With the rise of right-wing outfits in the state, the possibility of communal clashes erupting is becoming a major cause of worry for the West Bengal government. So the state wants to form a specialised force that will exclusively handle such riots. However, since the formation of a specialised force involves huge funds and may require time to put in place, the government, for now, is focused on keeping its two India Reserve Battalions ready to handle such crises.
A top officer of the state government told HuffPost India, "This is a priority for us ... the government will do everything possible to handle communal clashes," confirming the above plan, as of now.
Communal clashes were recently reported in Dhulagarh (Howrah), Mayureshwar and Rampurhat (Birbhum), Asansol (Burdwan), Chinsurah and Chandannagar (Hooghly), Kharagpur (West Midnapore), Mograhat (South 24 Parganas), Metiabruz and Kidderpore (Kolkata), Tehatta (Nadia) and Naihati (North 24 Parganas), among other parts of West Bengal. Many of these incidents have not been reported widely. The media avoids them for fear that such reporting may lead to further flare-ups. The clashes have nonetheless been major causes of worry for the state government.
There are 12 state armed police battalions in West Bengal, apart from two India Reserve Battalions (IRB), and three Eastern Frontier Rifles battalions located in different parts of the state. These includes four companies of the Rapid Action Force. A battalion has an approximate strength of 800 personnel.
The two IRBs are stationed in Salt Lake (Kolkata), Durgapur, Burdwan and Siliguri. They are located in such a manner that they can rush to any part of the state within a reasonably short time if required. These are elite units, raised to combat serious law and order problems and Maoist activities in the state.
While the force is under West Bengal Police, it was formed after the Central paramilitary forces and the personnel are recruited from all over the country. They are deployed only in tough situations and apart from taking up the pivotal role in such operations, they provide support to the local police in the area.
They have been trained to handle sophisticated weapons and conduct raids, in cordoning and search operations, rescuing hostages, combing operations, ambush, counter-ambush, convoy protection, long-range patrolling and so on.
However, even as they have been trained to handle CPI (Maoist) activities, there have been little Naxalite activities in West Bengal since 2011-12. Some of the top Maoist leaders, who were active prior to this time, have surrendered before the state government since the death of CPI (Maoist) politburo member, Koteswar Rao, alias Kishanji.
The battalions have since been used to handle law and order situations, including in some areas where communal violence took place. Till the time a separate specialised force is in place, the government will continue to train and use these two battalions to handle difficult situations when communal clashes take place, the senior official added. It is also possible that one of these two IRBs may be converted into a specialised force to handle riots, he added.
"The IRB handles law and order situations. So they have been and will continue to be used in law and order situations in the state whenever required."
If any additional support is required, it may be provided by the state and Kolkata Police's Rapid Action Force, commando force, combat battalion and eight battalions of Kolkata Armed Police.
Ranvir Kumar, additional director general, Armed Police, who heads the IRB, however, refused to comment on the details. "The IRB handles law and order situations. So they have been and will continue to be used in law and order situations in the state whenever required," he said.
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