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Sunday, November 1, 1998
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No wherewithal for Shiv Shakti

By Pritam Bhullar

IT was General K. Sundarji who, as Chief of the Army Staff, held the biggest military exercise called, Operation Brasstacks in 1988. Another exercise of that magnitude, according to informed sources, will be held in the near future.

There is no doubt that war games are useful. But they cannot replace ground exercises. Several human and mechanical failures which manifest themselves on ground, remain hidden in war games. The benefit that an Army derives from a ground exercise needs no emphasis. Besides, holding of a large scale exercise like Operation Brasstacks after a gap of 10 years is fully justified.

The exercise condenamed, Shiv Shakti-Tri-amp, notwithstanding its benefits, raises a big question: Do we have the wherewithal to hold such a large scale exercise which will cost a few hundred crore? The answer is a simple no.

Of the defence allocation of Rs 41,200 crore this year, Rs 4,038 crore has already been set aside for implementing the Fifth Pay Commission’s recommendation. There is no money for nuclearisation, leave alone modernisation which is moving at a snail’s pace.

Apart from the normal wear and tear, damage to the equipment in the exercise will cost another few hundred crore which our defence forces can ill-afford at present. As it is, there are major deficiencies in our equipment and the shortage of spares is adversely affecting the repairs. Incidentally, damage caused to the tanks and equipment in exercise Brasstacks was so heavy that the operational efficiency of units continued to suffer for years after the exercise.

The citizens’ Army

The Territorial Army (TA) celebrated its 49th anniversary in the second week of October. This volunteer force, also called the citizens’ army, was raised in 1949 to supplement the regular army.

The role of the TA, which is a part-time force, is to provide a "second line of defence" to the country during a national emergency by relieving the regular army units from their static duties. The TA can also be called upon to assist the regular Army, albeit to a limited extent, in its operational tasks. Besides, the TA can be summoned to provide aid to civil authorities during national calamities. It can also be called upon to run essential services such as railways, oil and gas installations.

According to the concept of the TA, all TA personnel (territorials) must have civil vocations and should come for training for a limited period in a year, that is, two months in provincial units.

The TA battalions which were sent to Sri Lanka for the peace-keeping mission brought credit to the country. The part played by the TA in the 1965 and 1971 wars was also noteworthy. The ecological battalions of the TA have done a useful job to restore ecological balance in the hills.

The present strength of the TA which is barely 40,000 men is not enough for a large country like India which will cross the billion-mark in population in a few years. It should be increased manifold so that more citizens can get military training to supplement the regular army during an emergency.

Soldiers and franchise

The Indian Army, despite being the fourth largest Army in the world, has little say, if any, in the corridors of power. This is because only 10 to 15 per cent soldiers, sailors and airmen exercise their voting rights. In a democracy, your voice is not heard unless you have a large vote bank.

Our armed forces, including the family members have a vote bank of about 35 lakh. The reason why this vote bank remains unutilised is that servicemen do not bother to cast their votes. Leave alone the jawans, even the senior officers say: "Why should we take interest in elections?" This attitude must change; or else, they should stop cribbing that they are getting a raw deal from the politicians and bureaucrats.

Due to lack of interest in the political system, most militarymen who are registered voters do not make use of the facility of postal ballot. According to the amended election rules, the postal ballot has to reach the returning officer not before the hour fixed for the close of polling but before the date of counting.

The proxy voting system has already been recommended by the secretaries’ committee. But it will come into force only after the issue of an ordinance. Notwithstanding this, members of the armed forces who belong to the states where assembly elections are to be held in November, must exercise their franchise by postal ballot.

The adventure lovers

Trekking is part of Army’s adventure training because it inculcates in all ranks team spirit, camaraderie and fortitude to face formidable challanges, all of which are essential attributes of success in battle.

A trek undertaken by a team of two officers, one JCO and 13 other ranks from 9 Guards, located in the Western sector, to the Garhwal hills in October, spread a message among the locals to preserve the ecological balance of the region, motivated the youth to join the armed forces and enquired about their welfare, especially that of the ex-servicemen and war widows.

Apart from this, the special task assigned to the team was to acquint itself with the topography of the area and find out the causes of devastating landslides that played havoc with the Malpa region a few weeks ago.

The trekking expedition called Him Garud and led by Maj Piyush Gupta, was flagged off by Lieut-Gen K. Davar GOC Vajra Corps from Jalandhar on October 6. The trekking team, after acclimatising itself for two days, set out from Uttarkashi on its mission on October 11. It negotiated several important hill features, including the highly landslide prone Bagriakhal Pass (height 4010 metre) — Yamunotri (height 3868 metre) before ending the 180-km trek at Hanuman Chatti on October 14.

On their return, the adventure lover were received at Chandimandir on October 17 by Lieut-Gen H.R.S. Mann, Colonel of Brigade of the Guards.Back

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