Michelangelo was once asked, “How do you produce statues that are so full of life?” “The rough marble already contains the statues”, Michelangelo said, “it is just a matter of extracting them.”
This anecdote is mentioned in a column that welcomes you on entering the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy (SVPNPA) in Hyderabad, the apex police training institute in the country, where the police leadership of India — the Indian Police Service (IPS) — is trained.
“There is already a fine officer in you, help us chisel it out.” This is the last line written on the monument. The philosophy behind this one line is what separates the crème de la crème institutions from the rest.
After having passed arguably the most difficult examination to get into All India Civil Services, based on rank, candidates are given different services. The ones from the IPS first do their foundation course for 100 days at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie, before landing up at the National Police Academy (NPA), where they are probationers during the training period.
As an outsider, these candidates appear unique. They are, after all, among the handful few who manage to pass the extremely difficult Union Public Service Commission examination. And it may be because of the several years that many spend studying for this exam that they become quite unfit, after which they are supposed to do a gruelling, physically demanding job.
I was fortunate enough to have been invited to organise the Training of Outdoor Trainers course at the academy. The intention was to reduce injuries among the probationers while undergoing their training at the academy and to optimise their training there. Earlier in July, I visited the academy and gave a guest lecture to the probationers. Seeing the infrastructure and understanding the system blew my mind. I wasn’t aware of the pleasant surprise that awaited me.
When the probationers join the academy, most of them can barely run for a few minutes, cycling is uncommon, and swimming is alien to many of them. At the last weekend of October, of the 196 probationers in the current batch, 136 participated and completed the Triathalon, which includes running, swimming and cycling: 50 of them completed the Olympic Distance Triathlon — a 1.5 km swim, 40 km of cycling, and a 10 km run. 86 of them completed the shorter version, the NPA triathlon (1 km swim, 40 km cycling and 10 km run).
This didn’t happen overnight and this is not all that the NPA does to train its probationers. So far, they have only done 34 of 47 weeks of training at NPA.
Marching: One of the first targets of the probationers is to do a 15 km route march, where they need to march within a stipulated time, while carrying a 10-12 kilogram backpack and an INSAS rifle that weighs an additional 4 kilograms. The biggest learning is to carry on moving irrespective of the blisters that most of them experience for the first time in their lives. These probationers march on. After a few weeks, they need to cover 25 kilometres (km), and then finally, they must complete a 40-km route march.
Running: As for running, they start from zero, and eventually have to complete a mandatory 16-km road run within a stipulated time. At the end of it, the probationers are encouraged to do a half marathon. Even though it’s voluntary, it requires additional mental courage and determination to take that U-turn at the finish line (of 16 km) and run that extra 5 km to finish. In the previous batch, of 153 probationers, 121 completed a half marathon.
Cycling: Cycling starts with a 15-km ride and then progresses gradually to 25 km, 40 km, and 60 km, and some of them end up completing a 100-km ride.
Swimming: More than 70% of the probationers are mandated to learn swimming and only clear a 50-metre swim exam. However, many of them complete a 500-metre, 1-km, or 2-km swimming challenge.
This is the robust system in place at the academy and is executed by a very dedicated and passionate team that chisels these precious gems out of rough marbles. At the leadership level, the NPA consists of a team of 14 IPS officers and those also belonging to other ranks on deputation from various central police forces led by the director of the NPA, who is a director-general rank officer. They have three core roles: training, research, and publication. A lot of research goes into the science of structuring the programme and publishing the findings.
Effectively, there are two verticals of courses at the NPA. One is the basic course, which is for probationers. The other, the senior courses and administration, is for serving IPS officers to get trained further.
The Basic Course: Contrary to its name, this course is intense. It consists of outdoor and indoor training, both having nine subjects each. Indoor training aims at imparting the knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for the profession, while outdoor training aims at building the required competencies and confidence to prepare them to be future police leaders. The objective is to prepare police leaders to maintain the highest levels of integrity, professionalism, physical fitness, and mental alertness. This is so that they can lead the police force with courage, uprightness, dedication, and a strong sense of service to the people.
Introducing Ustaads: The outdoor team consists of approximately 60 Ustaads (constables to inspectors) selected from various central armed police forces through a difficult selection process and trained. They are the backbone of the academy, executing what is planned by the officers. I had the privilege of interacting with the Ustaads and taking them through the five-day course, fine-tuning the already high-class programme that is in place. The humility of the NPA leadership to get me on as a guest faculty and the passion of the Ustaads to learn more are commendable.
All officers and ustaads lead by example. Even when the probationers go through the rigorous training programme, the ustaads and officers are with them every step of the way. I went out running with the current deputy director of outdoor training who set the pace and kept up with me for 10 km. Disclaimer: I only run and have done for 38 years, but he is good in all the nine outdoor activities that the probationers have to do, and more.
What needs to be appreciated is that it’s not about going a distance, but about making the probationers more confident, so that they can lead their teams by example and play a crucial role in community-building. What all these activities do is teach the probationers to face failure gracefully, and then get up and get moving again, with the target of getting the job done.
The NPA is the first institution of its kind in India, which had no precedence to look upon, but has become an inspiring example for future generations. It’s always in the pursuit of excellence, setting high benchmarks in training fresh entrants to become fine officers that the country is proud of.
Keep miling and smiling.
Dr Rajat Chauhan is the author of MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days
He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.
The views expressed are personal
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