Mumbai: A recent remark by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has spurred the Army base into action.
With incessant attacks on Srinagar’s army base having become a norm, it looks like the Ministry of Defence’s new dictum to open cantonment roads to public has not gone down well with the army community.
On May 21, Army Headquarters and Directorate General of Defence Estates issued a letter stating, “All barriers, check-posts and roadblocks will be removed. Vehicles will not be stopped or checked.”
Notably, Sitharaman had recently said that the roads of the cantonments were opened by consulting Army Chief General Bipin Rawat and other top Army officials.
According to Sitharaman, a total of 850 roads are closed in various cantonments, out of which 119 were blocked without following laid down procedures and now some of them have been opened.
To clarify rumours of opening roads to civilians without consultation, Sitharaman clarified the defence ministry held a series of meetings with various stakeholders including the Army before deciding to open up the roads for civilians.
Sitharaman added that she had held various other meetings with senior army officials, elected representatives and General Rawat along with the Vice Chief of the Army Staff before coming to the decision.
The Army Headquarters and Directorate General of Defence Estates’ letter on its part was issued after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman meeting on May 4.
However, the military community was taken aback with the decision and stated that with this new rule, the safety and security of the officers and their families would be compromised.
The idea of opening the roads wasn’t taken well especially by the wives of Army officers, who have launched a signature campaign- titled “Say no to opening Cantonment roads to public. Support the real guardians of the nation”- against the Ministry’s decision.
In addition to coming together and signing the campaign, the army wives also met the Defence Minister and will write to the PM and President, asking for the order to be reversed, if required.
Speaking about the issue, one of the Army wives, Rekha* (name changed), said that they have started talks with the Defence Minister and internal talks are already on with other officials that can make a difference to get the order reversed.
“However, Minister has said that the decision will be reviewed after a month which isn’t acceptable to Army wives; as the order hasn’t been passed and it is just a verbal order because of which the gates are open to everyone,” she said, adding, “Open gates in army cantonments is like a ticking bomb for cantonment, soldiers and their families and are the softest target for anti-social elements in the society.”
Another army wife, Deepti Sharma, whose husband is posted in Nashik, said, “Life of defence officials and their families will obviously be at risk as we are the easiest targets for terror attacks. Our husbands can go on borders knowing that their families are safe in the cantonment but this order has shaken the morale and faith in the system.”
She further added that with the new orders being implemented, there might be a spurt in petty crimes like eve-teasing and theft.
Bhardwaj* (name changed) added , “As you would know almost all the complaints and issues, we as Army wives are facing, my question is why we don’t come on a middle path. Instead of opening all the 62 cantonments across nation, why don’t we treat every cantonment as a separate case as each place has its security concerns which would differ from Srinagar to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to North East? Why don’t we try to construct flyovers or underpass to keep both the communities happy?”
Bharadwaj further added that though they are trying to raise concerns all over social media, there have been no firm answers from any quarters.
“While cantonments are highly secured that they don’t require CCTV cameras like other societies and have basic doors but opening roads means giving leverage to anyone to intrude our homes,” she said.
The Defence Minister on her part had told reporters that she met the wives of the Armed Forces personnel and heard their concerns which were largely about the security.
However, the ministry stated that the issue of closure of individual roads was to be reviewed fresh in conformity with the provisions as laid down, and any closure of roads to be undertaken will be done only after following the due procedure.
To calm down the agitated military community, Sitharaman said, "If you (army) decide to close the roads based on intelligence input, you are welcome to do so. But follow due procedure."
Army wives across the nation are joining the cause, expecting the ministers and civilians to understand that they aren’t against anyone but are rather voicing their security concerns.
*Names have been changed due to security concerns...