Not just guns, but also roses

After former army chief General (retd) VK Singh’s shocking revelations regarding ‘buying peace’ in in the haggard state of Jammu and Kashmir surfaced recently, the entire existence of military’s pet project in the area – Operation Sadbhavna – has come under scrutiny.

Soon after VK Singh’s statement that the army, right since Independence, has been regularly paying money to ministers and politicians to usher in stability in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir hit the national headlines, eight former Army chiefs rejected his claim while simultaneously dissociating it from Operation Sadbhavna.

‘No funds were ever provided by the Army to any politicians, political party or any NGO in their tenures, and nor would they have allowed that,’ was the joint statement, issued by Generals O P Malhotra, S F Rodrigues, Shankar Roychowdhury, V P Malik, S Padamanabhan, N C Vij, J J Singh and Deepak Kapoor.

All of these former chiefs insisted that this issue of payment of money to ministers, as alleged by VK Singh, should not be confused with Operation Sadbhavna, which the Army has been undertaking in J&K as a welfare and social service scheme aimed at the locals in the area.

It is important to note here that the maximum amount stretching across three years from the ministry of defence has been sanctioned to the army’s Northern Command (especially for J&K region), under the now-under-scanner Op Sadbhavna, as compared to its Western or Eastern Commands respectively. In fact, the Northern Command has a current budget of Rs 40 crore being sanctioned for 2013-14 , compared to Rs 34 crore been given in the past two years. On the other hand, the Western Command has witnessed a slip from Rs 2.12 crore granted in 2011-12, but which fell to Rs 1.96 crore in 2012-13 and for the current fiscal, it has further dropped to the paltry sum of Rs 1.77 crore.

While the Eastern Command had been previously getting the lowest of the allocations, the amounts granted saw a rise for this year with Rs 13.5 crore, as compared to Rs 11 crore last year, but the two figures are lower compared to the maximum amount of Rs 14.45-crore being allocated in 2011-12.

With a budget of Rs 40 crore and a special focus on the J&K region, Operation Sadbhavna essentially focuses on providing infrastructure, education and healthcare facilities, among other community services to the local population in the northern state, in order to create goodwill among the people and maintain peace in the region.

This operation was ostensibly launched by the army in 1998 in the rural areas of J&K region, that have the misfortune of being infested with terrorists and anti-national elements that have been wreaking havoc in the valley. Some of the routine militant actions include large-scale destruction of government property and public assets like schools, bridges, electricity supply system, etc., thereby causing severe hardships to locals and revenue losses to the state.

Under Operation Sadbhavna, the Indian Army took up a large number of welfare and development projects to fill up the infrastructure lacunae created by the terrorist attacks. Having spent nearly Rs 450 crores over the last 14 years, the Army’s goals have been to improve the quality of life of the local populace and win over their hearts and minds. The focus of Operation Sadbhavna has been on imparting quality education, women and youth empowerment, infrastructure development and health and veterinary care.

Under this scheme, even educational and motivational tours have been conducted outside J&K in order to expose the rich heritage and changing cultural lives of India for the students, youth and opinion makers. Also basic needs like water supply schemes, electrification and animal husbandry in far-flung areas have been given priority while planning projects based on a participative model involving the local people, their elected representatives and civil administration. ‘The main focus of this programme is to instil a sense of national pride in the locals and also look into their needs and address them,’ said an officer, in-charge of Army Goodwill School based in Rajouri.

One of the primary areas of focus in this Operation is providing quality education in militancy-affected areas of J&K. The Army has established 53 branches of the English-medium Army Goodwill Schools under the State Board and CBSE. Through these schools, local teachers and support staff get employment opportunities and these schools are well received by the people. Also computer literacy centres have been established at a number of places, including local government schools to provide e-education to children, youth and women who have no access to such facilities in the regions they come from.

With destruction of infrastructure by terrorists and anti-national elements in early 1990s and inability of government agencies to undertake new projects or restoration of damaged projects left a large void in this field.

However, to counter that, through Operation Sadbhavna, the army has been involved in construction of foot bridges, tracks to improve connectivity in rural areas, schools, orphanages, primary health centres, community development centres, and vocational training centres and other such activities.

Another key area of focus for Operation Sadbhavna is provision of health care and medical needs to the local population. Army organises a number of medical camps and has established several health centres in the area. Motivated youths are identified in medical camps in rural areas for further training in paramedical care and first-aid by the Army Field Hospitals. There is also a special emphasis to create vocational training centres for women and youth empowerment programmes.
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