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Sunday, August 15, 1999
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Economical option for the Army
By Pritam Bhullar

A SIZEABLE chunk of our defence budget is spent on feeding the armed forces. This is because supplies are moved over long distances to areas where these can be locally procured at a much lower cost. Even an item like atta is moved to areas which are surplus in wheat.

To make the system more reliable and cost-effective, the items which can be procured or produced locally at a much lower cost should not be moved over long distances.

Most areas in the plains produce food grains and vegetables in abundance. These should, therefore, be procured locally for the Army units which are stationed there. Several areas in the Himalayas, which are underdeveloped at present, can be utilised for producing potatoes, corn and fruits like apples and oranges. Such ventures will not only result in meeting the requirements of the Army but will also give a tremendous economic boost to the local population.

Since the strength of the Army in various regions during peacetime remains virtually static, the requirements of units and formations can be easily worked out on a permanent basis. Instead of producing items which do not have a ready local market, the population around the military stations should be encouraged by the government to produce what the military needs.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has started this experiment at the Siachen glacier after its success at Leh. In Leh, local farmers get seedlings from the research laboratory of the DRDO and then sell the fresh produce in the local market and to the Army.

A dairy is also functioning in Partapur on an experimental basis and about 200 litres of milk is already being sent from there to different posts at the glacier every day. The local farmers have also been given chickens for breeding. Hopefully, in a few years fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, chicken and mutton will be supplied to the frontline troops from the forward areas.

Combined camps

Looking after the welfare of civilian population is one of the unspecified tasks of the Army. Its limited resources notwithstanding, the Army carries out this task commendably well.

Over the years, some Army formations have started combining medical camps with other welfare activities. Recently, one such camp of three days duration was held in a remote area of Himachal Pradesh, at Banikhet near Dalhousie. It was attended by 5,000 people from the surrounding villages.

The medical camp which was conducted by the Army as well as civilian medical staff from Chamba district, drew a great rush, especially at the gynaecological, paediatrics, eye and dental clinics and the X-ray department. Medicines were given to the patients free of cost. Those who attended the camp were served mid-day meal and evening tea.

Besides holding lectures on health, hygiene and prevention of diseases, leaflets on hygiene and health-care were also distributed among the villages. And to keep the atmosphere lively, impromptu sports competitions were held for the people of all age groups.

A Bhootpurva Sainik Sahayata counter was also established at the camp to attend to the grievances of ex-servicemen and widows and to educate them about their entitlements. Maj Gen P.K. Chhiber, GOC 29 Infantry Division, interacted with the villagers and ex-servicemen to find out about their welfare, while his wife, Mrs Neena Chhiber, presented shawls to the war widows.

Enrolment spurt

Kargil war seems to have given a spurt to recruitment. This is because many unemployed young men believe that with the Army having suffered a large number of casualties, it will be easier to get in now.

That patriotism has stung them to some extent cannot be denied. But more than this is the large scale unemployment in the country that is responsible for the heavy rush at recruitment centres. Some of the poor say that it is better to get killed in a war than to sleep on empty stomaches.

The youth has begun to throng recruiting organisations and infantry regimental centres, hoping to get recruited.

Sadly, in Dharbhanga and Chapra districts of Bihar, 20 persons were killed on July 17. Three of them were killed in police firing while 17 were swept away by swirling flood water in the stampede that followed the snatching of a policeman’s pistol by a youth. The number that turned up for recruitment was unexpectedly large.

At a recruitment rally in Amritsar, 20,000 young men turned up for 650 vacancies. Incidentally, most of them were relatives of those killed in the Kargil conflict. And all of them were from villages which continue to remain recruiting bases. Recruitment rallies in Haryana, which has lost many soldiers in Kargil, are also drawing an unprecedented rush.

Kargil probe

Mr S.K. Nayyar, father of late Captain Anuj Nayyar who was killed in Kargil, has said that our soldiers and the country have paid the price for the government’s negligence and complacency. He wants responsibility for this to be fixed and the guilty punished. Many more who have lost their near and dear ones in the Kargil conflict share Nayyar’s feelings.

Leave alone the affected people, even the public is asking how intelligence agencies such as RAW, IB and military intelligence failed to detect the presence of such a large number of intruders for a few months.

Had our intelligence agencies not failed us, we would not have had to face heavy casualties totalling 415 soldiers killed and about 600 wounded till the third week of July. Granted that India is an overpopulated and poor country, but this does not mean that a soldier should be treated like an expendable commodity. In America, the government is answerable for the loss of life of even one soldier.

Surprisingly Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has publicly hailed Kargil as a "bigger victory" than the 1971 war. The government’s decision to set up a panel "to look into various aspects of the Kargil conflict" seems to be just a ploy to evade embarrassing questions. Anyone expecting an outcome from this, should know that General Handerson Brookes’ report on the 1962 debacle has still not been released. Back

This feature was published on August 8, 1999

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