Soldiers aren’t meant to run canteens: Panel
NEW DELHI: Soldiers should train for war, guard borders and respond to emergencies. They are not meant to be deployed as “sahayaks” or orderlies of officers, nor help in running CSD and unit-run canteens (URCs) or other menial tasks.
With this principle in mind, the parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) has asked the defence ministry (MoD) to “completely withdraw the combatants” engaged in running URCs around the country to “preserve, protect and spur their martial spirit”.
However, MoD as well as the 13 lakh- strong armed forces are unlikely to agree to this, much like they have repeatedly rejected strong recommendations by different parliamentary committees to do away with the “demeaning and humiliating” practice of using soldiers as sahayaks.
The Army contends that officers get sahayaks basically for upkeep of their uniforms and weapons as well as to act as their radio operators and “buddies” during combat operations. Critics, however, slam the sahayak system as a vestige of the colonial era. They argue many officers blatantly misuse their orderlies, getting them to do household work, walk the dogs and take children to school.
Similarly, the PAC said as many as 80,000 service personnel are deployed on “a full-time basis” in URCs in clear violation of Army orders which specifically state “no military personnel or free transport is to be used in the running of canteens”. The 3,730 URCs, which serve as a network for CSD goods and liquor down to the battalion level, have an over Rs10,000 crore annual turnover but employ just about 5,400 civilian employees.
The committee said using soldiers to run URCs in disturbed or insurgency-hit areas “may be justified” at one level. But their use in “day-to-day mundane business activities” of URCs in undisturbed areas “defies logic” in view of the “undisputed fact” that the “primary job of combatants is to guard the frontiers” and respond to emergencies.
“The government spends huge amounts of money on the selection, rigorous training and development of regular combatants to keep them in a state of full-preparedness. Obviously, the deployment of combatants on a regular basis to run URCs leads to colossal waste of public money and defeats the very purpose for which the uniformed cadre is created, besides impinging on the nation’s security,” it said.
Criticizing the defence establishment’s persistent refusal to allow CAG to audit the URCs on the ground that their profits constituted “non-public funds”, the committee also asked the MoD to reconsider the matter for “greater transparency”.