. The Village Defence Force (VDF) was raised during Congress regime in 2009 after approval by the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram when he visited Imphal. The monthly remuneration of a VDF member then was Rs 3,000 and ration money Rs 570, and the initial plan then was to recruit 3,100 VDF members only. Now, the remuneration has increased to Rs 10,500 including ration money while the number of VDF has crossed the 10,000 mark, within a short span of 12 years. It is true that, the remuneration given to them is not commensurate with the work and duties assigned. The chief minister also acknowledged the original demand of VDF association to increase their remuneration to Rs 12,000, which he promised to address in accordance with the financial condition of the state.
No matter which party comes to power, Manipur has always been in a perpetual state of financial distress as it heavily depends on the largesse of the Central government for lack of adequate revenue resources of its own to finance its governance and developmental needs. At the end of 2000 decade, the state had already a large overladen police force including the armed MR and IRB battalions as compared to its population and a fragile law and order situation which it constantly advertises in its efforts to increase state forces. It was in these circumstances that the state government had decided to raise such an auxiliary force to assist the regular police force while keeping financial commitments to the minimum. Initially, the state had decided to recruit 3,100 Village Defence Force (VDF) members for all the districts in the state. Imphal West, Imphal East and Bishnupur each was to get 350 VDF members for their police stations while Thoubal was to get 500 personnel.
The idea of raising such a force was originally conceived after the May 2008 incident of Heirok under Thoubal District in which villagers stood up against the atrocities of a particular militant group, leading to the appointment of Special Police Officers (SPOs) to guard the village. It was modelled on the practice of some Maoist active areas of North India, where tribal youths are employed as SPOs after being trained with the use of the obsolete .303 rifles, who are paid an honorarium of Rs 1,500 per month by the state governments. The Supreme Court ultimately directed the Chhattisgarh police to immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner or form in any activities, directly or indirectly, aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities. SPO had a dreaded predecessor in the form of Salwa Judum which the Supreme Court declared illegal.
Since its inception, VDF is talked about more for its notoriety than service to the people and the state. We shall not go into the manner of their recruitment as many termed the process as a farce.
The training modules were even more slip-shod and the training period so short that a sense of discipline could not simply be injected in their body and mind, which came out in full display when they were ultimately deployed among the general public. Another snag is that, there is no rank and file among the VDF members and the senior most in age are generally given the responsibility of command in the functioning of a VDF unit if it is not under the supervision of a regular police officer.
In the light of these circumstances, one needs to revisit the original purpose of raising the force in 2009 and also assess the outcomes originally conceived, while considering any enhancement in remuneration. Besides, there is the need for reforms in structure and mandate of the force also.