Saturday, March 25, 2023
HomeOpinionDivide over the Army building bridges in Mumbai reflects state of civil-military...

Divide over the Army building bridges in Mumbai reflects state of civil-military relations

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Unfortunately, there is now a build-up of the perception that the Army is no longer the last resort but is fast becoming the first one because other institutions have abdicated their responsibilities.

Extreme emotions appear to dominate the reactions around the decision of the Defence Ministry and Railway Ministry to hand over the construction of pedestrian bridges at a few Mumbai railway stations to the Army. The decision was prompted by the unfortunate deaths of 23 people in a stampede on a pedestrian bridge at Elphinstone station a few weeks ago.

However, the response did not even wait for the details to determine whether it is a supervisory responsibility or end-to-end job being handed over to the Army. The primary responsibility of the Army lies at the borders, but the secondary responsibility remains open-ended: from controlling civil strife to disaster management, pulling out infants from bore holes to simply anything no one else in India seems to be able to do.

The rancour on social media is a reflection on the state of civil-military relations in India today. It reflects the high regard for the Army and the extremely poor opinion about civilian government agencies and their ability to perform a job in time. Most importantly, it also indicates the existing bitterness.

In the recent handling of the agitation after godman Ram Rahim’s arrest and the Jat reservation issue, the Army stood out for the way it performed its duties. It is the self-assured discipline and confidence of our Army which makes it the instrument of last resort.

Unfortunately, there is now a build-up of the perception that the Army is no longer the last resort but is fast becoming the first one because other institutions have abdicated their responsibilities. Is it any wonder that in routine surveys, so many Indians opt for military-style governance as their preferred choice?

In a politicised environment, it is difficult to find any rationale, but what is generally accepted is that the Army can step into any situation when it is an emergency. The issue then is about determining and defining these emergency conditions.

I am aware that J&K-based examples aren’t the best because emergency conditions seem to exist there forever. Yet, the example of Army Goodwill Schools (AGS) constructed under Sadbhavna, illustrate the rationale on both sides of the divide.

Under the rules, all projects of Sadbhavna are supposed to be handed over to the civil authorities once the Army completes them. However, in the case of AGS, the Army decided to run them due to public demand. For the last 20 years, the Army has run schools all over J&K, not for the children of Army families, but for local people. It is the price the Army pays for its reputation and efficiency.

In 2005, thanks to its impeccable integrity and reputation, the Army was requested by the MLA of Baramulla to oversee the construction of a footbridge over the Jhelum. The engineer unit aided in the design, financial planning and subsequent monitoring of quality.

It was a perfect example of a project that was completed on time with no physical Army involvement. This was not an emergency situation, but it was prompted by the goodwill the Army enjoyed, which obviously doubled after the project.

The stress on infrastructure in Mumbai is severe and puts lives at stake every day. This should prompt the state government to raise its standards and ensure the timely delivery of high-quality projects that are foolproof. So, those questioning the government’s failure to get its act together are not wrong. But when public safety is in question, it can be considered as an urgent situation.

Many also raised the issue of unfair demands being made of the Army, and how such unthinking demands in the past (pre-1962) led to a compromise in quality of soldiering in the Army.

This sharply divided debate would not have taken place if the Army’s larger fraternity (serving soldiers, veterans and families) were given their due for what they do for the nation. The failure to accommodate their just demands, lowering their status in the hierarchy of protocol, allowing the bureaucracy to play havoc with their self-esteem and letting the Delhi Police manhandle veterans – these aren’t the finest ways to motivate the institution that Indians respect and admire widely.

Our fine Army deserves better and will give its best back to the people. But people must also become arbiters to ensure that their Army is given what it deserves, and not be treated as a below-par government service.

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  1. An Upright article by seasoned soldier Genuinely Genuine Matter penned down by One of our own adored General It is now Time to ask The Civil Servants to either Perform or Perish as The Nation is now Absolutely Fed up of Their Accountability The Civil Servants and The Public in India Need not unnecessarily Fear The Fear of Unknown by giving examples of Adversity Our Adversary has managed with catostrophic known results . The Nation must stop giving Lip Service to Armed Forces and Reinstate The IZZAT and Honour of Armed Forces as was prevailent before its degradation at all levels and Protocols The Armed Forces The Indian Army must be at the Top and Higher than Civil Servants Gp Can The Indian Public understand this in right perspective?

  2. The Army must act in keeping with the teachings of Chanakya and Sun Tzu. Do not expect anything from anyone if you are in position of weakness. Gain position of strength, all your demands will be met. I think the civil services have followed this to the T.
    Begging at Jantar Mantar will not help now.

  3. Very well articulated Gen Hasnain. It sure is a tricky issue with poltical, beaurocratic and administrative undertones. Very few senior defence officers in service these days have the moral fiber to tell the decision makers when they are wrong. When veterans voice some of these issues inappropriate action is taken against them. High time many retired service cheifs apprise the PM and DM of the nuances of the feeling within the Armed forces on aspects covered in this superb article. Aware they did not listen earlier on writings. Time a strongly worded sent this time. Clearly state the silence of AF NOT taken for granted as things could get ugly.
    God bless India.

  4. A very well articulated piece. I for one do feel that it is for fear of being made accountable by the subsequent political set up has put a full stop on the initiative and will to work and perform on the part of civ organisations…rampant corruption is the another reason we see recurring failurs in the part of civ org. Armed Forces on the other hand feel accountable and deliver goods in time. In case of National Emergencies like natural disaster earthquake etc. it is fine to call upon Army, not in cases like Ram Rahim……


  6. These writeups & comments do not spur up enough sentiments in favour of services for the powers at helm to reciprocate as our leaders at helm only think of what is in their interest, we forget one thing that all the output of our govts is directly dependent on the IAS.So only Ballot Power of services can affect a change.Let ESM creat an organisation towards this end

  7. Very diplomatically stated in politically correct language. While maybe it is a matter of pride to know the national public and institutions believe in the Army’s integrity and efficiency to get a job done well and in time, we need to prevent ourselves from falling prey to flattery and agreeing to performing all such tasks. Placing a few points for consideration. ——
    1. Army’s job is to protect the nation and to train its men to be in perpetual military fitness. Do these tasks contribute towards military training and fitness.?
    2. There are a number of Govt. departments like railways, Disaster management, etc who have highly paid civil servants employed to and possibly trained to, or at the least made trips abroad to study how things are managed in other countries, who therefore qualify to do a better job of international standard. They need to put their knowledge and experience to practice. Alternately it is the Army Engineers who need to be sent abroad as part of these delegations, to learn and observe. Sadly these perks are not for them.
    3. The Civil servants are once again not utilising men in their departments to do the job they are being paid for, so the onus of responsibility does not fall on them, and they are free to pass the blame elsewhere, while keeping their hands clean for their next time scale promotion
    They would rather the brick-bats false elsewhere.
    4. The Civil Servants(?) want to show their superiority by being in a position to order the lower status Army around and the army by conceding is accepting this.
    5. And lastly, as stated in the closing remarks, if the Indian public wants the Army to take over such jobs for the nation, let them FIRST come forward and show their solidarity with the Military personnel and get them their OROP and status of A grade citizenship back, BEFORE asking the military to perform jobs outside of that of strictly army combatants. It should not be ‘give and take’, but ‘take and then give’

  8. no comments as noticed that this artice was not comments much by fourth estate or retired civil officials.some organisations supported by BJP pit out artices to project government views and these organisations in turn are funded by corporates and shady organisations.
    only observation is that notwithstanding defence land it is a shame that no civil agency is capable of executing this task. i feel sorry for those railway and civil agencies.

  9. In a civil democratic country it is dengerous to give army personnel priority over civilian beurocracy . The example is just next door in our neighbor hood where Army is having a proxy rule .Army is doing a wonderful job no doubt but than this is what they are supposed to do, other civilian institutions should take a cue from army and do their job well otherwise gradually Army is going to take over the job of all such institutions and gradually the job of running the Govt , which is the most undesirable thing to happen . Every one has a choice to make as far as choosing the carrier is concern, one can always join beurocratic services provided one is ready to work so hard to crack the civil services exam with so much of uncertainty, this is the toughest exam of the world . Joining army is one’s own choice no one forces any one to join army therefore it is unfair to draw comparison between army n civil beurocracy

  10. well articulated, but very subdued….
    calling a spade a spade, wikiwhacos and political masters aside, I wonder where has the spunk gone in the higher -ups within the forces….? chief sacked and next one in line steps in before he is out// so no one speaks out… so much for the machoism and bravado? set house in order and rest will fall in place. right is right and wrong is wrong, who better to judge ?? COURAGE OF CONVICTION… is it history????

  11. Yes it has got the right note.. But the fundamental issue remains. Do we use the Army in such cases? I think it is OK. After all what are we doing with our technical units with so much expertise? If we can use it best it should be done. Remember that the US Army Engineers built the best bridges in the country and even highways. It is just a matter of transparency and dissemination as to how the decision was taken.
    Meanwhile we are paying the price for what Annie Besant warned about during the freedom struggle. She said to Gandhiji that he was showing a poor example for a budding nation. Protests were good for the independence movement…. And we should have unlearned the lessons after our independence. In fact Gandhiji even had pushed for dismantling of The Indian National Congress and allow multiple parties to grow. The leaders then did not want to shed power…. And today we have the whole nation “wanting to know(and decide)”….each to himself. Will take a significant part of the next decade to shed that from DNA… Hope so.

  12. A well written article with a balanced view. Gen is restrained in expressing the shabby manner in which AFs are being treated on the advice of self serving bureaucracy. If the expertise of soldiers in building bridges is what required then why not give such jobs to experienced ESM. Aid to Civil Power should not become a routine but only on declared emergency.

  13. A true and frank article by Gen Atta, its time the present dispensation took note and mended it’s ways before public disposes them.

  14. A balanced article portraying behavourial finesse of the veterans.We must voice our concern in a dignified manner with focus on core issues afflicting the forces.A just apolitical approach will pay dividends.Unfortunately and to the detriment of our interests,veterans are getting lured to political dispensations for personal reasons ,that too in their twilight zone.This approach is not doing any good to us and the nation as a whole.Gentlemen and ladies of veteran fraternity let us stay together and firm and persevere with dignity our privileges and rights.Thanx Gen Hasnain .

  15. Such a balanced view on a controversial issue speaks volumes for the depth of knowledge of the retired general . We are proud of such leaders!
    But who asks for the accountability of the departments who are responsible. While army is deployed at every single crisis, it would be heartening to see a few heads roll for allowing the situation to come to such a pass!

  16. A very fine and well written story without any bias. But alas, will our governing leadership inbibe anything from it? I doubt.
    The correct messages have to come top down, but that is lacking. Basically because our leadership comprises of politicians and not statesmen.

  17. Must understand that:
    1. Beggars can’t be choosers.
    2. Time to get out of the mindset of a (BRITISH) gentleman (CADET) to appear to be nice and thus the confused role of being politically correct when surrounded by a coterie of politically corrupt, administratively manipulator and judiciously incorrigible.
    3. Must shun the mentality of being groomed and reduced to, “Tommy shoo,Tommy come back”
    Veterans can devise an Action Plan to ensure that their voice becomes the voice of the nation.

  18. The General has put accross the emerging scenario very objectively ,where in AFs are being called upon to Perform all such tasks at the drop of a hat, as the Civil Institutions are failing in their Charter towards our citizens .

    Imagine this Trend among our System( Babu’s and Politicos), gets further compounded towards AFs being used to achieve even local mundane political / civic Objectives , then given the current Geo Political Challenges, it can translate into serious Organisational Capabilities and affect our Morale to Win Future Wars. It is also evident that Civil Services loosing their own relevance in a Democratic Polity like ours.The facts and trends show that highest among the Babu’s @ North and South block ,in collusion with over ambitious political authority, are consistently active in degrading our Status and denying our Just Dues.

    In nut shell ,as there is no end to such civic needs, Let AFs be the Last Resort to salvage the situation internally and for Winning the War at any cost. There is an urgent need to Remodel the existing Civ- Mil functionimg at MoD.

  19. The author has skillfully avoided taking a stand on the issue. Yes he very briefly touched upon emergency being the defining factor for Army involvement in such civilian issues. The railway engineers have built countless number of such bridges and have tremendous expertise and experience.
    He avoided the political angle too for reasons best known to himself. Such outeageous decisions always have a political twist. PERIOD. The current dispensation is using all such ploys including using the Army for political gains. The Army Engineers are good for laying of standard equipment bridges and for improvised bridges too. They do not have the wherewithal for designing and constructing such bridges as are required in Mumbai at Railway Stations. They would need to contact consultants.
    The politicos and the Army bosses are aware of this fact for sure…..

  20. Very balanced and professionally written article. Unfortunately in the name of civilian control beurocrats are treating armed forces as a routine task force available to them and which can be employed for all sundry duties .This needs to be curbed immediately.Dignity of Armed forces must get restored . People of the country must force the Govt to do so.

  21. I agree with the hypothesis . Reliability indeed is 100% but over a period we have tried to belittle bureaucracy as is evident from a number of anectedotes of very senior officers dealing with their counterparts are quoted . No names.
    We needed to have dealt with the decision makers in a more matured and righteous way giving them their due. Let’s understand that when there is week polity bureaucrat becomes the iPod facto ruler. This state can still be repaired. Deep thinking is necessary.

  22. Ata Hasnain, as I know him is a thorough gentleman. His words and deeds reflect that. Unfortunately, many of us… why almost all of us veterans are like that. The Governments of different hues have and are taking advantage of that. Very sad.
    With the way this Govt is behaving one is not sure when the last straw will fall on the Camel’s back! God help us !

  23. Similar scenario as before 1965 war, where Red Eagles were engaged in building dwelling units instead of Training for war. Hope our Generals, Bureaucrats and Politicians do not repeat the same mistake. Leave the Army alone and let them train for War- their sole purpose.

  24. Well written General. Happy that unlike so may other senior officers you showed the pluck to challenge the cavalier manner in which the politicians and bureaucrats treat armed forces. Saving the civil population during natural disasters and rescuing children from borewells are tasks which no other agency could have done better than army. But assigning the task of making FOBs to the army is quite baffling because railways and other civic agencies have done this job many times over. Thus it is either a tacit recognitions of their inability to do the job now or in govt wants to unnecessarily involve army in a task which is the primary responsibility of railways. Tomorrow govt will ask army to repair the pot holes on Mumbai roads. Where are we going to stop.

  25. Time has come when Army should put its foot down, refuse to be taken for ride n insist on getting legitimate dues n status. It should not be over willing to be used/misused by Babus at will but do its primary task.
    Interest of top political leaders in Armed Forces is just restricted to saluting martyrs n praising soldiers occasionally for public consumption. Nothing more. Otherwise they would’t have been down graded at will without any protest.
    Three Chiefs must jointly take tough stand on state of preparedness for war, status n legitimate dues n raise their level to be in touch with PM directly. Functioning of MoD has to be exposed.

  26. It is time we take over the administration of the country.
    It will sort out all problems of our country which has been completely destroyed by the politician, burecratic and judicial nexus.

  27. I agree with the General. To milk a cow, you need to feed her well else the quantity of milk will decrease and soon dry. To increase the output, she needs to be given good fodder and feed. Here the present Govt wants to milk the Army without feeding it. The quality feed is enjoyed by the bull (bureaucrats) but yet expect the cow to keep on producing milk with high yield. After All till when?

  28. Looks more polite and reasonable but the Qs is why the civ standards are not improving and why a job like this in a place like Mumbai can’t be done by some private coy when Govt is trying to privatise every aspect of administration and governing including the education, on what premise and promise? If Govt and our leaders feel that the Army is the best then why the Army does not get its dues or allowed to Govern the nation or at least given a better participation. See who is our security advisor and another person now detailed to mediate in J&K. Where is Army in Governance? Are they fit only for the labour jobs? The country should have no doubt that our Army has the best of leaders, managers and administrators as well as soldiers who may not be cunning, clavers and liers but they can produce results in any situation. Govt must give them their dues w/o asking and at least not humiliate them or they will face the problem with or w/o Pakistan phobia?

  29. Very restrained and well articulated article by Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd). The handling of Defense Forces is a matter for the wise and knowledgeable. From the time of Independence to the present, the endless blunders can fill volumes. No mature and wise person weather in politics or bureaucrat would have messed up the kind evident in matters small or big. Ministry of Defense is no roulette, Defense Minister should not be picked up at random but should be a person of achievement, capable of handling complexity of Defense of the country and understanding of developing world scenario, unlike Railway Ministry and such like.
    The MOD should desist from day to day running of the Defense Services and leave that to the respective Chiefs.

  30. A very informative and balanced article which deserves my opinion,this issue needs to be viewed from two angles i.e reality check of our trg and second whether this demand of civ adm a genuine.considering the str of offrs in units and their commitment in peace and fwd areas,i am of the opinion that our trg falls short of the war time objectives expected to be achieved by the defence forces at present.No civ govt will protect us in case of our failure in war.we have seen the civ reaction during Kargil.Secondly,is it a genuinely difficult task to be handed over to army.also consider earlier task of cleaning tourist places .why the state / centre govt feeling shy of kicking the civ org to accpomplisbh the brs in reqd timeframe.These additional tasks does have serious affect on op trg leaving aside issues already brought in the discussion.Time has come to frankly spell out to the govt the effects of such orders rather than towing the line to make Naukaries and leave the units and subordinates on the mercy of God.

  31. Being a more descipline organization, army would be completing the job schedule within the stipulated time. We have a greater faith on them. It’s free from corrupt practices.

  32. Gen Ata has put across the point in a very polished but mild words. As on date, each & every Veteran’s as well as the Serving Soldier/Sailer/Airman’s heart bleeds with helpless rage due to current govt’s absolute nagative conduct on all fronts with its own AFs (even captured Paki soldiers were treated with due respects to their rights). Use of brutal police force agaist aged/ sick Veterans peacefuly protesting for their rights proves that the democratically elected govt behaved in a barbaric & cruel way and also the paid media blacked out the black deeds of govt, as if the govt is dealing with enemy. Modiji spent Diwali with soldiers to befool them by clandestinely doing all the injustices to them at their back with their status, pay/ pensions and humiliation.

  33. Honesty, integrity and commitment are the key words for service discipline. A nicely put the present scenario by GEN Ata Hasnain. The Army was called upon to help civil administration as a last resort when they failed or there was extreme emergency. But now they are the first for the reasons mentioned above. Because the civil governance has collapsed under rampant corruption and mismanagement.

    This morning news of NTPC incident is also product of failure of the management.

    Will they hand over NTPC to the Army? Send all IAS IPS IES and other Officer’s Home and hand the governance to the Army. They would do better job till they also are taken over by politicians.

  34. A balanced article by a very mature retired Gen. He has seen the J&K from almost every direction and provided the direction, support, josh and created an environment to solve the local and across border problems. We have long been aware of the corruption in the valley, misinformation being fed leading to the Army being looked at negatively. That he was successful is written on the wall.
    He is quite right in his assessment of the Govt, willy nilly, calling upon the armed forces for every small job when well trained and duly instituted civilian set-ups exist to undertake them.
    He has, however, not stressed enough on two issues.
    First and foremost, the angst of the armed forces, including its veterans, at the treatment being meted out by the same Govt. It is not limited to depriving the soldiers of their established dues, one after the other as if to break down their morale and create divisiveness among the rank and file but has gone further to physically roughing up retired elderly soldiers and women at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 30 Oct 17. The thoughts of 15 Aug 2015 come to mind. To hear a police constable taunting these elders stating ‘we will sort them out’, cannot but create a deep dislike for such authority being openly, brazenly, being misused. By ordering the media to block any news on the subject, the country has been denied the right to such information The Republic TV has been the only exception. Further, the police are now, daily, tailing these ESM all over Delhi as if they are criminals who are about o perpetrate a crime.
    Secondly, the equivalence of the ranks has become a major issue. The ages at which the armed forces officers reach higher ranks, in comparison to the various other services, needs to be resolved. How can a bureaucrat or other officer who is upto 10 years or so younger/junior, with no supercession, try and impose their writ on common issues? For a hierachical set-up which is rank conscious, this is not acceptable. The accepted norms must be retained, keeping the sensitivities of the armed forces personnel in mind.
    The Govt needs to think about the harm they are doing to the only organisation which is standing firmly and undertaking every task with due expediency and efficiency. The armed forces of India are true patriots who will not let India down. Give them their izzat and pride, allow them the space to look after their own interests, undertake tasks which they are supposed to and get all these ‘monkeys’ off their backs.
    An armed force, to be effective in application of the required force at the designated place, must not just be present. It has to be fully equipped, trained and motivated to undertake that task. The leaders (officers) have to be steadfast – ‘TIGERS’ in visibility and action. The chilly and high altitude peaks of Kargil were not won back just like that. Each soldier contributed his bit.
    The present actions are whittling away that motivation, giving the feeling of ‘USE & THROW’ post retirement.

  35. Excellent piece. Very balanced!
    Read a sane opinion after a long time.
    It is the turn of the powers that be to turn the hardening opinions around.
    Will they act while there is still time?

  36. a balanced view by the general but should have clearly stated these type of duties are a part and parcel of our duties .as aid to civil administration .thats y army is to distinguished from all other services as it is the last resort in any given situation for the civil administration or the govts state or central .Therefore its higher inheirarcy to all and equatiting any other force is being naive

  37. Very well articulated write up by Gen Hasnain, an elite and illustrious soldier. But then will the people in the Civil, Political and Military hierarchy take note?? Thats the malady. The mere fact it has all frothed up and the media is rife over it, it would be prudent on part of the highest authority to take a call with urgency. The prevailing Civil Military devide is not only undesirable but inherently very dangerous for the Nation State.

  38. Yes I agree. Why use army for such jobs it is the politics and the service chiefs eagerness which spoil the real job of army. The chiefs are working for their after retirement post like governor or ambassador and downgrade the service.

  39. In my personal opinion, our country can only survive n grow when we are administered first by judiciary, 2nd by By our Forces n Military n thirdly by Politician. Rather third option is not mandatory.

  40. Well said Sir. People of India hold Army in high regard. It is the insecurity of civil administration and sense of supremacy that they constantly influence politicians with whom they have easy access to pull down the armed forces. Very unfortunate…They should not forget the law of nature…when we fail to value something have, we eventually lose it.

  41. Very rightly brought out. Will the country and the government wake up even now and acknowledge the superiority of the Army.

  42. The way Armed forces have been treated in all pay commissions specially after 4th CPC in 1973,(after 1971)is indication enough of the care this country takes of its last bastion.This government has not been any different in this regard.Rather they have surpassed the humiliation conferred on Armed forces.The country is really converting its military to lowest rung of services.God help this nation.We have faced 1000 years of slavery for such neglect and we are again commiting the same mistake which Ashoka the Great did after Kalinga war or Nehru the Legend did after partition.We are again ignoring the rights and aspiration of our soldiers.
    Jai Hind!

  43. Now a days it seems that the military should took over the charges from Indian politicians to run over good governance as well as administration.

    A Well wisher of Bechara POOR Indians

  44. Such a wonderful article sir! For making an informed decision or opinion one needs to know the facts and details about it. Before understanding the necessary details, jumping to conclusions and criticising govt or institutions is unfair and this is another form of intolerance and more than that it is shows immaturity. You rightly mentioned the army’s contributions not just in Kashmir but everywhere in India in times of distress. Army has always been setting examples of highest form of professionalism, efficiency and helping civilian administration in times of distress and saved number of lives but his shouldnt become norm!

  45. A defining article. There is so much built up rancour between the armed forces and the bureacracy which has been caused over a period of time due to the raw deal meted out to the armed forces by the bureacrats in connivance with the government of the day. The reason can well be understood by such unmilitary like tasks entrusted to the armed forces, without the government paying a patient heed to the legitimate needs of the armed forces. The fact that this nation has complete faith and trust in the armed forces is a sore point with the envious bureaucrats, who indeed, walk away with the plum pay and pensionary benefits by virtue of being close to the politicians. A sad state, to say the least.

  46. Agree with what you’ve said in such a mild, almost diplomatic manner…in my view, the time has come to shed these diplomatic niceties and start talking only in a language these fellows understand. Else we will be forever making these foot overbridges and sweeping the muck strewn all over the country side, while the politicians and bureaucrats will continue degrading the Armed Forces and the Police will be manhandling our veterans with their tacit approval, and full knowledge and blessings.

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