EARLIER THIS year, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar triggered a debate when he made a public request for installing a battle tank on the campus. However, he is not alone in asking for obsolete battle tanks and guns from the Army. Over the past two years, the demand from private organisations, educational institutions, schools, colleges and NGOs for such tanks and other combat equipment has gone up significantly.
In 2014-15, only three such demands were received from civilian institutions. The number rose to seven in 2015-16 and then shot up to 31 in 2016-17. The Army has already received another 31 requests for battle tanks in the first half of the current financial year. Among the educational institutions which have been given such tanks by the Army since 2013 are: Modern School, New Delhi (one Vijayanta tank), Mohammad Ali Jauhar University, Rampur (one T-55 tank), La Martiniere College, Lucknow (one T-55 tank), Lawrence School, Sanawar (one T-55 tank), Dalhousie Public School, Himachal Pradesh (two RCL guns), Punjabi University, Patiala (one Vijayanta tank), Bharati Vidyapeeth, Pune (one T-55 tank against two demanded), Punjab Public School, Nabha (one T-55 tank against two demanded), and Rajkumar College, Raipur (one T-55 tank against two demanded).
The debate over display of battle tanks in educational institutions gained prominence earlier this year, following a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ event at JNU on July 23, where Vice-Chancellor Kumar publicly requested Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and former army chief and Minister of State for External Affairs General V K Singh (retd) to help the university in “procuring an Army tank”. He said this could be displayed at a “prominent place” on the campus to serve as a “constant” reminder to students of the sacrifices the Army makes.
Besides educational institutions, the Army has also issued a large number of phased out/ obsolete tanks in bulk to civilian government organisations in various states since 2013. While four Vijayanta tanks and 19 RCL guns were issued for Punjab State War Heroes Memorial-cum-Museum at Amritsar in 2016-17, the Lion Safari Park in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, has also received five Vijayanta tanks from the Army.
But the maximum number of battle tanks — 40 Vijayanta tanks — issued to any single institution are to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET) in Gujarat. In 2015-16, the Army issued these tanks to SVPRET, which is a special purpose vehicle created by the Gujarat government for the execution of the Statue of Unity project. The State of Unity, dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, is slated to be the world’s largest statue at 182 metres. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
When contacted, a senior official of SVPRET told The Sunday Express: “When we began the project, we were looking out for good quality metal that could be used to construct the statue. We thought, what could be better than Army tanks. We sought the tanks from the Army, but when we conducted a metallurgical study of the same, we realised that the metal of the war tanks was of a far superior quality than what we were looking for. To extract the kind of metal we needed for the statue from these tanks was going to be uneconomical. Therefore, we dropped the idea.”
While another officer working on the project said the committee had discussed the option of using the tanks to create a museum as an added attraction for tourists visiting Kevadia to see the Statue of Unity, the top SVPRET official denied such plans. “We have no plan to use the Army tanks now. We have told the Army that we do not need them anymore,” he said.
The overall stock of obsolete battle tanks and guns for issue is limited to the equipment declared surplus in the previous financial year, out of which, 20 per cent is allocated for issue to private organisations/ educational institutions/ colleges/ schools/ NGOs and others. These organisations have to pay 5 per cent of the book value of the equipment, besides bearing the cost of transportation.
The allocations are made on a ‘first come first serve’ basis, with a proviso that the ministry can make up to 10 per cent out-of-turn allotments. As per the Army, no out-of-turn allotments of obsolete military equipment have been made by the ministry so far.