Shimla: The Army’s decision to shift the headquarters of the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) from Shimla to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh is not going down well in the Himachal capital.
There is a growing disquiet within the ARTRAC — one of Army’s strategic commands — and in Himachal’s political circles as there is a belief here that the process to move the command has begun.
The speculation began last month when Army Chief General Bipin Rawat paid a two-day visit to the ARTRAC headquarters. Sources said he discussed logistics involved in the shifting and later briefed Governor Acharya Devvrat on the decision.
The move will end Shimla’s 27-year association with the ARTRAC after its headquarters was moved here from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh in 1993. It will affect 200-odd officers of all ranks, including two Lt generals, seven major generals, brigadiers and a large number of serving personnel, a majority of whom are locals.
While top ARTRAC officers are tight-lipped on the reasons behind the move, some retired army officers from Himachal have stepped up lobbying against it and have met Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and the leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri.
The retired officers say that as the prime task of ARTRAC, dubbed the Army’s think-tank, is to formulate concepts, training modules and frame new doctrines of warfare and undertake research, Shimla is an ideal place to work as it is quiet and peaceful.
“I don’t see any operational or administrative advantages in moving to Meerut,” says Lt General K. Surendra Nath (retd) who was GoC-In-C ARTRAC between 2011 and 2013. “Before such a decision is actually implemented, the rationale and necessity, besides financial implications, need to be studied and established.”
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He also rejects the argument of Shimla having a geographical disadvantage or having space constraints.
“In today’s age, developments in technology and communication have cut down all such barriers. For that matter, Meerut doesn’t even have an airport.”
Himachal govt opposed to the move
The Himachal polity, cutting across party lines, is also opposed to the move.
Just four days ago, on 13 June, the Congress’ deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, who belongs to Shimla, had shot off a letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh questioning the justification for the move.
Quoting huge financial implications for the relocation to Meerut with “no big operational advantages”, Sharma says he will raise the issue in Parliament.
“I will certainly take up this issue in the Parliament,” he told ThePrint. “Wasting hundreds of crores is highly inappropriate. I have also brought out other issues in my letter to Raksha Mantri.”
In February 2019, Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri raised the issued in the state legislature and called for the shifting to be stopped. To this, Chief Minister Thakur said he would take up the matter with the defence minister.
“The ARTRAC has its own historical and strategic significance. I will leave no stone unturned to withdraw the proposal of shifting HQ ARTRAC,” he had then said. “Our defence forces make their own internal strategies as per their requirement but individually I am against its shifting.”
Chief Secretary B.K. Aggarwal told ThePrint that the chief minister had written to the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“If need be, we will take up the matter again. Currently, the CM sahib is abroad. Once he returns, he will take it up with the defence minister afresh,” said Aggarwal. “But so far, we have not received any official communication about the proposed shifting.”
The Army’s think-tank
The ARTRAC is one of the seven commands of the Army. The proposal to shift its headquarters to Meerut was cleared in October. The move is part of the Army’s restructuring process, following four comprehensive studies by top generals, which aims to change the way the force functions and fights.
The Army also deems that it needs more space as it is looking to merge the Director General of Military Training (DGMT) at its headquarters with ARTRAC. The two arms complement each other — while the DGMT executes training plans for operations, war games and joint training, the ARTRAC controls the training establishments and comes up with the training programme.
“It’s part of the Army chief’s restructuring process. There is an urgent need to upgrade the skills, maximise the effectiveness of training and formulate new concepts,” said a senior officer posted at ARTRAC, on the condition of anonymity. “Even logistically, there are disadvantages in Shimla as compared to Meerut. Space constraints are also an issue.”
Brigadier Pawan Chaudhary, who belongs to Kangra, and had served in the ARTRAC, sees no reason to object to the move as he feels that ARTRAC will be replaced by some other formation, such as an Infantry Division headquarters or the Punjab and Himachal Pradesh Area headquarters.
“It’s true that the issue is emotive for Shimla. But if ARTRAC moves out, some other formation will come. The Army will certainly use infrastructure and assets it has built over the years,” he says. “It’s true that the Army HQs do find certain locational and logistic issues as a disadvantage for the ARTRAC, particularly involving travel.”
With inputs from Snehesh Alex Philip.
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