The Army will play a key role in the security of lakhs of devotees participating in the Ardh Kumbh Mela which will be held in Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad between January and March next year. The Kumbh Mela is the largest religious gathering in the world.
Unlike the past, when the Army's role was largely limited to providing engineering support to the civil administration, the Army will be closely involved in the actual security of devotees early next year.
Sources have indicated to NDTV that the biggest challenge at the Kumbh will be to guarantee security against terrorist threats since "there are massive security implications given the size of the mela." The Army will be working closely with the police on this.
Some religious shrines in Allahabad are in the Ordinance Depot Fort, visited by pilgrims, while the land for the mela is considered prime defence land, which is why Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Army Chief General Bipin Rawat visited the area on Wednesday. In a tweet, Ms Sitharaman said she was in Allahabad "to plan the security and administrative preparations for the Allahabad Kumbh Mela."
The role of the Army in supporting civilian administrations has been increasing over the last few years. Trained primarily to defend the borders, soldiers of the Army are regularly deployed for humanitarian aid missions including the ongoing rescue and relief operations in Kerala.
In February this year, at the request of the Rail Ministry, Army engineers built three foot overbridges in Mumbai in a record time of 117 days after a tragic stampede at Elphinstone station in September last year where 23 people were killed.
The Army was also called in to support the Haryana government ahead of the verdict of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is in jail after being found guilty of sexual exploitation cases.
Critics of the move to expand the role of the Army say the force should not become a quasi-police force since soldiers are trained to defend the borders, not to maintain law and order. Unlike the police, Army jawans are not trained in crowd control and are not equipped with batons and shields. What's more, they are typically equipped with automatic rifles and trained to shoot to kill, an essential skill when fighting terrorists along the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.