Monday Musings: Let Cantts be, but open arterial roads to public
The recent decision by the defence ministry and army headquarters to provide public access to roads in the 62 Cantonments across the country is a welcome decision which must be reviewed and modified carefully in view of the opposition from families of Army officers.
The announcement to open the roads was made on May 21 after a May 4 meeting, convened by Nirmala Sitaraman, defence minister, with member of Parliaments (MPs) and elected vice-presidents of Cantonment Boards across the country, and senior officials from Army Headquarters, directorate general of defence estates and the defence ministry. It was decided that all barriers, check-posts and roadblocks on Cantonment roads would be removed and vehicles won’t be stopped or checked.
Although welcomed by the public as this decision came in as a huge relief from the detours and inconvenience faced by thousands of commuters day in and day out, the families of army officers protested that this would dilute their security. They fear that the opening of the roads could make it easier for terrorists to target families of army personnel.
In Pune, two important roads- the Elliot road which connects Ghorpadi to Koregaon Park and Right Flanks road which connects Wanowrie bazaar to Pune camp were opened to the public.
Sitharaman told the delegation of Army wives’ that the order would be reviewed and those roads would be closed as recommended by the local military authority after following the due legal process and inviting suggestions from the public.
While the protest by the Army officers’ families is justified, the fact is that Cantonments cannot remain frozen in time and must be willing to change with the times. Cities have grown and expanded and there is high movement of traffic, especially on the arterial roads.
If a Cantonment road comes under the category of an arterial road, which is what is the case with at least three roads in Pune - two in Pune Cantonment and one in Khadki Cantt, the effort should be to make these roads available to the public. This would be in keeping with the democratic spirit which is fundamental to our country.
Many important establishments such as radio and TV stations are located on public roads; the residences of almost all cabinet ministers and chief ministers (such as Varsha in Mumbai) are located on public roads, but provided with adequate security. It is only the residences of top dignitaries such as the Prime Minister and other Z-category dignitaries which are located on roads that are barricaded. Significantly, these are not arterial roads and therefore the denial of public access to them does not inconvenience anyone.
All that the public wants is the opening of just a few arterial roads in the cantonments. The homes of army officers can be shifted to the inner roads of the Cantonments where they can be barricaded without any opposition. Adequate security should be provided to establishments which are on arterial roads which is already being done in almost all cases.
Cities which have Cantonments are blessed as these are islands of grace and order with considerable greenery, open spaces, encroachment-free roads and majestic trees. While the same can’t be said of the town centres managed by the Cantonment boards, what’s good should certainly be preserved. At the same time, Cantonments should be open to change and allow public access to arterial roads.