'Saddening that a routine exercise has been made a controversy now,' he said.
New Delhi: Terming the Army’s deployment in the Hooghly toll plaza as a routine exercise, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar addressing the Lok Sabha on Friday, said that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was creating controversies out of ‘political frustration’.
“It is army's routine exercise being carried out since many years. It had taken place on November 19 and 21 last year as well. Concerned officials were intimated by Army this year too. Original dates were December 28, 29 and 30. It was later changed December 1 and 2, as we were informed that there was a bandh on the proposed days,” Parrikar said.
“Saddening that a routine exercise has been made a controversy now,” he added.
The Defence Minister was speaking at the Lok Sabha after Trinamool Congress MPs raised the issue in the House.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday alleged that the Union government breached the authority of the West Bengal government by deploying the Army at key toll plazas in the state without following the due process.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, she also wondered if the Centre was attempting a coup in the state. "The army is deployed without informing the state government. This is unprecedented and a very serious matter", she had said.
As soon as Lok Sabha assembled this morning, TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay raised the issue of army deployment at 19 places in West Bengal, claiming that the move was a challenge to the federal structure of the country and completely politically motivated.
He said army personnel were deployed at these places, including near the state secretariat, "without informing anyone in the state secretariat".
"It is a fantastic situation. Army today said that it was a routine exercise being carried out in the North Eastern states. But West Bengal does not come under the territorial jurisdiction of the Northeast," he said.
Bandyopadhyay said the people of the country have great faith in the Army but if indeed such an exercise was scheduled, the Centre should have communicated to the state government.
He said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been staging a 'dharna' in the Secretariat demanding withdrawal of the Army.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar asked the TMC not to drag Army into politics saying defence personnel have been protecting the country as well as democracy.
"Whatever the Army has done was part of a routine exercise. It is completely wrong to drag Army into politics," he said.
Raising the issue in Rajya Sabha, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said army is India's pride as it has upheld its unity and integrity beside protecting the borders.
It has also come to the rescue during emergency situations like flood and riots, he said adding that army is requisitioned at the request of a state government.
But in West Bengal, the chief secretary, administration and DG Police had no information of army taking over toll plazas at 19 locations in the state, he said.
"This is probably the first time that the chief minister of West Bengal has lodged this kind of protest where she stayed put for the night in the State Secretariat and is still there," he said. "This is a strange thing happening. Without asking state government, chief secretary or DGP, toll plazas of state government are taken over."
Azad said it is being said that Army was collecting information on truck movements but such an exercise is not even done in Jammu and Kashmir. All such information is available with National Highways Authority of India or road transport departments. "This is an issue of grave concern."
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (TMC) said what happened in West Bengal has never been witnessed in the state's history. Army seized toll plazas and started putting stickers on vehicles.
"I will not drag the army in any controversy. We are very proud of the army," he said wanting to know under what provisions of law and Constitution was such a deployment carried out and alleging "sinister design" to "defame the leader opposing demonetisation" and creating "fear psychosis".
“Whatever is happening to the West Bengal CM is unfair. This is a big attack on the federal system. Army should not be used a political tool,” BSP supremo Mayawati said in Rajya Sabha.
Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said, "
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference Major General Sunil Yadav said, “This is an exercise carried out for our operational purposes.”
Adding that there were similar exercises conducted across the North East, Yadav said that prior information was given to the concerned authorities, recce was conducted and data collected. "We withdrew once the data collection near the secretariat was completed. Government allegations that the Army collected money from the people is baseless," he said.
“Over 80 such collection data points established in entire region, personnel of army consisting of five to six at each point are unarmed. They're only collecting data of heavy vehicles, this is an annual exercise carried out every year,” he added.