The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Army backtracks on land drive

Siliguri/ Raiganj, Jan. 15: Army officials of the Trishakti Corps headquartered in Sukna, near Siliguri, today said they did not have any plans to use Raiganj and its vicinity in the near future for military exercise of any sort.

“Armoured exercises are routinely held in Rajasthan and Punjab and are required to train personnel in arenas outside the limits of the cantonments,” said Brigadier P.S. Chib, brigadier general staff of Trishakti Corps. “In the eastern sector, too, these exercises are needed, but we are yet to decide where and when they will be held.”

A communication from the 20th Mountain Division, a part of Trishakti Corps, and a subsequent recce of a mouza in the Itahar police station area of Raiganj, North Dinajpur, last month sounded alarm among villagers, who thought that the army was out to “acquire agricultural land” for training purposes. They had taken out a protest rally yesterday and submitted a memorandum to the SDO, Raiganj.

The army clarified today that there was no question of acquiring any land anywhere. Fields, that too fallow, would be used temporarily to carry out the exercise, in which heavy artillery may be used.

After the 1971 war, the only activity of such a nature in the eastern sector was held last year in Bagrakote in Jalpaiguri, said Major General C.D. Sawant, chief of staff of the Corps. “Such exercises are needed for the interests of the nation. But the army will be very careful not to damage agricultural land.”

The army may have dismissed the idea of a military exercise in Itahar for the time, but local MLA and civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee today came down heavily on the defence forces and the district administration. “The district administration did not feel it necessary to inform me about the development. But I have told district officials that the agricultural land in Bariolghat, Garahar and Bishohar cannot be given up, even temporarily, for army exercises,” Mukherjee said.

The civil defence minister, however, was quick to suggest an alternative location. “There are many abandoned brick kilns. Those areas can be offered to the army,” Mukherjee said.

The minister claimed that he had asked chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb to get in touch with the army and ask them why they had turned up in Itahar on December 22 without informing the civil authorities.

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