The Army chief also responded to the controversy over the opening of cantonment roads, saying it had to be done to help civilian population residing in and accessing cantonment areas

Peace should be given a chance in Kashmir, said Army chief General Bipin Rawat in an exclusive conversation with ET, adding that he was in favour of dialogue to break the cycle of terror groups recruiting more Kashmiri youth.

“Talks must happen. The issue is that a lot of locals are joining militancy. We kill them and more would join. Infiltration can be controlled, but this cycle of recruitment of local youth can go on and on. So…let’s give peace a chance and see,” he told ET. 

Further, on Doklam and the overall situation on the Line of Actual Control with China, the Army chief said the situation had returned to “normal as earlier” after the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Things at the LAC are normal as earlier. We are encouraged by the meetings at the highest level.”

On the status of the DGMO-level (Director General of Military Operations) hotline between the two countries, he said: “We have local level contact. For this one, we have an interpreter problem and are thinking of how to go ahead with it. If we call and if they don’t have an interpreter ready, then what.”

General Rawat refrained from revealing much on the inquiry into a Srinagar hotel incident involving Major Leetul Gogoi, who hit headlines when he tied a local to his jeep as a “human shield” to rescue an election commission team from stone pelters.

“The inquiry is on. I had also made the statement that strongest punishment would be given to him if he is found guilty.”

Further, the Army chief elaborated on the question of soldiers having to buy their own uniforms. “The media must do some more research on this subject. It’s actually better that soldiers buy uniforms on their own rather than from the ordnance factories. The ordnance factory vests are so thick that no one can wear them. So we let the Jawan buy on his own, by his choice and when he wants. We are giving the access to quality clothing,” he told ET.

The Seventh Pay Commission has authorised monetary compensation for selected items of personal clothing. The finance ministry issued an order based on this on August 2 through which soldiers were given Rs 10,000 as dress allowance.

On whether the Army has stipulated the range of items to be bought under the dress allowance, Gen Rawat said: “We have told the MoD (Ministry of Defence) that within the Rs 10,000 allowance the soldier can buy 27 items. These 27 items would be rank badges, vests, different badges, etc, and only the daily OG (known as Olive Green) uniform and not combat uniforms.”

This, he said, would work out as a much improved system from the point of the view of the Army. “It is better this way rather than giving let’s say Rs 950 to the ordnance factories for stitching my uniform. In the market, however, I will only have to pay let’s say about Rs 400 to stitch a uniform, so why should I get it made from the ordnance factories when I can get it made from outside.”

The Army chief also responded to the controversy over the opening of cantonment roads, saying it had to be done to help civilian population residing in and accessing cantonment areas.

“If we find that a road is coming to a particular civilian area, should we close it and think we are above everyone else. What we did earlier was from about 5 pm to 7 pm we would close a particular road for walking. Now a civilian who wants to pass through that area he is not allowed… he gets irritated.”

To elaborate, he gave the case of Pune Cantonment, where the shortest route to a communal graveyard (Kabristan) heads through the cantonment. “We had closed this road. So civilians had to take a long detour to reach the Kabristan. Now a person is waiting at the road to reach the Kabristan, he sees someone bringing groceries for an officer and being allowed to move on the road, but he cannot go. You are irritating people by closing roads. If you have to manage security then manage it. Right now you have a false sense of security, when you feel that you are secured in a closed environment… we can’t put civilians away. People will start becoming hostile, because they will think that the Army feels its above everyone else,” he told ET.