Clearing Everest Garbage is not an Army Job

The recent order by the PMO delivered through the Defence Ministry to the Army to remove garbage etc left by climbers on Mount Everest and pilgrims going to various shrines in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, has caused much dismay and disquiet both amongst the veterans and the serving men.

Troops always pitch in

The Indian Army has always responded with alacrity to any call from the civil administration for help during floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

2 Similar has been the response when called upon to restore order: when matters get out of hand of the police and other central police organisations. In remote areas, many a time the army has come to the help of the local population even when there has been no such request from the civil administration. The well-being of the people of the country has always been foremost with the Indian army.

3 Soldiering is a profession apart. When called upon, soldiers walk into the very jaws of death without a demur. It is so because of self-respect and pride in the profession of arms, regimental spirit and, above all, love for the country and its people. In all this, lingers a sense of dignity embedded in the profession.

Lankan army said no to cleaning

In no democracy of the world has there been a case where soldiers have been asked to undertake the cleaning of garbage generated by the public.  The Sri Lankan army refused to carry out such a task. Soldiers keep cantonments, military stations and their posts neat and clean and these stand out as example of orderliness and cleanliness in the midst of abundant filth seen in the surrounding towns etc.

The new breed of soldiers is different from those of yore. Most of them have no family tradition of soldiering and are there merely for the sake of employment. Therefore, there have been cases in the recent past where soldiers deployed as ‘sahayaks’ (orderlies to officers) have termed tasks such as washing their officer’s car or picking up his child from school or buying vegetables from the market for his officer, as menial. Such complaints made the Army Chief contemplate employing civilians in place of ‘sahayaks.’

‘Lawful command’ issue

Assume that a group of soldiers is ordered to clean up garbage and muck at a particular place, be it Badrinath or Base Camp of Mount Everest and the troops simply do not react to this order. Such a situation arose when Central India Horse (CIH) was ordered to mount the train for eventual move to North Africa, during World War I and one squadron (Sikh Squadron) did not do so, even when the order was repeated. Then as per the military law, it was a mutiny. Court martials followed, with half a dozen awarded the death sentence and some varying terms of imprisonment.

The case of the failure to react to order to clear garbage will be no different. Except at such a court martial, the issue of ‘lawful command’, which is the principle content of an order in the military, will surface. Defence will contend whether such an order is a lawful command. How such a situation will impact discipline in the military as a whole is not difficult to visualise.

It would be unwise to continuously push the military against the wall. It maintains its own areas in a spick and span state one need leave it at that.

Ginger up civil administration

There is a need to ginger up the civil administration, which has the necessary wherewithal to take on all such tasks entirely on its own, without calling in the military. Even in such and other tasks, the tendency to call the military at the drop of a hat shows the civil administration in poor light. If at present there are nearly 130 districts in the country where the government’s writ does not fully run, the element of poor civil administration is a substantial contributory factor.

Those who take it upon themselves to pass such uncalled for instructions to the military have little knowledge of soldiering. They are unaware of the fact of how pride in oneself, discipline and officer-man relationship leads them to attempt the impossible, as they did in Kargil. No one need push the military to a position where troops resent or disapprove of tasks being assigned to them. The Swachh Bharat movement is a people’s movement and those on pilgrimage should be motivated to clean up such places as part of their pilgrimage. Elsewhere, the district administration should actively involve itself and get people as a whole to participate in this movement.  Holding a broom as a photo-op is not enough.