#BridgeOverYamuna: Indian Army is a professionally trained fighting force, not the department of public works

Well most Mumbaikars don't know the art of living. We know the art of surviving, the traffic, the pollution and the noise that comes with this city. One could say living here is an art in itself.

So I'm not going to comment on the merits of a World Culture Festival someone wants to have in a reserved forest. This is not something that concerns me. What does concern me and should ideally concern all of us is that the Indian Army's Corps of Engineers being asked to build temporary bridges across the Yamuna for this event.

These bridges will be dismantled after the event is over, so there is no real net infrastructure gain for the public as well. The last time we had to call the Army in to do last minute civilian infrastructure work was during the Commonwealth Games when the Corps of Engineers had to replace foot-over bridges that collapsed prior to the event. But the thing is those went on to become permanent infrastructure elements. The foot-over bridges exist today.

Yes, the Indian Army provides infrastructure support for the Amarnath Yatra and the Kumbh Mela. The former because of its location and the later because of the fact that the Kumbh Mela is something civilian authorities cannot handle on their own. Owing to the fact that it is attended by by over 120 million people, that's more people than the State of Tamil Nadu, actually more people than Maharashtra. It's about 10 percent of the country's population, so it makes sense to deploy the Army there. The Amarnath climb is in one of the most in-hospitable climbs on earth and the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir requires the army to be involved as the yatra occurs in the middle of what can be best described as a war zone.

A view of the pontoon bridge over the River Yamuna. Photo acquired by Firstpost from the NGT-appointed committee

A view of the pontoon bridge over the River Yamuna. Photo acquired by Firstpost from the NGT-appointed committee

Calling the Indian Army in to aid and assist a civil power is not something that must be done lightly. Apart form the obvious reasons that it demeans the role of the armed forces in our society to be asked to erect bridges for a World Culture Festival, we need to ask ourselves: Why can't the public works department of the government erect bridges or why it cannot plan in advance to have contractors employed to erect them.

If you look at the website of this 'World Culture Festival' you will see that it enjoys support from the Government of Delhi of Delhi; the Department of Arts Culture and Languages, Government of Delhi; the Public Works Department of the Government of Uttar Pradesh and the Government of India. Which official in these departments is accountable for the failure of their department to plan in advance and have contractors build the bridges?

Surely, they would have known well in advance that bridges would be required. The army only comes in to aid a civil war in exceptional circumstances. This is because the President of India is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and it is not the other way around. To put it simply, the army works for the civilian government and not the other way around. This is what makes us different from Pakistan, India is not a military State. This means that the civil power only use the aid of the Army in absolute emergency situations, like a flood in Kashmir or where the civil power cannot operate without the aid of the Army like in Ambarnath or the Kumbh Mela.

Calling them to build a bridge across the Yamuna for an event sponsored by two state governments and the central government, an event that was planned well in advance is an absolute national disgrace. Irrespective of the event. The army should not be deployed to work where civilian powers can do the job.

M Parrikar MP, the Defence Minister says the Army was called to build the bridges in to ensure security for attendees. But this does not make sense, we don't see the Indian army doing infrastructure at the Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala where 30 to 40 million people visit on average in a year.

The Ministry of Defence needs to answer to Parliament why the Indian Army was deployed, the Ministry of Tourism needs to explain why they needed a platoon bridge in the first place, the Public Works Departments of UP and Delhi need to explain why they could not plan for this event in advance and have contractors put up the bridges.

This government is supposed to be about transparent and accountable governance and it's quite clear there is nothing transparent or accountable in this situation. The Indian army has been deployed in a non-emergency situation. The Defence Minister needs to explain why the Indian army is being used as a public works department.

Also, we need to know who is paying for the deployment of the army? Are we sending the Art of Living foundation a bill for using our armed forces? Minimal accountability means the AOL foundation take responsibility for the costs incurred in deploying the armed forces. The bill for this service should not under any circumstance be borne by the Indian taxpayer.

Updated Date: Mar 09, 2016 17:44 PM

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