Ready to review decision on cantonment roads: Nirmala Sitharaman

Ready to review decision on cantonment roads: Nirmala Sitharaman

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. PTI file photo

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said she would meet the wives of Army officers who protest against the government’s recent decision of throwing the cantonment roads open to the civilian traffic.

The decision received flak from retired officers and military families, who claimed the move would compromise the safety and security of the families of the soldiers who are on duty in Jammu and Kashmir or in the North East.

On May 20, the ministry ordered that opening up all closed roads in 62 cantonments with some exceptions. The ministry also stated that the issue of closure of individual roads was to be reviewed fresh in conformity with the provisions as laid down, and any closure of roads to be undertaken will be done only after following the due procedure.

Within days, Army headquarters issued an official letter to all its establishments informing them to remove all barriers and check posts within the cantonments to allow unfettered civilian traffic.

The only exceptions are Badami Bag cantonment in Srinagar, Delhi and Cannanore cantonments and Satwari Road in Jammu.

The defence ministry's decision came in the wake of a meeting earlier this month that Sitharaman held with several Parliament members including Murli Manohar Joshi, Farooq Abdullah and Santosh Gangwar and vice presidents of the cantonment boards.

In March, the defence ministry informed the Parliament that it received many complaints about road blockage in the cantonment areas.

The MoD decision now not only upset the men in uniform but also prompted a signature campaign by the wives of the Army officers. On Sunday, Sitharaman tweeted a response, “Welcome to meet me. Shall hear them with an open mind.”

Before the May 20 decision, 52 roads in 22 cantonments were fully closed and 47 roads in 15 cantonments were partially closed by the Army. While all of these are now open to the civilian traffic, angry social media postings are being been seen from within the military community.

One of the upset groups is those who occupy “separated family” households in the cantonments. These are the families whose men are on duty at the order or in the counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.

A simplified detailed SOP would shortly be issued to jointly address the needs of the local public and the military establishment, said a defence ministry statement.

After meeting the lawmakers, the Defence Minister had another detailed review of the road closure issued with Defence Secretary San jay Mitra and Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat before it was decided to open up the cantonment roads.