By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Mar 16
The army conveyed in writing to the defence ministry its reservations against building six bridges for the so-called World Cultural Festival (WCF) organised by spiritual teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) Foundation from March 11-13. The army regarded the WCF as “a private function”.
Yet the defence ministry over-ruled the army’s written representation, ordering first one, and then two, bridges to be constructed over the Yamuna, for what it regarded as a “public function.”
Business Standard has accessed the army’s letter to the defence ministry, which was written in the third week of February, conveying the personal decision of the army chief. The letter cited three clear arguments why operational army bridges should not be used for a private event.
The army’s first objection was that the bridging equipment was stored across various army cantonments. Bringing the components together and then transporting them to Delhi would require a major logistical effort and expense.
The second reason was that these bridges comprised valuable operational equipment, which had a finite service life in terms of the number of times they could be launched. The army argued that this limited service life should be safeguarded for war.
The third reason cited by the army was the impropriety of deploying military troops for what it considered a private function.
While overruling these objections, the defence ministry explicitly took the view that the WCF was a public function. It conveyed to the army that a private function was one “organised by a private individual, for private purposes, in private premises.”
It told the army that, where large public attendance was expected for a function that the government had officially cleared, it would have to take responsibility for public safety, traffic control, crowd control, etc.
With the defence ministry effectively overruling the army’s objections, the generals say they took on the job whole-heartedly “in the spirit with which it built bridges for the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, and organised the annual Amarnath Yatra”.
An engineer regiment from Meerut was moved to build and maintain the bridges, while equipment was transported from a large number of cantonments.
The “Regulations for the Army” lays down rules for “Employment of troops on duties in aid of civil authorities”. According to Paragraph 301, troops may be called in for “maintenance of law and order; maintenance of essential services; assistance during natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods; and any other type of assistance which may be needed by the civil authorities.”
In over-ruling the army’s written objections, the defence ministry relied on the fourth clause: “any other type of assistance which may be needed by the civil authorities.”
Army generals say the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh governments had jointly cleared the WCF, while the Delhi government had requested for bridges. The decision to overrule army reservations to building bridges, however, was taken by the defence ministry.