It has come to light that the vehicle impressment exercise by the Indian Army on Thursday at Vidyasagar Setu toll plaza was carried out despite objections being raised by the Kolkata Police.
A letter was sent on November 25 by the Additional Commissioner of Police (Headquarters) Supratim Sarkar (Memo no: 543/HQ/C) to Col Surinder Mahani of the Station Cell, Administrative Commandant, Headquarters Bengal Area.
It was clearly stated in the letter that “...the proposed place of exercise is a busy and important corridor having huge volume of vehicular traffic connecting the city with other districts and states and also the gateway to “Nabanna”, the State Government Secretariat, which is a high-security zone. Keeping in view the traffic implications and the security considerations it is advised not to carry out the exercise in the stretch proposed. You are, therefore, requested to explore the possibilities of choosing an alternative place/stretch in the city or in the neighbouring commissionerates. This may please be treated as urgent”.
Commissioner of Kolkata Police Rajeev Kumar had gone to the spot and asked the Army to vacate the area, in spite of which the exercise continued. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stayed back in Nabanna, saying that she would continue staying in the state secretariat “until and unless army is withdrawn.”
Finally, around midnight on Thursday, the Army was withdrawn.
The Army, however, claimed that “all the raised issues were addressed mutually and the location was identified. We gave a letter in this regard to the government and Kolkata Police on November 24. The observations were made on 25th and there was a joint recce of the locations on 27th in which there were two Army personnel, two inspectors of Kolkata Police and an official of the Transport department”. In reply to the letter given by the Kolkata Police, the Army had replied on November 26, stating: “Apropos the venue cannot be changed.”
When asked whether the Army was withdrawn after pressure had mounted, as the Chief Minister had raised her voice against them being deployed a stone’s throw away from the state secretariat, Major General Sunil Yadav, GOC (Headquarters) Bengal Area, said: “It will continue till the logical end that is tonight...we have specific targets and that have to be maintained. They were there [Vidyasagar Setu toll plaza] for around 36 hours since 1 am on November 30.”
According to a spokesperson of the Indian Army, the jawans were withdrawn after the task of collecting data was complete at the toll plaza. Major General Yadav further said that this had been done in coordination with local police authorities. “We had informed the Kolkata Police and other concerned officials of the state government. The exercise was earlier planned for November 27 and 28. The dates were changed to November 30 to December 2 on a specific request by Kolkata Police due to the bandh called on November 28.”
He said the exercise is also going on in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Last year, the same exercise took place at the same locations from November 19 to 21. The same exercise also took place in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar this year. Brushing aside the allegations of money collected by Army jawans, Yadav said there will be a probe if any video footage featuring an Army jawan taking money is found.