Bureaucratic system amid the 21-day lockdown over the coronavirus threat forced parents of Indian Army Colonel Navjot Singh Bal, a Shaurya Chakra winner who lost his battle against cancer, to embark on a 2,000-km road journey to see their brave son for the last time.
Karnail Singh Bal entered Karnataka Saturday evening amid Covid-19 lockdown to catch the last glimpse of his son, Colonel Navjot Singh Bal.
"We are on the road, I'm not sure where we are, the driver is driving. I think we should be in Karnataka now," Bal told news agency IANS.
Colonel NS Bal, a Special Forces officer who commanded the elite 2 Para unit of the Army, died in Bengaluru on April 9. His parents are travelling by road from Gurugram to Bengaluru to attend his last rites.
Red-tapism forced parents to drive over 2,600 km
They left on Friday morning and as per the latest update, they have crossed the Karnataka border at around 5 pm, driving about 2,000 km.
Bureaucratic hurdles didn't allow the parents of Col Bal (39) to travel by military aircraft amid a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus, which began on March 25. The matter was ignored at the force and the bureaucratic top level, sources said.
Colonel Bal was awarded the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award for showing exemplary valour in an operation in Lolab in Jammu and Kashmir.
The bureaucratic explanation given to the parents was that there are no civilian flights available. They were also told that requests made for an military aircraft to fly did not materialize as no formal orders were passed.
The parents were told that due to the lockdown, a clearance was needed from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The necessary permissions for movement were given by Thursday evening.
However, there were no formal orders for the Indian Air Force to fly the parents, forcing them to take the arduous road journey.
"There needs to be a clearance for civilians to fly in an Air Force aircraft and despite requests and an understanding that the family could be flown, there were no formal orders," said a source.
In a tweet, former Army Chief General VP Malik, replying to a post by Colonel NS Bal's brother - Navtez Singh Bal - wrote: "Deepest condolences! Have a safe journey. Sad GOI did not help. Rules are never written on stone. They are modified or changed in special circumstances."
Another post by an Army veteran, Major DP Singh, read: "All the best bro. Prayers for safe journey and good health of parents. An old soldier, father of Col Bal, would take it in his stride, and I am sure madam will rather be his rock solid support as always. Hail the spirit of #soldier and #camaraderie. Jai hind Flag of India (sic) ."
Colonel Bal was a Special Forces officers belonging to the 2 Para Regiment of the Indian Army.
He also commanded his unit before he was diagnosed with cancer over a year back. The officer was commissioned in the Indian Army in 2002.