By Amarnath Tewary in Paraiya
Police in India's Bihar state are so short of resources they are using a pack of stray dogs to protect themselves from Maoist rebels.
Police fork out about 5% of their salaries to keep the dogs (Pics: Prashant Ravi)
Three policemen at Paraiya station in central Gaya district were killed in a rebel attack in July 2003.
Now Paraiya's ill-equipped cops are benefiting from canine protection round the clock, officers say.
In return for food and their own kitchen, the dogs prowl the premises at night and bark at all intruders.
The number of strays has shot up from six to 36 in under two years.
"It's not possible to keep a watch on each nook and cranny of the sprawling campus of the police station, especially at night time," officer Baidyanath Rai told the BBC.
"We've also very limited resources and strength to keep the night vigil. So we've kept the street canines for the purpose.
"Isn't a dog a man's best friend?" he asks, as he pats the back of one of the older dogs, Shera, and thanks him for his unstinting service.
The 24 policemen in Paraiya, about 40km (25 miles) from the town of Jehanabad, fork out about 5% of their salaries to keep the dogs.
Usually, the dogs are served a mix of rice and pulses twice a day, but they are sometimes given chapattis.
There are separate utensils and an open earthen oven kitchen for the dogs.
Next to it is the main kitchen where grateful policemen prepare the food themselves with the help of a private servant cook.
The dogs gather for meals but return to their duty religiously at night, barking the moment they sense any unwanted intrusion.
"We rely heavily on them and they're very much part of our force to combat Maoists," said assistant sub-inspector Mirza Matin Beg, his colleague Suresh Rajak nodding by his side.
The Paraiya police station is a dilapidated tin-roof structure with only the most basic amenities.
At night it is plunged into darkness.
The police station is a dilapidated structure with only basic amenities
With no generator, the station gets an hour of electricity a day. Sometimes it gets that much in a week or a month.
"The dogs patrol and when they start barking we get alert and flash our torch," says one armed constable on duty.
But even that is a minor triumph, as the police have only one battery to use in emergencies.
Since there is no generator to charge it, they have to ask the local bank or the post office to help out.
"We've kept one extra battery for the wireless system for any urgency on our own and we spare about 20% of our salary to meet these bare necessities. Otherwise we just can't survive," constable Navin Kumar Mishra told the BBC.
Of Bihar's 38 districts, 18 are badly affected by the Maoist insurgency. Central Bihar in particular has a long bloody history of killings.
The dogs alert police officers to danger by barking
Like most police in the state, Paraiya's men are equipped with rusty old Lee Enfield rifles, compared with the rebels' AK-47s and hand grenades.
Officers have one jeep between them but no proper toilet or anywhere to rest between shifts.
Last November, hundreds of rebels stormed the jail in nearby Jehanabad.
KK Jha, general secretary of the Bihar Policemen Association, says most new police weapons find their way into the hands of guards for VIPs.
He wants Bihar's new government to come good on promises to improve the lot of the police.
"Otherwise they will keep sacrificing their lives in the name of the Maoist menace."
Bihar's government recently announced plans to spend $20m in the worst rebel-hit parts of the state.
Until then the policemen of Paraiya will have to make do with canine company.