KOLKATA: The country’s defence preparedness has hit a roadblock, thanks to the Trinamool Congress Government in West Bengal. To thwart China’s military plans near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and repeated incursions, the Army and the IAF have been planning to expand their operations in North Bengal and also set up new bases. But these plans have run into trouble because of the Land Acquisition Policy of the Mamata Banerjee Government.
The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) proposals to expand the Army Cantonment at Kalimpong and set up an Armoured Corps division and a “composite aviation base” in North Bengal hang in the balance as the state government has been dragging its heel on the issue for the last two years. To break the deadlock, senior officers of the Eastern Command had held a “civil-military liaison” meeting with the senior officials of the state government, last month. An official attached to the MoD said,”Not acquiring land from the farmers for industry purposes might be the CM’s policy as part of vote bank politics but this is a case of national security which can never be compromised for the sake of populism. We need the land as soon as possible to expand our base as we have been receiving disturbing reports about Chinese activities across the border in this region.”
Defence officials pointed out that unlike West Bengal, neighbouring Assam had fully cooperated with the defence forces. IAF stations in Tezpur and Chhabua in Dibrugarh had been upgraded and bases for Sukhoi T-50 aircraft have been set up. The existing IAF stations in Jorhat and Mohanbari in Assam and Bagdogra and Hashimara in West Bengal are being modernised. At the Mountain Strike Corps headquarters (HQ) in Panagarh, an IAF station for C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft, which can fly troops and weapons very fast to the Sino-Indian border, has been built.
A state government official, who was present at the civil-military liaison meeting, expressed helplessness and said, “We fully realise the immediacy of the issue... We have informed the Army that the present government treats the issue of land acquisition in a different manner compared to its predecessors. The decision has to be taken by the state Cabinet headed by the CM.”
Following intelligence reports on the Chinese activities along the LAC, the Army has listed parts of North Bengal and NorthEast region of the country, particularly Arunachal Pradesh which China claims as its own territory, as a “sensitive zone.” In 2013, the then Defence Minister A K Antony had approved a Budget to the tune of `65,000 crore to form a “Mountain Strike Corps” in the Eastern and NorthEast regions. Accordingly, the two Mountain Divisions were “fully raised” with 30,000 troops in the NorthEast as a counter-measure and to shore up mountain warfare capabilities. The new Mountain Divisions came up at a time when the country’s security brass was warily watching the massive upgrade of Chinese military infrastructure along the 4,057-km-long LAC - the ceasefire line as there is no clearly demarcated border. West Bengal is closely connected with the MoD’s plans to counter China’s growing military presence in Southern Tibet but Mamata’s ‘vote bank politics’ is a stumbling block in the region.
Two years ago, a senior Army official had met the CM at Siliguri and sought 750 acres of land next to the Binaguri Army Cantonment to establish an Armoured Corps Division. He stressed the need, saying that China was actively increasing its influence in neighbouring Bhutan and Nepal, according to the military intelligence (MI). The MI had stated that China was carrying out charitable activities and imparting free education through some voluntary organisations operating alongside the LAC and using them to carry out espionage activities in the region. The neighbouring country was also spending huge sums of money to set up Buddhist monasteries in the region, it pointed out.
The Army, which has a strong presence in the Binaguri Cantonment, plans not only to increase the number of its personnel but also to have an Armoured Corps Division with MBT Arjun tanks and armoured vehicles. It currently has 63 Armoured Corps Regiments and has also raised the Ladakh Scouts and two Battalions of Arunachal.
According to the proposals, an Armoured Corps Division is planned at Jalpaiguri’s Dumdim, a “composite aviation base” of the IAF at Shougaon, and expansion of the Army base at Kalimpong in Darjeeling district. During the meeting with the senior state government officials, the defence officials said that for posting the new Mountain Division, the Armoured Corps base, equipped with latest weapons, including missiles, and 750 acres of land was needed at Dumdim. The Army had also identified the land needed for the railway link to Dumdim and the MoD had given the green signal to acquire the land in 2013.
For the IAF’s base at Shougaon, 361 acres are needed and 1,250 acres for expansion of the Army Cantonment at Kalimpong. According to sources at Fort William, the HQ of the Eastern Command, “Expansion of the Kalimpong base is an immediate need as it is one of the pillars guarding our borders with China in Sikkim as 15,000 troops are deployed in the base, spread over 415 acres. We need to expand it by at least three times and that is why an additional 1,250 acres of land is needed.”
The state government, however, is not giving the “no objection certificate (NoC)” to acquire the land.