In times of crises, India always relies on its armed forces, the Railways said on Tuesday, amid criticism over the governments decision to take the help of the Army to build a new foot-over bridge at Mumbai's Elphinstone Road station where 23 people were killed in a stampede last month.
"We have always relied on the Army during a crisis," a Railway official said.
The Army had strong operational expertise in the construction of roads and bridges and in developing infrastructure and had been used during many civilian crises in the past, ministry officials pointed out.
"Why should we wait for another disaster to happen before seeking help? If the Army can help rebuild the structure then why not get them to build it," said an official.
Pointing out that the Army had been called in to join operations when the Mumbai-Goa highway bridge collapsed in August 2016, in rescue and rehabilitation work in Jammu and Kashmir during an earthquake in 2005 and floods in 2014 and the construction of a bridge during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010, the officials said building the FOB in time was a matter of public interest.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has criticised the decision to rope in the Indian Army for the FOB, terming it "deplorable" and "an admission of failure" of the government and the Indian Railways.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted, "The Army was to be a measure of the last resort to be called upon in an extreme emergency. Now it seems like its the 1st number on the speed dial."
A railway official also listed instances where the Army had been called in not just to repair and rebuild, but to manage fires as in 2008 when it helped control a blaze in a 13-storeyed building in Kolkata.
The army was to be a measure of last resort to be called upon in extreme emergency. Now it seems like it’s the 1st number on the speed dial. https://t.co/9e9hJOgDTY— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) October 31, 2017
The ministry officials also said that not just in India, but globally too armed forces played key roles in the betterment of citizen services.
They said the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintains deepwater ports, operates 75 hydroelectric facilities and also operates 2,500 recreation areas at 463 projects.
"Our officials, engineers who will see the Army at work will also learn from the best. They will learn how to complete such tasks on a war footing. This will eventually lead to swifter completion of projects in the Railways as well," an official said.