“Now, Drama Gets Conspiracy Angle, ‘Army out on streets civil war likely” was the title of a report published in the Delhi edition of the Times of India on December 2, 2016. The issue came up for discussion in both Houses of Parliament on the same day. In reply to a point raised by the Leader of Opposition (LOP) in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence informed1 the House that Army Formations in Eastern Command at local levels are carrying out routine annual data collection exercise on the availability of load carriers at major entry points. He informed the House that this was being done by teams of five to six Army personnel in coordination with local police authorities. It was mentioned that this exercise is carried out to ascertain the availability of vehicles that can be utilized during a national emergency. The exercise involved collecting data in all North Eastern States, including at 18 points in Assam, 13 points in Arunachal Pradesh, 19 in West Bengal, six in Manipur, five in Nagaland, five in Meghalaya, and Tripura and Mizoram. He amplified that this is an exercise carried out every year. He also apprised the House that a similar exercise in Eastern Command was carried out in 2015 at the same locations from 19 to 21 November 2015. Similar exercises have also been carried out in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from 26 September to 1 October, 2016 under South Western Command. And such an exercise in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar was also done under Central Command from 19 to 21 November 2015 at Meerut, Dehradun, Allahabad, Danapur, Lucknow, Raipur, Ranchi, Gaya, Jamshedpur and Roorkee. The Raksha Mantri addressed the political aspects of the question that day in the Lok Sabha. “Army Clears the air, Didi defiant” was the title of a report published in the Delhi edition of the Hindustan Times on 3 December 2016.
While one hopes that the issue settles down and does not aggravate further, there is a need to understand the purpose, mechanism and legal provisions of this exercise and also find a better way to do the same in future.
Each military operation is replete with uncertainties. To ensure an efficient response as the operations evolve, every contingency/scenario is thought of and the best response to such situations are thought through, discussed, practiced and the best option selected and a SOP is drawn out. This ensures that in a given situation all members of a team whether individually (a pilot in a fighter cockpit) or collectively as a section, company or a formation need not discuss what to do but instead, without wasting time, respond in a manner which, by repeated practice, becomes a natural response. These SOPs are practiced regularly as part of exercises and have to be continuously reviewed and updated and have to be current to be effective. These contingencies also include logistics challenges during operations. Army formations are spread across the country. In case of a threat they need to be mobilised in the quickest possible time from their peacetime locations to their operational locations (which are known to each formation as per its war plan). There can also be a contingency for movement to some new (not part of the original plan) location based on emerging requirements. No formation is self-contained in transport resources both in the number and type of specialist vehicles to move the fighting units and the support echelons. War and emergency situations require the optimum use of instruments of ‘National Power’ and these include non-defence assets and resources including private commercial assets and equipment. Provision is also made to assess and compensate the individual(s) and entities whenever their assets are used in such contingencies. To be prepared to respond to such demands at the time of operations, Army formations need to have current information on:
Chapter II of ‘Defence of India Act 1971’ contains ‘Emergency Powers’. Section 3 of the act provides:
(1) The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, make such rules as appear to it necessary or expedient for securing the defence of India and civil defence, the public safety, the maintenance of public order or the efficient conduct of military operations, or for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the powers conferred by sub-section (1), the rules may provide for, and may empower any authority to make orders providing for, all or any of the following matters, namely:
Under sub subsection (17) & (18) of the above provision are the relevant provisions that address the need of the Army in such a contingency.
(17) Prohibiting or regulating the sailings of vessels from ports, traffic at aerodromes and the movement of aircraft, and traffic on railways, tramways and roads, and reserving and requiring to be adapted, for the use of the Government, all or any accommodation in vessels, aircraft, railways, tramways or road vehicles for the carriage of persons, animals or goods;
(18) The impressment of vessels, aircraft, vehicles and animals, for transport.
The aim of the exercise that has raised controversy was precisely to have a current data bank of vehicles and the volume of traffic so that only fair and reasonable demands are placed by the Army on the civil authorities both in terms of numbers of vehicles to be requisitioned and traffic restriction/closure if any to be made on select sections of the road network in case of a contingency requiring the movement of formations during a declared emergency.
The traffic pattern on highways has variations, which are:
Given the above, the methodology of deploying five to six unarmed combatants at a toll plaza (the number of lanes on an average could vary from eight to 16) on any two to three days in a year and collecting data and then depending upon it would therefore be fraught with a high risk of unpleasant surprise when plans based on that data are to be followed.
The facts, as have been provided during the discussion on the subject, are that the local army formations had interacted with the state police authority while planning the exercise. This suggests that the methodology has not kept up with some changes. The Control of National Highways (Land And Traffic) Act, 2002, effective since January 2003, was promulgated by Parliament to provide for control of land within the National Highways, right of way and traffic moving on the National Highways and also for removal of unauthorised occupation. It authorises the Central Government to appoint one or more officers of the Central Government or the State Government to be known as Highway Administrators. These are for defined lengths of the highway and, by default, Project Directors of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) are also nominated as Highway Administrators under this act and notified in the gazette. Their task is to exercise powers and discharge functions conferred on them under this Act. Among others, their powers include:
Hence for any activity to be done on the Highways or at the Toll plaza, the army formations need to interact and co-ordinate with these officers.
Actual data on annual, monthly, weekly or daily basis is available at all toll plazas and they (both NHAI and Concessionaire Managed [Public Private Partnership (PPP), Operate maintain and Toll (OMT)] toll plazas report to NHAI HQs on a monthly basis. The data is structured based on user fee (as toll is legally referred to) classification and these would suit (almost tailor made) the Army’s requirement. The table below for rates applicable for one such toll plaza illustrates this:
|Type of vehicle||Single Journey||Return Journey||Monthly Pass||Commercial Vehicle registered within the district of plaza|
|Bus/Truck Two Axle||330||495||11005||165|
|Three Axle Commercial Vehicle||360||540||12010||180|
|4 to 6 Axle Commercial Vehicles/Heavy Construction Machinery(HCM)/Earth Moving Equipment(EME)||520||775||17260||260|
|Seven or more Axle||630||945||21015||315|
To avail concessional rates, monthly pass holders and locally registered vehicles have to register with the toll plaza and have to produce documents (including RC). Thus, all relevant details are available with the toll plaza.
The initiative taken by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH), NHAI, and Concessionaire to introduce Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) has been gathering momentum. They have introduced FASTag for vehicles (a dedicated Epurse for toll) which can be topped up online. Each time the vehicle crosses a toll plaza, the toll would be deducted. In addition to having the registration details, class of the vehicle etc., the tag will also have the owner’s name and mobile number (SMS will automatically be sent each time toll is deducted both indicating the amount and the toll plaza location). There are 346 FASTag enabled Active Toll Plazas and demonetisation is going to be a catalyst for commercial vehicles migrating from cash based tolling to ETC. This will result in faster moving traffic and, for the purpose of issue under discussion, real time information on location of the desired class of vehicles.
The Army needs to comprehensively review the existing SoP for this exercise, liaise with MORTH and NHAI and jointly develop a software which can generate traffic data reports that would be accurate and useful for its planning purposes. A database of Highway Administrators, NHAI Project Directors and their contact details should be created, and kept updated. Details of ‘Way Side Amenities’ and ‘Truck layby’ locations, again available with the Highway Administrators, should be maintained and dovetailed into convoy movement plans so that halts of convoys are planned in a manner that facilitates the movement of normal road traffic. An old management principle, ‘There is always a better way of doing things and the one best way is never achieved” is truer today (in an interdependent world marked by rapid ICT developments) than ever before.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.