Mamata Banerjee, Manohar Parrikar spar over army exercise

Mamata Banerjee maintained on Friday that the Army cannot carry out any exercise without securing permission of the state government; the Defence Minister retorted that the exercises were routine

Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Political Bureau

The army, maintained Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress on Friday, cannot carry out any exercise without informing the state government and without securing its permission. The West Bengal Chief Minister, who spent the intervening night in the secretariat refusing to leave until the army was withdrawn, maintained it was an assault on democracy and the Centre had no business deploying army jawans at toll plazas in the state bypassing the state government.

Permission, claimed Trinamool Congress MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy in the Rajya Sabha, had been denied by the police on both security considerations as well as fear that the exercise would cause traffic disruptions.

But, they say, the army still went ahead with the exercise which Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar described as ‘routine’. The Eastern Command also held a press briefing in Kolkata and claimed that the exercise was carried out at 80 points across the eastern and northeastern states beginning September and that there was nothing unusual about it. Eastern Command spokesman Major General Sunil Yadav said that assistance of state police had been sought in writing.

He was however not clear if Calcutta Police had cleared the proposal and offered its assistance to set up check points. Indeed the official Twitter handle of Bengal Police, and the West Bengal Government denied any approval ‘given at any level’ to the army to conduct the exercise.

Army sources in the national capital maintained that annually or bi-annually the exercise is conducted in various states, including those on the western border to assess the number and availability of ‘heavy ‘civilian trucks’ which can be requisitioned at short notice in emergencies or in times of war.

While at war time the army is authorised to impound civilian vehicles, the letter written to the West Bengal Government mentions that there would be no ‘physical impressment’ but only data and documents would be collected.

A document released by the Ministry of Defence in support of its claim was pounced upon by Trinamool MPs because in the letter signed by Additional Commissioner of Police Supratim Sarkar , permission appears to have been denied to the army though the same letter carried the suggestion that the army might like to look for a different stretch of road for the exercise. The stretch suggested by the army, the letter said, was too close to the state secretariat and had security implications.

The whirl of accusations and retorts hurled between the Centre and Bengal state governments on Friday have raised a whole lot of heat, but not enough light. However, we have a growing suspicion that this may all be just a storm in a tea cup.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines