The army should not be involved in providing equipment and soldiers for private events as it is a strain on its resources and dents its image, several serving and retired officers have said amid the controversy over the government asking the force to build bridges for an Art of Living event in Delhi.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar is reported to have asked his ministry to frame a policy for the army’s involvement in such events, but several officers HT spoke to cautioned against diluting the force’s role.
“Roping in army machinery for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or conducting a national event is one thing. Doing the same for a private function is totally avoidable,” said a senior officer who didn’t want to be named.
“The army has a specific role and it is best not to dilute it. There’s no point in providing assistance to private players even for a fee,” said another officer.
The government’s direction to the army to build two floating bridges on the ecologically-sensitive Yamuna floodplain for the three-day event beginning March 11 came under Opposition criticism in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
In damage control mode after criticism from political rivals and environmental activists, defence ministry officials had on Tuesday said the army was asked to set up the pontoon bridges after the police expressed fear of a stampede.
Interestingly, the army’s help was sought to build two pontoon bridges when international musician Yanni performed on the banks of the Yamuna in Agra way back in March 1997.
Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation hasn’t had to pay for the construction of the bridges as the defence ministry doesn’t have a policy for charging a fee for such events. Whenever the army’s help is requisitioned by state governments under ‘aid to civil authority’, the states or concerned departments reimburse the ministry.
Former army chief General Deepak Kapoor said, “It’s different when the army’s help is sought for an event like the Commonwealth Games. Conducting that event is the nation’s responsibility and all resources available can be used. But using the army for private events is not correct.”
Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd), a former northern army commander, said the military’s assets were meant only for training, war and for the larger good of people. “Private events should be a strict no no.”