Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said she had extensive meetings with senior Army officials and views of local military authorities were taken on board before she arrived at the decision to open the roads in various cantonments. She was responding to the criticism, coming mainly from military veterans and families, that she had taken the decision unilaterally without taking other stakeholders on board.
Addressing a press meet along with top officials of defence ministry to mark fourth anniversary of the NDA government, she said that out of 850 roads under closure in 62 cantonments, 119 had been closed by Army without following due procedure. Despite explicit orders from the ministry, only 80 of those 119 roads had been opened so far, she added.
Narrating the sequence of events prior to the decision, Sitharaman said that before meeting MPs from various parties, and elected vice-presidents of 62 cantonment boards on May 4, she had held four meetings with top Army officers and Directorate of Defence Estate officials.
She said meetings were then held on May 8 and 9, where a list of the number of closed roads was presented. The list was then sent by the Quarter Master General to all local military authorities for corroboration, who agreed that these roads had been closed. She said she held more meetings with civil and military authorities, and waited for Army Chief General Bipin Rawat to return from Sri Lanka. Only after that was a decision taken by the ministry, she said. “I have met the wives of Army officers and heard their concerns on security,” Sitharaman said.
In response to a question on whether the Army was on board over the government’s decision to announce a ceasefire during Ramzan in Kashmir, she replied that “it is a Government of India decision and we all abide by it”.
Refusing to give any indication about its extension post-Ramzan, Sitharaman said it was not her ministry’s role to determine whether the Ramzan ceasefire had been successful. “We honour the ceasefire. We have been given room to hit back when there is unprovoked attack,” she added.
“We shall be alert and ensure that no unprovoked attacks go without us responding,” she said in response to a question on firing along the Indo-Pak border despite the two sides reiterating the restoration of ceasefire.
She asserted the US sanctions against Russia would not impact India-Russia defence cooperation. She also asserted there was “no scandal” in the Rafale deal.