This Article is From Feb 23, 2011

Malaria claims more soldiers than bullets do here

Agartala: Malaria poses a bigger threat than insurgents and smugglers to Border Security Force (BSF) men posted along India's northeastern border with Bangladesh, with many dying of the disease every year, say security officials.

"Our troopers are now battling malaria, with the disease turning out to be our biggest enemy in the mountainous border areas," a senior BSF officer posted at the Tripura frontier said.

"On an average, five to six BSF personnel died of malaria every year on the Tripura border alone. No one was killed by insurgents during the past three years," the BSF officer told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Comprising eight states, northeast India is a malaria prone zone, with the vector-borne disease claiming an estimated 500 civilian lives annually.

Four northeastern states - Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam - share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh, which is guarded by BSF troopers.

Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram share a 1,640-km-long border with Myanmar manned by Assam Rifles.

Most parts of the borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar are mountainous, densely forested and unfenced.

According to the officer, more than 2,360 BSF troopers posted along the 856-km-long Tripura-Bangladesh border were hit by malaria last year. The number of such cases since 2008 was a staggering 11,580.

The scenario is almost same in the other northeastern states that border Bangladesh and Myanmar.

"It is mandatory for all those posted in the border areas to carry mosquito repellent creams, besides wearing face masks and gloves all the time," said a BSF commander at north Tripura's Khatlung post along the Bangladesh-Tripura-Mizoram border.

Among the most inaccessible and inhospitable terrains in the country, where even food supplies have to be air dropped, cerebral malaria is the disease BSF troopers fear the most.

"Our troops remain out for 15 to 16 hours on an average for guarding the borders, bracing inhospitable terrain, deadly and poisonous snakes and other venomous insects, wild animals, besides all types of mosquitoes," he said.

They also battle smugglers.

On an average, various smuggled goods worth Rs.1.50 crore are being seized by the BSF troopers every month at different bordering areas of Tripura. The goods include various narcotics, saris, forest produce, a variety of garments, cattle, fish, machine parts and medicines.

The BSF has set up round-the-clock medical facilities with at least 10 small health centres for each battalion with anti-malaria drugs and diagnostic kits.