GANGTOK, 06 April: The Army is reportedly peeved with the Central government and bureaucracy over its ‘lack of urgency at all levels’ on matters concerning national security. Army chief Gen VK Singh has spoken of shortcomings in India’s defence preparedness with its infantry lacking critical weapons and air defence turning ‘obsolete.’ These, in a letter [since leaked], from the Army Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister detailing the shambles in which the security of the nation lies. Apart from tanks running low on ammunition, an obsolete air defence and an infantry short of critical weapons, aspects of the letter which have hogged media headlines, China - it seems - was at the forefront of the General’s mind when he wrote the letter on March 12. The letter has specific references to the Indian Army’s lack of preparedness vis-a-vis China and speaks volumes about the bureaucracy that is least bothered about modernising India’s defence. All of these have a direct implication on Sikkim as well.
With the recent fallout between the army and the civilian government in New Delhi, many of the complaints, grievances and criticisms which the army has been nursing with the bureaucracy have now come out in the open. This has led to several revelations. Particularly annoyed is the army to the response of the government over the necessity of developing infrastructure along the border regions along China especially in Sikkim.
It is now reported that the Central government has rejected the proposal for an alternate route from Siliguri to Sikkim and even infrastructure projects in North Sikkim where there is heavy deployment of troops along the border.
The existing national highway has become more of a misnomer and cannot be trusted during times of emergencies. In this regard it has been reported that the army is not happy with the rejection of the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the proposal to create an alternate all-weather route from Siliguri to Sikkim. Not only would this have benefited the army and national security, but definitely also the people of Sikkim who have been crying for an alternate route for a long time now. In fact, the state government here had even carried out surveys along this alternate stretch which was to exit from Rhenock in East Sikkim through Bhutan and emerge at Chalsa in West Bengal on to North Bengal.
Meanwhile, it is also reported that the Defence Ministry’s finance wing and the Finance Ministry have also rejected the Army proposal to raise a Mountain Strike Corps.
It has again been reiterated and underlined by the army that China was ‘unabashedly’ going ahead with developing infrastructure in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) but the infrastructure in India along the border with TAR was ‘far from satisfactory’.
The government might want to believe all was well on the front, but the Army, aware of the ground realities, has been trying hard to get the Centre to sanction Rs 12,000 crore so that India’s borders with China could be strengthened and a Mountain Strike Corps set up. The proposal to set up a mountain corps was put up a couple of years ago by the army, it is learnt.
While earlier, army officials here in Sikkim had always been brushing aside any reports of under preparedness or even tensions along the border with China, it is now more than evident that the army here is staggeringly handicapped by way of infrastructure in the event of any incursion and has been feeling so for a long time.
Another issue over which the army is particularly sensitive and has now openly aired its grievance is the long-pending proposal of give operational control over Indo-Tibetan Border Police to the Army. The army is reported to have stated that “…there has been no progress in this regard to the ‘stringent stance’ of the Home ministry despite the proposal was accepted ‘at all forums.’
As for road infrastructure, the army has urged the government to ensure that land is acquired for developing roads to mobilise and deploy forces effectively on the Indo-China border. There is also a suggestion that the BRO be given powers to overcome “needless bureaucratic hassles” and provided modern equipments.
“The Hon’ble PM is aware of the seriousness of the threats,” Gen Singh has been quoted in media reports as writing his letter, hoping that the PM would “pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the army”.
The lack of urgency at all levels on matters of national security on the part of the Central government is appalling to say the least, however, the public could also be trusted more with the actual ground scenario by the army instead of always painting a secure and closed picture of the Sikkim borders even for locals. After all the people here too can play the part of a pressure group to push things through.