The Ministry of Defence’s decision to open cantonment roads to civilian traffic has not gone down well with a section of the military brass. Wives of military personnel have protested against the decision taken in May citing security reasons.
On Tuesday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman justified the government’s decision of throwing open the roads in the cantonments, stating that many of them had been closed without following proper procedure.
“It was found that 850 roads were under closure in 62 cantonments. Out of 850, 119 roads were closed without following due procedure. Among those 119 only 80 roads have been opened,” Sitharaman said after explaining in detail the numerous meetings she held with MPs and elected vice-presidents of cantonments to discuss the matter
“The very well-covered meeting of the MPs representing 62 cantonments of the country and elected vice-presidents of cantonments happened on 4 May after several requisitions came in from representatives of different parties,” said Sitharaman.
The Defence Minister said she held four meetings – on 2 April, 17 April, 26 April and 1 May – with the Army, the DG defence estate and officials who deal in land and works before the crucial 4 May meeting.
“In each of these meetings, the concerned Joint Secretaries from civilian side and concerned officers such as Quartermaster Generals were present,” said Sitharaman.
The Defence Minister added that the MPs who came for the meeting belonged to various parties including the Congress, BJP, TMC, National Conference, CPI(M) and Shiv Sena.
Sitharaman then held eight meetings between 9 May and 23 May.
In the 9 May meeting, the DG-Estates gave a list containing the number of roads in cantonments that were closed. It was decided in the meeting that a review of why the roads were shut and should they remain shut was conducted and local military authorities of all cantonment boards were asked to corroborate the list.
“These roads were only in cantonments, not military bases or stations,” said the Defence Minister, who took charge of the ministry in September 2017.
“Subsequent meetings were held on 15 May, 16 May, 17 May, 18 May and 19 May. On Saturday, 19 May the Army chief, who was earlier on a visit to Sri Lanka, was present in the meeting. By that date replies from local military authorities arrived. Two more meetings were held – on 22 May and on 23 May – post which the decision was taken,” said the minister.
Commenting on the protests by army wives, Sitharaman said that she heard their concerns which were largely about security.
“I fully appreciate that. But what is being addressed through this is the traffic-related issue. We are conscious of the places where army families are living. Cantonments are place where both military officials and civilians live,” she said.
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Sitharaman added that reviews of road closures will be held by local military authorities and concerned stakeholders.
“Whatever they decide is up to them but they must follow proper procedure,” she said.