Prime Minister's Office wants Indian Army to pick up garbage: Where's your outrage now?

Every time such decisions are taken, the soldier who has been deployed feels insulted.

 |  4-minute read |   19-09-2017
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The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has passed directions to the defence ministry to task the Army with clearing up the litter deposited over the years at tourist spots in high-altitude areas. In the last two years, the Army has laid mats for the Yoga Day celebrations - a responsibility of state governments - and also constructed two pontoon bridges along the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's controversial mega event World Culture Festival.

In a similar manner, even before the central police forces were deployed to handle the Panchkula riots, which broke out following Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's conviction in a rape case, or the police entered the godman's dera in Sirsa, the Army was called into action.

Is this because there are no other capable organisations left in the country or because it involves no expense to the state that the Army is the first responder or tasked beyond its mandate?

Is it because it is the only organisation that has never refused a task, completes every challenge addressed to it with dedication and sincerity and has never let the nation down? Or is it because the government is seeking to lower its prestige and standing in the public eye, by assigning it tasks way below its charter and role.

jammu-kashmir_650_09_091917031456.jpgThey are trained to assist the state in handling national calamities, not laying mats - that any other establishment or organisation can do. Photo: Reuters

The Centre has immense resources under its control, but ignores them because the armed forces are the easiest to deploy. The top-down approach adopted by the military ensures that tasks once passed down the chain from the top hierarchy are implemented in letter and spirit. It has always been a service that accepts any degradation without even a whimper. Hence it is taken for granted.

The armed forces of the nation have a role and task. Their task is national security. They are trained to kill anti-nationals or the enemy, while in the bargain they should be willing to sacrifice their lives. They are neither trained or tasked to clear the litter dumped by careless visitors who the state has failed to brief. They are trained to lay bridges in war-like situations, not for mega showcase events. They are trained to handle situations beyond the control of local security forces, not act as police outside the dera. They are trained to assist the state in handling national calamities, not laying mats - that any other establishment or organisation can do.

Cleaning after tourists should be the responsibility of the state government that has permitted them to visit remote areas. If the state collects fees from tourists and profits from their visits, then a part of the same should be spent on maintaining the region. Why task the Army with it?

The logic provided by the PMO and the defence minister is that these are regions with no local inhabitants. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no such areas in existence in India. Even in high-altitude regions, there are tourist camps, hotels and transport facilities using which tourists transit.

Had such facilities not existed, tourists would never have venture travelling to such destinations. Along with these facilities, government offices and local establishments too monitor the region. However, while the state brushes off its responsibility, the centre taps the only source it feels free to misuse, the armed forces.

In March 2017, there were discussions across media platforms about the military's buddy system, especially following the death of Roy Matthew, a 33-year-old Indian Army soldier from Kerala.

It was considered demeaning for a soldier by almost everyone. Clearing up the litter deposited by the hundreds who visit tourist destinations in remote areas is even more demeaning than being a buddy; in most cases, you are still considered a family member.

It is surprising that those who criticised the Army then are quiet when it is being assigned the most demeaning of tasks today.

naik_030317090617_091917031524.jpgIt is surprising that those who criticised the Army's buddy system after Lance Naik Roy Matthew's death are quiet when it is being assigned the most demeaning of tasks today.

In both Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir - regions specifically mentioned by the defence minister as tourist spots at high altitude areas - the forces deployed are the Army and the ITBP. However, it is the Army that has been pressed into service.

This begs a question: Is it because the Army would never say no simply because orders flow from the top, while other forces may object since the level of discipline is not the same?

Every time such decisions are taken, the soldier who has been deployed feels insulted, so do his superiors who pass these directions, but does the government care?

If the defence minister is new and unaware of the terrain where the Army is designated to perform these demeaning chores, then the right advice should have been conveyed by those that matter.

Tasks that are bona fide and within the Army's ambit should be readily accepted, not those which are downright demeaning to troops and would even hurt the sentiments of some. The armed forces are the most disciplined and respected institution of the nation and should be treated accordingly.

To reiterate, that it never disobeys orders and performs every task to complete satisfaction should not be misused. Those in power must understand the sentiments of the soldier on the ground too.

Also read: Lance Naik Roy Matthew is not the first victim of scoop-hungry journalism


Harsha Kakar Harsha Kakar @kakar_harsha

The author is a retired Major General.

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