Indian army soldiers work to rebuild a bridge (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The role of our armed forces is not confined to keeping a vigil and protecting the sovereignty of our international borders and fighting cross-border terrorism. It also extends to helping its countrymen in distress and during crisis situations.

The announcement by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday (31 October) that the Indian Army will help in the construction of three new foot-over bridges including one at the Elphinstone Road station, saw several opposition leaders coming out strongly against the decision.

The bridges will be built with the Army’s help at Elphinstone Road, Currey Road and Ambivili stations. Fadnavis along with union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal on Tuesday visited the station where the deadly stampede took place last month in which 23 people were killed.

Ms Sitharaman said, “This is probably the first time we have asked the Army to come in to build what could otherwise be called a civil work, but Elphinstone tragedy was so big.”

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“A call was taken to co-operate seeing the urgency of the matter as the Army has its role at the borders. The Army has come and seen, inspected and assessed where the bridge is going to be built, they will be there at every stage of the work,” she said.

The move, however, took political overtures and quite a few opposition leaders took the social media route to express their anger. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh asked Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman not to divert the attention of the forces.

Some said, “Let the Army do its work on borders.” Others retorted calling this a “collapse of civil administration and that after this will the Army now be asked to dig potholes?” Many such tweets with similar tones found their way on social media.

We spoke to many serving officers across the country for their point of view. Most said that when it concerned the safety and security of the country and its people, the Army will never think twice.

The Army, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) have expertise in building roads and developing infrastructure. On the request of the cabinet ministers of the union government, the Army has agreed to develop the foot-over bridges in Mumbai, which will be made in just three months.

And this is not for the first time that the Army is lending a helping hand for the construction of bridges.

Examples of various operations of the Indian Army and its use during civilian crises include:

■ Mumbai-Goa highway bridge collapse in August 2016: The Army joined rescue operations after a colonial-era bridge was washed away in an overflowing river due to heavy rains.

■ In 2014, when flash floods took place in Jammu and Kashmir, the Army jumped into action to restore and repair roads damaged in over 1,000 places.

■ Bridge construction during the Commonwealth Games in 2010: The Army stepped in and rebuilt in record time a bridge that had suddenly crashed near the Nehru stadium.

■ Kashmir Earthquake 2005: The armed forces stepped in for rescue and relief operations, braving the difficult terrain as well as facing adverse weather conditions.

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■ In 2008, during a fire in the Nandaram building in Kolkata, the Army was called in to control the blaze in the 13-storeyed structure.

■ The Army also rebuilt the damaged Enathu bridge in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in April 2017.

■ Under operation Sadbhavana, the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir has routinely been building infrastructure and yielding good results in improving the quality of life of all citizens.

Having said that, even globally the Army does perform roles for the betterment of citizen services.

For instance, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintains deep-water ports which account for more than 67 per cent of the goods consumed by Americans.

The USACE also maintains and operates 75 hydroelectric facilities generating 24 per cent of the nation's hydro-power and 3 per cent of the United States’ total electricity. The USACE operates 2,500 recreation areas at 463 projects (mostly lakes), thus being the largest provider of outdoor recreation. It also maintains 926 coasts, great lakes and inland harbours.

The role of the Indian armed forces is not confined to keeping a vigil on the highest battleground of the world, Siachen, protecting the sovereignty of our international borders and fighting cross-border terrorism. It also extends to helping its countrymen in distress and during crisis situations.

The armed forces are known to deliver in times of crisis in the country. But at the same time, it is also important to carry out an in-house check on the capability and professionalism of civil and administrative services. The Corps of Engineers is an arm of the Indian Army that specialises in quick and robust construction work, ensuring the safety and providing mobility to our armed forces. In crisis situations such as the tragedy that took place at the Elphinstone Road foot-over bridge and to ensure the safety of citizens in places where such a tragedy can occur, it is only natural to get the best to do a difficult job in quick time.

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