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Armed Forces for Civilian Departments: Last Resort or Inevitable Trend?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 08 Nov , 2017

Just because the Army is very capable, professional, disciplined force, which has the expertise to complete such tasks at short notice and with-in exceptionally short time lines, they should not be made to do the job again and again. There is simply no reason to push such civilian tasks down a soldier’s throat.

Perhaps the rest of the world does not know that the Indian government has a 911 service for itself and the Govt has been using it for last 70 years, mercilessly. This 911 service is (made to) run by our glorious, brave and disciplined Indian Armed Forces.

See how easy it is to get the finest institution of the country, a formidable fighting machine to do a job they are not supposed to do.

Gone are the good old days when Indian Armed Forced were called for relief work during natural calamities. Now it appears that anything beyond moving a file or undertaking a project with great legal or illegal benefits goes to this 911 service.

When a newly constructed bridge collapsed just before the 2010 Common Wealth Games in New Delhi, Engineering branch of the Indian Army was called to save the nation from an international embarrassment (BBC had reported that the Scottish team was all set to pull out and Britain as well). Indian Govt dialled its 911 and Madras Sappers regiment constructed a 95 meters long Bailey Bridge in a record time of just 5 days, just a day before the formal inauguration of the games! The International press praised the Indian army for the commendable job. CWG started and finished as per plan. No one bothered to investigate and punish the culprits. We simply forgot about the incident.

When Enathu bridge got damaged in Thiruvanthapuram earlier this year, the government again sought Army’s help to create a Bailey bridge to ‘ease the hardship of commuters’! PWD minister G Sudhakaran requested the then Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, who directed vice chief of army staff Lt Gen Sarath Chand to do the needful. See how easy it is to get the finest institution of the country, a formidable fighting machine to do a job they are not supposed to do.

Even private organizations can use this 911 service. In 2016, Art of Living Foundation held a three days long World Cultural Festival on the banks of the Yamuna River. 3.5 million people were expected to attend the event including the Prime Minister. Concerned about a stampede, safety of the people and ‘of the PM’, the organization sought help from the Government to get pontoon bridges created on an emergency basis. Indian Government, as gracious as ever, got the Indian Army construct a pontoon bridge. To add insult to injury, the Government charged Art of Living for Indian Army’s services. Imagine the impact on the morale of the troops involved, they realised for the first time that they can be made to work for private entities to make some money for the Government.

Imagine the impact on the morale of the troops involved, they realised for the first time that they can be made to work for private entities to make some money for the Government.

Now comes the latest example – Elphinston bridge tragedy. Last month, 23 innocent people lost their life in a deadly stampede in Mumbai’s Elphinston Road train station. Construction of new bridges has been pending for a long time. Instead of pushing civil authorities responsible, the State Chief Minister requested the Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman to get the Indian Army to create bridges over Elphinstone Road station and two more railway stations by 31st Jan 2018. His wish was granted immediately and the Army was directed to do the needful.

When people criticized the government, Defence Minister replied in her defence `This is probably the first time we have asked the Army to come in to build what could otherwise be called civil work, but Elphinstone tragedy was so big. A call was taken to cooperate, seeing the urgency of the matter as the Army has its role at the borders`.

Enough examples have been quoted to refute her statement. The nation is not ready to buy the reason she gave to engage the Army in construction work. If we go by her logic (….tragedy was so big), then in future we might see Army Medical Corp (AMC) going to BRD Medical College, Gorkhpur where 61 children died in 72 hours. Unfortunate but that was a bigger tragedy than Elphinstone bridge collapse.

Just because the Army is very capable, professional, disciplined force, which has the expertise to complete such tasks at short notice and with-in exceptionally short time lines, they should not be made to do the job again and again. There is simply no reason to push such civilian tasks down a soldier’s throat.

Instead of sharpening their battle skills, they were made to construct houses. It was the top brass of the time, who gave in to the political will for their own petty interests.

Defence minister can be termed as the guardian of the welfare of the soldiers and it is her basic constitutional and moral responsibility to keep the Armed forces’ morale high and operational preparedness intact. I wonder how above quoted statement (which is an eyewash) and the act of pushing soldiers into construction work will help her fulfill her constitutional duties.

But politicians are politicians and they simply worry about their political needs and not about the morale of the troops. Unfortunately, the common man of the country has a very short memory, so nothing much at stake for the politicians. Here the real question mark is on the functioning of the top brass of the Army. Were the implications and consequences explained to the Minister  by the higher command? What if the brass had refused? There would be another one deputed  to take it on and evidently things would just go on.

Nation hailed Admiral (Retd) DK Joshi, who took moral responsibility for a series of accidents and resigned. He proved himself a man of great moral courage.  The politician must understand and stand up for the Forces. Through their political career the only uniformed people they functioned with are the police forces who have been made to do all sorts of things by them. So they apply the same yard stick to the defence forces which is not in order.

67 years ago, in the name of their contribution in the nation building, the famous 4 Mountain Division (now 4 Infantry Division) was made to work on such construction works. Instead of sharpening their battle skills, they were made to construct houses. It was the top brass of the time, who gave in to the political will for their own petty interests. COAS Gen Thapar, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen B. M. Kaul etc were all involved and when the same 4th Mountain Division was massacred by the Chinese in Oct-Nov 1962, Generals could not explain why they failed. They deliberately became a part of thepolitical act and damaged the courage and morale of the humble soldiers. And the nation paid the price.

Aren’t we repeating the same mistake? Remember, history repeats itself when people repeat their mistakes.

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Armed Forces for Civilian Departments: Last Resort or Inevitable Trend?, 4.3 out of 5 based on 12 ratings
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Sumit Walia

is an IT Specialist. He is also a military history buff who continues to explore & research various facets of the Indian Military history in his spare time.

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4 thoughts on “Armed Forces for Civilian Departments: Last Resort or Inevitable Trend?

  1. Nothing has really changed in 70 years of our freedom. The BJP government is merrily carrying on with the policies of its scam ridden predecessor, the UPA dispensation, despite empty boasts by Modi. Soldiers are always at a disadvantage because they don’t belong to any lobby like the bureaucrats and the IPS wallahs, or scores of trade unions. They are invariably short changed by the goons and thug masquerading as politicians. They come from the same rural stock that produces the bulk of policemen, criminals and gram pradhans, who are shamelessly plundering tax payers money. The rot started with Nehru, whose daughter Indira betrayed the Army but appropriated all the credit for liberating East Pakistan. She released 93,000 PoWs who had massacred three million innocents and should have been tried for war crimes and executed or hanged to death. She gave back all the captured territories and yet is hailed as the best prime minister. Nirmala Sitamaran is a bad joke foisted on the Army by the likes of Modi, who has no understanding or grasp of tactical matters, but is showing off all the time. Today the Army has been asked to build foot over bridges in Mumbai. Who is to stop the chaiwallah from asking the Indian Army to clean lavatories tomorrow, as part of its duty. The implications are ominous. Service chiefs like Field Marshal Manekshaw are required to helm the Army. He could tell Indira Gandhi, touted as the world’s most powerful woman, when to back off and let them do their job. So that he could deliver India its most magnificent victory in a thousand years of the country’s chaotic history. The no nonsense Gen VK Singh ticked off the political establishment, only to be hounded and demonized by politicians who planted stories of his allegedly masterminding a coup in national dailies. If politicians treat Army the way they do, then there is absolutely no hope for the country.

  2. THE BABU LED CIVILIAN SLOTH ALL INTITUTIONS HAVE CRUMBLED .POLICE DESPITE SOME GOOD OFFICERS IS A UNPROFESSIONAL BUNCH ,OF GOONS AND LOOTERS . THE ILLETRATE CRIMINAL POLITCIANS OF LUYTYENS DELHI HAVE DESTROYED ALL INSTITUTIONS . THE ONLY SEMBLENCE OF DISCIPLINE , PROFESSIONAL , RESULT ORIENTED ORGANISATION , THE ARMED FORCES ARE NOW ON THE VERGE OF BEING DEMOLISHED WITH UNCHARTERED TASKS , DEGRADATION OF THE VITAL OFFICER CORP AND POOR WAGES AS COMPARED TO CIVILSERVICES AND POLICE .THE NATION WILL PAY THE PRICE FOR THE BLUNDER .

  3. It’s is the truth that our government give tenders of bridges and man other reforms of Indian. They take several of time to build the things but when it comes to our arm forces they make it more better and with good and proper material. And the army construction work is much better than the tenders given to the normal contractor.So I believe goverments have to think for the civil construction work should be given to arm forces. Very good written by you.And government can use the young solders who retired early they can be the part of this team.

  4. Nice article, but not fully agreed with your viewpoint. All over the world, in case of disasters / emergency, armed forces are called, as they are well trained and equipped to handle the worst situations. In my opinion, Government must use the services of RETIRED SOLDIERS and they should be paid accordingly for their services. In NDRF, the team must be of retired armed forces personnel only.

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