A soldier should wield the gun, not broom: Veterans on PMO’s clean-up orders | Hindustan Times
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A soldier should wield the gun, not broom: Veterans on PMO’s clean-up orders

Debate over PMO asking the ministry of defence to clean up the waste left behind by tourists in high-altitude locations is only getting more lively

punjab Updated: Sep 28, 2017 10:37 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma

From an online petition collecting signatures against the move to furore on WhatsApp and Twitter, the debate over Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asking the ministry of defence (MoD) to clean up the waste left behind by tourists in high-altitude locations is only getting more lively.

The latest argument is that when the Sri Lankan tourism ministry mooted a similar proposal to its armed forces, they refused, saying their soldiers won’t touch garbage.

A former army commander, who requested anonymity, said he had no bones to pick with the order if it is part of a national effort. “In the 1960s, the armed forces used to grow wheat and rice in vacant areas and even the bungalows as part of the ‘grow more food campaign’, but the ministry must clarify whether the army will do it physically or it will get funds for it.”

But he was quick to add that if the rumour that it was part of the central government’s efforts to get the pilgrim places cleaned was true, he would be very offended.

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) feels the order is downright humiliating. “Soldiering is all about pride, such an order will lower the self-esteem of a soldier. It is unfortunate that our chiefs don’t stand up to such diktats,” he said, adding that there was a difference between helping out in an emergency and wielding the broom to make up for somebody else’s inefficiency.

There were others who said the order stemmed from the misplaced notion that the armed forces had nothing to do during peace time. Calling it an “idiotic decision” in view of the threat the country faces from two sides, Col Anil Raina (retd) said the army is busy every month of the year. “From January to March, we are doing in-house training and preparing for the next nine months. Then there is field firing, followed by inspections where a unit is told whether it is war ready or not.”

Agreeing with him, the former army commander said a soldier has to account for every hour in his day. “From training and refresher courses to administrative work, he is kept physically and mentally busy. It is peace time that prepares you for war.”

Col Raina said a soldier is so busy even during peace that if you were to ask him how many nights he gets to sleep, he will reply “2- 3 nights a week”.

Brig Baljit Singh (retd) of War Decorated India, however, chose to interpret the order more cautiously. “I think the PMO implies that the army will get the work done, not that it will do it physically.” The officer went on to explain that the chief executive officer of the cantonment board, who is an employee of the defence ministry, has both staff and funds at his disposal. “He can use both to clean up areas in high altitude with scanty civil population.”

But most veterans found the order hard to swallow. Slamming it as “very stupid” Brig Harwant Singh (retd) of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, bristled, “The army does not need any ‘swacchta abhiyan’. They are asking us to clean up. It amounts to gross ill-treatment of the soldier. Don’t reduce him to a safai worker.”

Seconding him, Brig Onkar Singh Goraya (retd) said the PMO can boost the cleanliness campaign by sending his people to cantonments for a tutorial in cleanliness. “Visit any military station and you won’t find a brick out of place. We do the job with minimum effort. Learn from us, don’t hand us the broom.”

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