By Rajnish Singh
Poor eating habits, unhealthy working conditions, stress and irregular sleep led to 71 cases of cardiac arrest among BSF personnel in 2016 -- or six deaths a month, officials say.
In comparison, only 18 Border Security Force (BSF) troopers were killed last year in cross-border attacks by terrorists, the officials told IANS.
Although controlled by the Home Ministry, the Army trains the BSF. It is deployed along the 2,289-km border with Pakistan and the 4,096-km border with Bangladesh.
This is not the first time when heart attacks caused so many deaths in the border force.
BSF personnel suffered a total of 338 heart attacks from 2010 to 2015. This year, till January 29 the toll was six. Sixty-four deaths occurred in 2015, 77 in 2014, 80 in 2013, 46 in 2012, 29 in 2011 and 42 in 2010.
The most number of deaths from 2010 till January 29, 2017, was reported from West Bengal (87) followed by Jammu and Kashmir (77), Rajasthan (50), Punjab (39), Tripura (30), Chhattisgarh (21), Meghalaya (19), Assam and Delhi (16 each), Gujarat (13), Manipur (12), Odisha (10), Mizoram (7), Madhya Pradesh (6) and one each in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
BSF medical personnel as well as senior officers are concerned over the increasing number of heart attack deaths and say the trend can be reversed only if the troopers become better aware of, and lead, a positive lifestyle.
"Cardiac arrest has been a serious concern in the BSF for years," BSF spokesperson Subhendu Bhardwaj told IANS.
"We have taken several measures to curb this. But at the end, it depends on a trooper -- how he leads his life. Awareness of what to do and what not to do is a basic problem," he added.
The major problems BSF doctors have come across in the force include, surprisingly, bingeing and slip-ups vis-a-vis weight, although the men do a hard job along the border.
Bhardwaj said the force compiles an annual report on the health status of the troopers and takes preventive steps on the direction of its medical teams.
"All our men, including seniors, have to undergo an annual medical check-up called SHAPE. They are put in different categories after this and advised to change their habits accordingly," the officer said.
Officers admit that work stress and irregular sleeping habits are additional problems.
The re-use of edible oil and aluminium cooking utensils have been banned in the BSF to curb the heart attack incidents and the troopers are told to do yoga and exercises to get fit.
A report by BSF Chief Medical Superintendent Rajneesh Sharna mentions unhealthy food, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking alcohol and stress as some of the major reasons leading to lifestyle diseases.
"We suggest several preventions to cure diabetes, chronic liver disease, chronic renal failure and more," he said.
"This is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight, moderate level of physical activity on a regular basis (at least 3-5 days in a week for 30 minutes), avoid use of all forms of tobacco and alcohol, choosing a cardiac-friendly diet, stress management, informative sessions and compulsory medical examinations," Sharna told IANS.
With a 2,70,000 strong force, the BSF is the second-largest paramilitary force in India after the Central Reserve Police Force. Officials say it is a must that its men -- and women -- always stay fit.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)