Tuesday, April 9, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Army in catch-22 situation
Fear of epidemic in Rajasthan desert
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 8
Despite the political leadership categorically ruling out demobilising the troops massed on the border with Pakistan till Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism, the Army establishment finds itself inexorably caught in a catch-22 situation.

The troops being on high alert on the border for more than three-and-a-half months has brought in its wake a host of problems encompassing logistics, maintenance of weapon systems, spares, administration and morale. There are also the imponderable situations to deal with as temperatures soar to 48°C in the desert.

The mobilisation of troops began on December 18 last year within a week of the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament House in the national Capital. This led most in the armed forces to believe that a conflict or war-like situation had arisen. The Chief of Army Staff had alluded at that time to the threat of war which has been belied since then.

With snow melting in the higher reaches along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir soon and the monsoon not far away, the Army brass and strategists believe that the situation could have an adverse impact on the country’s preparedness.

The prevailing environment in Rajasthan and Punjab with the advent of monsoon is causing serious concern to the Army establishment, it is learnt.

Considering that there is no tentage in the desert coupled with acute shortage of water, the day temperature already close to 50°C and more than two lakh troops having to relieve themselves in the open, there are fears that another four or six weeks in such trying conditions could lead to an epidemic. The stench is already becoming unbearable, according to sources.

Being an operational area, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines had been planted, compelling villagers in Rajasthan close to the border with Pakistan to move to safer places. Efforts are now under way to destroy these mines.

Simultaneously, the deployment of troops all along the border with Pakistan has had its adverse fallout on the administrative machinery of the Army establishment. Knowledgeable sources insist that the Army administration has been thrown out of gear.

In a determined bid to stem the tide and keep up the morale of the troops massed on the border, the Army has decided to accede to three types of leave — compassionate, liberal and open entailing two months vacation as evidenced in peace time.

The recourse to liberal leave is aimed to check the falling morale of the strike corps in the stark and desolate desert region of Rajasthan. Then there has been no servicing of tanks, artillery and other heavy armaments over the past three months, primarily due to the conditions of high alert. The initial mobilisation catered to a perceived war effort in terms of oil and lubricants.

After analysing the prevailing scenario in its entirety, the Army headquarters is believed to have given the green signal for the headquarters of formations to move back to peace-time locations. The Southern Command is falling back to its normal headquarters in Pune. The Western Command is also gearing up to move back to Chandi Mandir.Back

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