Opinion

Guarding two fronts, Army personnel asked to be litter collectors

By Vipin Pubby

“New org on the horizon, Kachra Div, that will have three SF (L) Bdes L for litter, comprising of 3X Garbage bn’s each. Each bn will have three jhadoo companies and one garbage lifting mech company. Each company to have three pocha platoons…..”

Such messages using fauzi jargon are going viral over social media, particularly among the groups formed by retired armed forces personnel. Translated into formal language this particular message says a new organisation is on the horizon. It would be called Kachra (garbage) division that will comprise three Special Forces light brigades. Each of these will have three Garbage battalions and a mechanical garbage lifting Company. Each unit will have three pocha (cleaning cloth) platoons…..

The sarcastic message, written in lighter vein, goes on to give more ‘details’ of the new imaginative army formation. The reference of course is to the instructions from the central government to the army to clean up garbage left behind by tourists and mountaineers from high mountainous regions. The directive to do so is part of the government’s pet “swachchta abhiyan” (Cleanliness campaign). Even though it is written in a lighter tone, the message it seeks to give is obvious.

Over the years there has been increasing use of army personnel for civilian duties and functions. This progressive misdeployment of the army has been coming up under severe attack from veterans and is seen as a dilution of the role of armed forces personnel. The general argument is that military personnel are trained to take on the enemy in the battlefield and to kill the enemy and not a community service workforce.

This extensive and expensive training comes to a naught when they are asked to take on their own countrymen during civilian duties. While there has been extensive role of army in insurgency prone areas in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir, army is called out often to control unruly mobs. It is seen as the last and most reliable option to tackle law and order problems. In Haryana alone it has been called out thrice in three years to control such situations. First it was to tackle violent followers of Baba Rampal, then to control violence by Jats and recently to control followers of convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief at Panchkula. Isn’t that the role of the police?

It is also the most dependable option for relief work following natural calamities. In the recent past it was called out to help victims of landslides in Uttarakhand and floods in Kashmir. That is understandable to some extent given the Army’s ability to work in very difficult terrains. Natural disasters sometimes bring challenges that usual civil society cannot cope with. But the Army is also constantly being engaged in social welfare activities in troubled areas.

Although former and serving personnel think that army personnel should be called in only for rarest of rare cases where the civil administration does not have the capability to tackle the situation (like constructing pantoon bridges or setting up ropeways at short notices), civilian forces like police personnel should also be trained for rescue and relief operations particularly where disasters are not very challenging.

The latest wave of anger stems from directives to bring down tonnes of garbage left behind by tourists and trekkers on high Himalayan ranges. This, some Veterans say, is the pits. The government’s campaign for cleanliness is praiseworthy and the drive to spread the message of cleanliness is laudable. However asking uniformed personnel to clean the mess left out by others, who had done so after paying taxes and entry fee to the government, is humiliating.

As another message going viral on the social media says : Their role is being changed from “avengers to scavengers”. A poet-in-the-making wrote :

Any attack on their countrymen they will avenge
The Nation celebrates​ when they take revenge
Handling his gun, the soldier gains respect
With a broom in hand, what do you expect ?

There are many other disciplined forces and organisations in the country who can fulfil their civic commitments by leading the way to clean the country including the mountains. What about the millions of cadres of RSS? Surely they might want the opportunity to express their loyalty and pride for the country by keeping it clean. A bit of sewa for the Rakhsa would go a long way.
Apart from the latest orders on cleaning he muck left by others, some recent developments have not gone down with the fauzis. Many are, for instance, not satisfied with the recommendations of the 7th pay commission, roll out of the One Rank One Pension (OROP), superseding of senior officers and the recent order allowing rations for officers only in forward areas and withdrawing the facility in “Peace Stations”.

Veterans point out that the armed forces follow time tested ethos and there is a special bond among officers and jawans which holds good at the times of wars and crisis. Tinkering with such traditions and practices can have a serious impact on the morale of the personnel.

Unfortunately the country did not have a great Defence Minister for long. The appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman is being watched with the hope that she would be able to bring respect and glory back to the forces under her charge. She is considered a tough task master and a capable leader who is known for the hard work she puts in whatever responsibilities are given to her. She must be given a fair chance to set things right.

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