The row over Army taking over road toll plazas in West Bengal on Friday echoed in Parliament with Trinamool Congress seeing “sinister” designs behind the move and Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar said the army was conducting a routine exercise in West Bengal.
The issue was raised in both Houses of Parliament with main opposition Congress too seeking clarification on the Army deployment at 19 toll plazas in West Bengal.
In the Lok Sabha, Parrikar termed it a “routine exercise not unique to West Bengal”, saying that similar operations to collect information on heavy vehicle movement that can be used during national emergencies had last month being conducted in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
“It was very unfortunate that Army has been dragged into an unnecessary controversy,” Parrikar said. “It was political frustration rather than projection of correct situation.”
Along with West Bengal, similar exercise was carried out in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram, Parrikar said while responding to TMC and Congress MPs.
He also stated that originally the exercise was planned for November 28-30 but was shifted to December 1 and 2 at the request of Kolkata Police as those dates were clashing with the protests against demonetisation.
“It is shocking that a chief minister is saying this. The Army’s deployment was part of routine exercise which has been going on for several years, which has been going on for last 15-20 years. Even last year it was held on November 19 to 21,” Parrikar said.
The minister said Army’s Eastern Command has been carrying out the exercise in West Bengal, Assam and other North Eastern states and a similar exercise has already been carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
“Concerned officials were informed in West Bengal. The original date was fixed for November 28 to 30 but due to Bharat Bandh the local police had advised the Army to shift it to December 1 and 2,” he said. “Due to traffic congestion, the exercise is being done with the help of local police.”
TMC leaders in both Houses alleged that neither the state government nor local administration including police were taken into confidence on the exercise or their permission sought.
Congress and BSP too wanted to know from the government how such an unprecedented move to carry out an Army exercise without taking state government into confidence was done.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee stayed at the state secretariat on Thursday night protesting against the Army presence at toll plazas in several parts of the state and asked whether it was an “Army coup”.
Army personnel, however, had left the toll plaza near the secretariat last night.