REMINISCENCE: MY 1st INNINGS

The Centre Adjutant uttered the figure of over 9000 all ranks including Recruits and Young Soldiers being present at the Commandant Special Sainik Sammelan held at D’souza Amphitheatre some time in Dec 82. It left most of us wondering as to how a newly raised Centre had taken the responsibility of providing technical trade qualified young soldiers, not only to older units but even to the newly raised units, inspite of inadequate infrastructure.

The Centre was raised at an old RVC stud farm consisting of 687 acres. Besides this, 244 acres were also transferred from the Driving and Maintenance Regiment of ACC&S. Many Armoured Regiments had been raised at the stud farm area previously with the last one being 84 Armoured Regt. Subsequently, approximately 1200 acres of land was transferred by the State Government to MIRC despite strong opposition from the local politicians.

The stud farm area had many old stone walled buildings which were at that time used as the Commandant’s Office, PRI, QM, TRG Branch, QG, QM Store (4 long barracks), JCO Mess(to include 1 living barrack), Record office (three full length barracks) few dining halls and kitchen, Balniketan (now Sarath School), Wet canteen barrack (now Sainik Institute), TT Wing office( old building near no 3 gate presently housing Sarath Suvidha and Placement Cell )in addition there were a few stone walled small barracks which were used as Civil Section Office/ Store and Kotes etc.Narrow “D” road was very much in existence beside few 9′ wide black top link roads. However; it cannot be denied that there was a thick and inhospitable growth of Kikkar trees all over the campus, thus comparison with a jungle may not be an exaggeration.

Brig Tilak Raj took over the reins of Centre sometime in November 1980 and remained in chair for five long years. Subsequently he was posted to Mech Cell as DDG in May 1985. He personally handled Preparations of KLP, making of PE, Temporary Officers mess, Dining hall and cook houses, Arboriculture plan, taking over of land from the State Government and allocation of additional water for the troops. Even the technical training grant for the Centre was his initiative.

His vision and foresight ensured that all cases were resolved favourably. He left no stone unturned toget all the statement of cases and proposal sanctioned by the appropriate authorities. Having joined the Centre in the nascent stage (December 1982), we (second lot of mass inducted officers) were housed in EPIP (acronym for English Pattern Indian Pattern) Tents. Each officer was provided with two EPIP tents for living and 2x 180 lbs for toilet and kitchen. The tented colony swelled up to 20 officers living area. Of course 1 officers kept vacating the tented colony and moving to permanent accommodation as and when it was allotted to them by the Adhoc Station HQ Ahmednagar. Incidentally, my tent “house” was visited by Gen and Mrs Sundarji with barely 15 minutes’ notice.

As luck would have it, all the small ‘Children of the Tent colony” were in my tents, since all of us (parents) were attending the Barakhana. Cocker Spaniel pup of ours was the main attraction for the children. My wife had to clean up the mess created by the little kids with toys thrown all over, clean up the kids and put the tent in some semblance of order in record time before the arrival of the entourage! All the unwanted stuff, read toys, was dumped near the Nala skirting the tent colony. My wife and I had just barely managed to pass the impromptu “cabin cupboard” inspection when my younger son, then only three, using textbook field craft of dash down crawl got within range of the Gen only to question him on why he was using “Commandant uncle’s car!”

Subsequently they visited Rajiv and Shubra Sharma’s tent too. Gen and Mrs Sundarji were quite happy to find officers and families are living cheerfully despite of all the difficulties to include that of dry sanitation. Jagbir, Hariz, Naidu, Pankaj Bhatia, Rai, Rauthan, Narula, Subramaniam, Chongthu, Sumer, Saigal, Kohli and Parasher to name a few who roughed it out for varying periods up to 16 months in the tent colony. Most of us stiff recall the good old days of tent colony fondly.

At that time the Centre was organised into Centre Headquarters, Basic Training Wing and Technical Training Wing with Brig Tilak Raj as the Commandant Col Ranjeet Banerji as Deputy Commandant, Training Officer (RV Singh), Accts Officer (SKAnand), QM (Bisht), the Adjutant and the Assistant Adjutant formed the Centre Headquarters. Col K J S Sandhu and Col Vadivelu were looking after Basic Training Wing and Technical Training Wing respectively Basic Training Wing, in turn, had 15 Training Company’s, the last Company being Oscar Company which was raised by then Maj VP Moorthy (12 Mech). Each Basic Training Company had over 400 Recruits under training. Similarly, Armament Company had 350 Young Soldiers. A and B Vehicles Training Company’s had 500 Young Soldiers and the least number being in the Electronic Training Company of 200 Young Soldiers. Since the Dak (mail) was centrally controlled by the Centre Adjutant, therefore, the Unit Headquarter Recruitment was placed under the “A” Branch, which was looked after exclusively by the Assistant Adjutant Capt Rajiv Sharma who was later replaced by Maj Rakesh Sidhu.

The entire population of MIRC was under canvas at that time. Approximately 2200 tents mostly EPIP tents, were utilised. Maj Gen Yadav (later MGO) at various occasions stated that 85% of total holding of tents by the Indian Army was held by MIRC. All the tents were provided with Salitas as floor cover. Invariably salitas over black cotton soil turned out to be the breeding and hiding place for white ants and brown scorpions respectively. The JCOs always maintained that it was the charisma of the “Peer Baba” which ensured that there were no fatalities owing to scorpion or snake bites inside the MIRC.

It is the lack of basic infrastructure and phenomenally high strength of trainees at that time which lead once to an outbreak of Viral Hepatitis/ Jaundice in the Centre. It is not an over statement that the Recruits /Young Soldiers used to line up for the morning ablution from midnight onwards. 350 Deep Trench Latrines were totally insufficient for the large strength touching a figure of 10000 all ranks. Civil section with the help of Cantonment Board had to work from morning to late evening with 3 to 4 sludge pumps. At a later stage there was no place to dispose of the night soil. Even finding a new place for DTLs was difficult.

One fine day Capt Venkatesh Prasad Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) reported to the Commandant that some recruits who came from Eastern UP are suspected to be infected with of Viral Hepatitis. Being a notifiable disease, the same was intimated to all concerned. Commandant immediately contacted Institute of Virology Pune and reputed local doctors. As per their advice all persons arriving from Eastern UP were segregated. Every morning and evening the RMO used to check suspected cases as recommended by the Company Commanders. Exhaustive instructions were prepared as per the medical advice for the control of Viral Hepatitis which had to be followed meticulously by all ranks.

All segregated / suspected cases were shifted to Oscar Coy area which was located at the South Eastern boundary of the Centre (now the Baffle range area). Sugar cane was growing in abundance in this area. All suspected cases were provided with fresh sugar cane juice prepared under the supervision of Lt Col PL Loomba who was made in charge of segregated pers. They were provided with multivitamin capsule, costly injections and packets of glucose were purchased from the Regimental Fund then. As per the medical advice suspected cases were told to be sent to Military Hospital (MH), Ahmednagar.

Immediately 4X 3Ton full of suspected cases were sent to the MH Ahmednagar. Next day they came, running back to the Centre requesting not to send any more patients as they feared an outbreak of Viral Hepatitis in the MH itself. The Commandant after due consultation, worked out a plan for the reduction of strength in the Centre so that existing infrastructure could sustain the administrative need. Technical training of Young Soldiers was discontinued temporarily. No recruits were held back on completion of basic training even for the attestation parade. If the number was less, the oath ceremony was organised in the Quarter Guard. In addition, no stone was left unturned with view to maintain very high standard of hygiene and sanitation. Timely help from the medical authorities and the efforts made by all ranks, situation was brought under control within a fortnight, and not a single case turned serious. Some senior officers labelled this crisis as a command failure, but they did realise later that it was their staff failure for not being able to provide basic infrastructure despite repeated requests made to them verbally and in writing.

It is a well-known fact that despite the approval of the uniform and its accoutrement, units kept raising the issue that the recommended uniform looked drab and needed minor changes. However, Gen Sundarji was against flashiness, he was of the opinion that the all ranks of Mechanised Infantry be known by their professional competence rather than flashy uniform. Proto type accoutrements, Regimental tie, pouch belt based on the many suggested designs were first shown to the Col of the Regiment. Later during the biennial conference with the consent of the Commanding Officers and Subedar Majors of the units, samples were sent to AG’s Br for approval.

The Pouch belt was the last item of accoutrement which was approved by the AG’s Branch. The design of the old pouch belt bearing the Chiefs Insignia was made primarily for the Colonel of the Regiment who had taken over as COAS. Consequent to his approval, the pouch belt, (with COAS insignia) was taken to be worn by all Officers. Gen V N Sharma who took over from Gen Sundarji as the COAS, objected to the design of our pouch belt since it bore the COAS insignia during the Raising Day Celebrations of 66 Armoured Regiment at Hisar. Immediately, the insignia was replaced by the Spirit of the Mechanised Infantry.

I am fully conscious of implication of disturbing the hornet’s nest. However, the need to show the history of the Centre in correct perspective to the new generation prevailed.

Col Joy Dasgupta is an Ex Centre Adjutant & CO CT Battalion, MIRC

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