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SOS to states on troops suicide

New Delhi, Dec. 12: Chief ministers and state administrations will be asked to resolve domestic problems of soldiers urgently, a high-level meeting called by the defence secretary here today decided.

State governments will be “obliged to respond” to complaints from unit commanders of the armed forces if they write to district magistrates and superintendents of police.

“Our soldiers are your responsibility also, defence minister A.K. Antony will tell the chief ministers,” a defence ministry source said this evening.

Defence secretary Shekhar Dutt will also write to state chief secretaries urging them to pass on appropriate orders to district magistrates and superintendents of police.

The missives from the defence ministry will be accompanied by data on armed forces recruitment from all 525 districts of the country.

“This should make it easy to trace a soldier’s antecedents,” the defence source said. The Union home ministry will be kept in the loop.

The decision was taken after 100 soldier suicides were reported so far this year, the last on December 1 by a lieutenant colonel. Commanding officers of army units empowered to communicate the problems of their troops to the DMs and SPs are usually of colonel and lieutenant colonel rank.

The defence secretary also constituted an inter-services committee comprising representatives of all armed forces and the Directorate-General of the Armed Forces Medical Service. The committee will meet periodically and also whenever an incident of soldier suicide or “fragging” — the act of killing colleagues or superior officers by soldiers — is reported.

About 100 soldier suicides have been reported every year in the last five years. Most of the soldiers/officers turned their service weapons on themselves after being unable to withstand domestic pressures while serving in operations.

Internal studies of the army have concluded that a majority of the suicides were by soldiers frustrated at being unable to resolve domestic problems while on counter-insurgency duty.

Internal studies have pointed to marital disputes and disputes over property being the most disturbing of domestic pressures on soldiers. They are unable to resolve these problems because they serve far away from their homes.

Last week, the defence minister told Parliament that the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) had found in a study that captains, majors and lieutenant colonels — middle rank officers — are the most stressed out in the army and are vulnerable to psychological conditions.

The DIPR was asked to carry out the study after the army recorded about 100 soldier suicides each year for five years and this year it reported that 23 officers and other ranks were killed in incidents of fragging when frustrated soldiers ran amok.

The most recent incident was on December 1, when Lieutenant Colonel Pankaj Jha, 37 years of age, killed himself with his service revolver at his camp near Udhampur in Jammu.

The study said there were three main causes of stress — fear of torture, uncertain environment and domestic pulls and pressures.

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