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Monday, 7 July 2008

From Today's Papers - 07 Jul

Ex-Army personnel protest against Sixth Pay Commission recommendations
New Delhi, Sun, 06 Jul 2008 ANI
New Delhi/ Amritsar, July 6 (ANI): Ex-Army personnel took out a protest march in New Delhi demanding a review of pay commission recommendations.
The protesters said they had taken out the protest march to bring to notice to the political leadership of the country the grave injustice done to the military personnel and that if their demands were not met the national security could be in jeopardy.
"The report of the Sixth Pay Commission has caused harm to the present and ex-servicemen of the Army. So we want that these recommendations should not be accepted and should be reviewed," said Dayan, Retired Colonel.
After the recommendations were made public the ex-servicemen had put forth their case to the Government but didn't get any response, forcing them to agitate.
Meanwhile in Amritsar city too, ex-servicemen of the Army took out a protest march to raise their voice for their cause.
"We were discriminated against the Indian Administrative Services (I.A S) officers in the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. So we the army people got together and decided to protest peacefully because in India only those who protest are heard. If our demands are not met, we will resort to other ways," said G.S. Sandhu, Retired Colonel.
The demands of ex-servicemen include one rank one pension, guaranteed government employment, formation of ex-service commission, representations of ex-servicemen in all the bodies where issues affecting the interests of ex-servicemen were considered.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has drawn flak from various quarters over the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. (ANI)

Karan Thapar
Unbelievable or deliberate?

It’s incredible the Prime Minister and Defence Minister did not attend Field Marshal Manekshaw’s funeral. Their presence wasn’t simply a duty, it was an obligation. And there was nothing else that could have claimed greater priority. But I’m even more amazed the President didn’t go. She is, after all, the Supreme Commander of the armed forces and Manekshaw was their greatest hero. Her absence is shocking.

Yet it’s not just India’s civilian leadership that failed. So too did the top brass of the armed forces. Whilst I can understand the Army Chief’s inability to attend, because he was out of the country, I cannot comprehend why the Air Force and Navy Chiefs were missing. They spent the day in their offices in Delhi! I’m curious to hear what excuse these gentleman offer, assuming, of course, they feel the need to do so. Did the government tell them not to go? Is that the explanation?

Sadly, the lapses in the official response to Manekshaw’s death don’t end with the absences at his funeral. How do you explain the fact that even one day of national mourning was not announced? And why weren’t flags flown at half-mast? Remember, as a field marshal, Manekshaw was still ‘in service’. Field Marshals don’t retire.

However, if you ask army officers — serving or retired — for an explanation they will point to the long-established distrust politicians exhibit for men in uniform. In countless ways, some small but many significant, politicians have contrived to reduce the stature of the armed forces.

Forty people have received the Bharat Ratna since it was first awarded in 1954. By my count at least 22 are politicians. A further 13 intellectuals or artists, two social workers and an industrialist. There are also two foreigners. But in 54 years not a single armed forces officer has qualified. Surely Manekshaw should have? Was he less deserving than M. G. Ramachandran, Rajiv Gandhi, Aruna Asaf Ali, Gulzarilal Nanda, VV Giri, Gopinath Bordoloi and Chidambaram Subramaniam?

Actually, the discrimination against the armed forces is yet more inexplicable if you analyze how service officers are ranked alongside civilian bureaucrats. For instance, in the states a brigadier and a district collector are treated as equals although it takes 28 years for an officer to become a brigadier and just 8 for a bureaucrat to become a DC. Worse, the central government ranks the Army Chief below the Cabinet Secretary. Yet the IAS comprises 4671 members and the army over a million. Even members of the Planning Commission, Chairmen of the UPSC, the CAG, the Attorney General and every single foreign ambassador have precedence.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. In the army promotions only happen against vacancies. In the civil service posts are created to provide promotions. Consequently state governments can have 10 or more permanent-secretary level posts, all of whom enjoy the same perks and salary.

Finally, to add insult to injury, where as practically every civil servant rises to be a joint secretary, only 3.5 per cent of army officers become major generals, the equivalent post. Therefore, when they retire, most civil servants at least get joint secretary level pensions. Very few army officers get major general level pensions.

And if you still doubt the services have legitimate reason to be upset, consider this — when the Cabinet Committee for Security discusses military procurement it invites civil servants to offer their opinion but the three chiefs, who are directly involved and clearly more knowledgeable, aren’t called.

Little wonder, then, that the armed services are aggrieved the Review Committee considering the 6th Pay Commission award for the military does not include a service officer, even though they had insisted on this. The government claims the Defence Secretary will represent them. The three chiefs — and all their predecessors — disagree. It’s not the incumbent they distrust so much as the attitude of civil servants. And when the government claims this is how civilian control manifests itself, they reply: this amounts to bureaucratic not political control.

So, through service eyes, the government’s response to Manekshaw’s death isn’t hard to explain. It’s part of a well-established pattern of political behaviour.

Sam Bahadur and Jaggu
by Roshni Johar

THIS is the story of a military giant, Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, and an unknown Lilliputian called Jaggu.
It unfolds when daddy was posted in Trivandrum, where we lived in the imposing colonial Pangode House. I was a schoolgirl then. Field Marshal (then Lt-General) Manekshaw was on a visit to the place. Out of the blue one night daddy announced that Lt-General Manekshaw was to lunch with us the next day, sending the entire household into a tearing hurry. We started getting brassware shined, crystal rinsed in vinegar, etc.
After all, it isn’t everyday that a famed general visits you. We were, nay, the whole Indian Army was in awe of this person: decorated with many medals, having a distinguished military history behind him, adorned with a distinctive moustache and loaded with a sense of humour and charm.
The menu and the guest list was fixed, including who was to sit next to whom, seniority-wise. Though mom could beat any Cordon Bleu chef, it was decided to call in Jaggu, the Army Club’s cook, to prepare his masterpiece pudding, the Rainbow Soufflé — a dome-shaped fluffy incollapsible soufflé of seven layers of different colours and flavours.
Jaggu often boasted that “Gen Sam Bahadur Sa’ab” had always relished his preparation when the two were together in some cantonment. We thought that Jaggu, a name-dropper, just fibbed.
Jaggu was a rotund chap. Mom and I couldn’t enter the kitchen to see his culinary secrets being revealed, as modesty prevented us. Jaggu worked bare-chested, wearing only his wide-flared shorts!
The lunch went off aplomb. The melt-in-the-mouth fluffy dessert was simply heavenly. Soufflé, a French word, means “light as air”, which it certainly was.
“Mmm…who made this pudding?” the General asked, digging his spoon into a second helping, trying to recall the familiar taste.
“Sir, it’s Jaggu, the club’s cook”, daddy said. “Send the guy to me at once”, he ordered.
Jaggu came running, buttoning his shirt and saluted him smartly.
“Oye Jaggu ustaad, shabaash, tu ne phir kamaal kar ditta”, Lt-Gen Sam Bahadur commented, giving him a pat on his shoulder. Master cooks are called ustaad in common parlance. He also enquired about ustaad’s family’s welfare. This bonhomie put us all literally at stand-at-ease.
Generals are also human beings. Lt-General Manekshaw certainly knew the knack of how to get around men. That was the sort of man Sam Bahadur was. Indeed, it was a unique meeting, though a very brief one between a general and a cook, both growing in stature, in our eyes. And Jaggu, though boastful, had not been lying.

ULFA men refuse to give up arms
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, July 6
Militants from ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies of the 28th battalion of the banned ULFA, who have declared unilateral truce, have rejected the call from the government to give up arms and take shelter in designated camps.
The leaders of the militants, Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta, who are talking to noted personalities from all walks of life in Assam gathering their opinions about the ULFA, its demands and peace talks, told the media here that they did not call for unilateral truce to give up arms or surrender, but to try to facilitate direct talks between the ULFA and the Government of India without any pre-conditions by mobilising public opinion for it.
The state government earlier had taken a firm decision that from now onwards any militant groups willing to have dialogue with the government would be first required to declare truce and surrender arms. In the light of this decision the government also asked the ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies of the ULFA militants to surrender arms and move to designated camps within three weeks as they had declared truce.
However, the leaders of the ULFA companies said they had made it clear that they would not surrender arms, as they did not call truce to sit for dialogue with the government themselves, but to mobilise public opinion for ‘unconditional’ talks between the top leadership of the ULFA and the Government of India.
They said for holding of direct talks both the sides must stop putting pre-conditions. The ULFA had been insisting that the government must commit to discuss its demand for restoration of sovereignty of Assam while the Government of India has been saying that the ULFA must agree to talks within the framework of the Indian constitution.
The leaders of the ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies of the ULFA demanded that the government must show its sincerity to solve the problem through dialogue with the ULFA by first releasing senior ULFA leaders Bhimkanta Buragohain, Prodip Gogoi, Mithinga Daimari, Pranati Deka, Prabal Neog and Pallab Saikia.

IAF team to take part in air exercise in US

New Delhi, July 6
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is all set to participate in a multinational air exercise, "Red Flag 08", at the invitation of the United States Air Force (USAF), which is scheduled to be held at the Nellis Air Force base in the US from August 9.
The IAF will participate in the exercise with eight SU-30 MK-1 aircraft, two IL-78 air refuellers and one IL-76 transport aircraft.
The contingent comprising 156 personnel below the officer rank and 91 officers, including 10 members of the Gurud IAF Special Force team, is being led by Group Capt D. Chaudhury along with Group Capt Ajay Rathore as exercise coordinator.
The IAF will participate in the exercise alongside the South Korean Air Force with F-15k and the French Air Force with its latest Rafale aircraft, apart from the USAF.
The exercise holds tremendous learning opportunity for all the participating air forces. — PTI

From Nigeria

Soldiers’ riot is dangerous

Published: Monday, 7 Jul 2008

Whether in peacetime or war situation, a nation’s army has an important role to play. A nation is only so in name and can be annexed or wiped off the world map if it cannot defend itself against external aggression or internal insurgency and implosion. It is therefore not surprising that the most important assignment given to the Nigerian military by the 1999 Constitution is that of “defending Nigeria from external aggression.” The armed forces are also expected to maintain the nation’s territorial integrity and secure its borders from violation on land, sea or air. The military is the main apparatus of coercion relied upon by the President to suppress insurrection or rebellion. The military is the backbone of the political power exercised by the Commander-in-Chief.

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Soldiers’ riot is dangerous

There are well-founded fears, however, that the nation’s Army is being assailed and crippled by payroll fraud and other forms of official graft. With the rapid evaporation of esprit de corps and group loyalty, there are indications that the army’s combat readiness may have been stymied by rampant venality. Such sad signals came very early in the life of this administration.

I remember how a military attaché to the Nigerian embassy in India was caught with $2m cash in his briefcase in May 2007. The Indian Income Tax officials who arrested him as he was preparing to board an early morning flight from New Delhi to Lagos said the Defense Advisor, Captain G.A. Ojedokun, could not explain the source of the huge cash found on him. The money was seized and the Nigerian diplomat was released after being accused of money laundering. Many international newspapers reported the case and that further tarred the nation’s image.

I recall that President Umaru Yar’Adua ordered an immediate probe of the scandal. But more than one year after the case came to public knowledge, the official has not been brought to justice. He may never be given the opportunity to clear his name as the government makes feeble attempts to deal with scores of more egregious cases of flagrant abuse of public office in the military and elsewhere.

Only last week, soldiers in Owena Barracks of the 323 Artillery Regiment of the Nigerian Army went on rampage. Hundreds of soldiers chanting abusive songs against their superior officers trooped out of their barracks to protest alleged illegal deductions from their peacekeeping allowances. The demonstration was so violent that the soldiers set fires on the road with disused tires, preventing motorists from moving in and out of Akure for several hours. Reports said they later took the demonstration back to the barracks, where the Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Gabriel Omelo and other senior officers, were held hostage by the irate soldiers.

For many months and in most of the barracks across the nation, soldiers have been complaining about being shortchanged by the military authorities in the payment of peacekeeping allowances. Soldiers who have gone on peacekeeping operations allege that the United Nations and the African Union pay $600 and $400 respectively per month to every soldier on peace mission. But the Army authorities have illegally reduced the pay to $150 and $100 for UN and AU operations respectively. If this allegation is true, it means every soldier on UN peacekeeping operation loses $450 dollars monthly, while the one on AU mission loses $300 monthly.

When the military authorities started this expensive prank, they said the deductions were being saved and that the balance would be fully paid upon the peacekeeper’s return to the country. Now many batches of soldiers have returned to Nigeria from peace-keeping operations, only to discover that they may have been ripped off by their bosses.

Recently, 46 peacekeepers who had just returned from Sudan perished in a road crash. Questions have been raised as to why those soldiers were made to travel on road when they could have traveled by air. Have their relations been paid their full peacekeeping allowances and other terminal benefits? Has the Defense Ministry investigated the possibility of sabotage in the road crash? Was the crash connected with any plan to embezzle the allowances of the deceased officers?

The Nigerian soldier is enduring a lot of privation and oppression. We are all familiar with the agony of military pensioners whose terminal allowances have been mismanaged or stolen. Many retired soldiers have died in misery as a few officers enrich themselves with the terminal benefits of others. Soldiers live in dilapidated and decrepit barracks. From their meager salary, soldiers buy their own uniform and boots. Apart from the mindless looting of peacekeepers’ allowances, salaries are now being stolen by military pen robbers.

Many have not forgotten the Rukuba Barracks showdown early this year, when disgruntled soldiers protesting the non-implementation of a government-approved salary scale booed the Chief of Army Staff. There was also a major breakdown of military discipline at the Ojo Cantonment in Lagos, when the former Director of Administration and Finance, Gen. O. Lartey’s speech was openly jeered and sneered at. The failure by the army authorities to implement the new minimum wage and for which N100bn had been set aside by the government in 2007, became a major embarrassment early in the year when a group of serving majors wrote the President complaining about how “thieving Generals” were “stealing our salaries and allowances.”

After mismanaging the Army’s finances without any repercussion, the rapacious officers descended on the armoury and looted it. The nation suddenly woke up to discover that some top shots in the Army had been making their millions by selling the nation’s weapons to the militants in the Niger Delta.

In the hands of those who control it, the Nigerian State remains a potent tool for acquiring obscene wealth. The Army is not different from other institutions that have been raped and crippled by those who control them. We may never get to the root of the rampant corruption in the army and the culprits may go unpunished because of the thick cloud of secrecy that envelops its administrative and financial operations. Open and comprehensive investigations are never allowed for “security reasons.”

When the reports on illegal sale of the nation’s arms and ammunition became public knowledge many months ago, I did not expect that anybody would be punished. And so far, I have not been disappointed. The leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Henry Okah, is being tried secretly for gun running and other offences because the government feels that an open trial might expose ‘the big men’ and top brass of the military who transacted the illicit deal with Okah. I think the morally bankrupt politician is also afraid that any comprehensive probe of the Army may provoke a coup. With the riot in Akure, the decay in the Army has reached a dangerous level. I hope President Yar’Adua will see the need for urgent action.

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