MoD's decision to allow unrestricted public access to cantonment roads disregards army culture, compromises security

The word cantonment (often abbreviated to Cantt) immediately brings to mind a sudden and dramatic change in the optics of the scenery. The military diktat of 'if it moves shoot it, if you can lift it throw it and if you cannot then paint it' manifests itself strongly here. The white 'chuna' and the muddy orange belts on the trees and walls indicate that you are now entering a private army area.

Orderly, neat, tidy and precise. 'Keep out' signs abound. In all 62 such designated estates, the armed forces have their semi-closed circuit, their own community and lifestyle. That is the lifeblood of the profession.

 MoDs decision to allow unrestricted public access to cantonment roads disregards army culture, compromises security

Representational image. Media Commons

It isn't an oddity. All over the world, military installations are high security and the 'lines' of battalion units and brigades and divisions are out of bounds to civilians. In an era of terrorism, where military targets are a high choice, this surveillance makes sense. Not just to thwart attacks but to ensure that weaponry and ammunition do not fall into the wrong hands.

India is the one nation that has swum against the tide and decided to allow civilian access to these areas. Clearly, the lessons from Pathankot and Samba terror attacks have been forgotten.

Last week, in an overnight and rushed decision, Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cleared the path for civilian access to army cantonments. Restricted entrances to certain roads in the military complexes are being thrown open to the public. This now means that the sanctity of the cantonment is no longer of importance. What it also means is that checkpoints are now 'pointless' and barricades made redundant.

Civilians can now access military installations, ammo dumps, firepower and vehicles that much more easily, making these peace station areas hugely vulnerable to insurgency, petty theft and everything in between, including sabotage.

Obviously, having gone off half-cocked there is now a mulling over the possibility of backing off. Slowing down the order from being fully implemented is a massive signature campaign started by the army wives' association, who have expressed their reservations over this free for all.

The government needs to review its decision and really leave well enough alone. The rank and file are also a bit aghast at this display of largesse because no one in power has explained the reasons behind this decision or how it improves things.

While one does expect the civilian mind to appreciate the importance of the camaraderie and togetherness of a cantonment atmosphere or the impact of that sense of identity on morale in uniform, to so hastily dismantle a system that has been central to the military's efficiency and training is illogical.

How can you justify civilians of all types walking about training and headquarter areas without being asked what their business is for being there? It defies the whole military ethos.

One of the other factors besides the compromise at all levels of security, including the presence of 'unknowns' in residential areas, this invasion into the military areas makes for a confrontational situation between the soldier and the citizen, something that is highly avoidable.

A soldier is trained to protect and defend and you cannot legislate against it. Soldiers will still engage in a 'halt, who goes there' warning stance regardless. That is their job. It is not a carnival or a fun park, it is a cantonment. And they will protect their turf, order or not.

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Updated Date: May 31, 2018 15:32:51 IST