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Friday, 20 February 2009

From Today's Papers - 20 Feb 09

Government rejects ex-soldiers' 'one rank one pension' plea

IANS

New Delhi, February 18, 2009

Unmoved by India's ex-soldiers' highly emotive plea of for "one rank one pension", which even saw some of them returning their medals, the government has finally nixed the demand, pointing to the logistical and financial problems it would create.

"The demand for one-rank one-pension stands already examined in detail and was not found acceptable due to administrative, financial and legal reasons," Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

"However, the government is also examining whether certain improvements can be made in the pension being given to the old pensioners," Raju added.

He pointed out that pension benefits of personnel below officer rank (PBOR), particularly of the three ranks of sepoy, naik and havaldar, were significantly increased on January 1, 2006, by increasing weightage from 5 years to 10, 8 and 6 years respectively.

This apart the pension of pre-January 1, 1996, retirees is being computed with reference to the maximum of the payscale introduced on that date, Raju added.

In consultation with the Ministry of Finance, the benefits thus accrued to PBORs have been allowed to be retained while revisiting their pension," Raju said.

On February 8, more than 300 retired soldiers of varying ranks marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan and returned medals won in combat and for distinguished service as they sought equal pension for each rank.

The veterans were among the thousands who had gathered earlier in the day at the Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the capital for a protest that some said marked a black day for the Indian armed forces.

President Pratibha Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, did not personally receive the medals, which were collected by her officials.

The soldiers, who also included three-star generals, marched under the banner of the Indian Ex-servicemen's Movement (IEM).

The main demand of the protesters was that irrespective of the date on which a soldier retires, he or she should get the same pension.

IEM officials explained that a sepoy who retired before 1996 gets a monthly pension of Rs 3,670, but one who retired between 1996 and December 2005 gets Rs 4,680. A sepoy who retired after January 2006 gets Rs 8,700.

Effectively then, an army havildar, who retired earlier, gets pension money that is less than what a sepoy retiring after January 2006 gets though the havildar enjoys a higher rank. The mismatch applies to all ranks.

"Most IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers, judges, governors, MPs and even the president enjoy this right (of one rank one pension)," pointed out one retired soldier.

On Feb 9, a retired Indian Navy officer filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, asking the government on what basis was their demand rejected.

"Through RTI Act, I want to get the details as to how the government reached the decision," Commodore (retired) Lokesh K. Batra said.

Frustrated with the government's cold response to their longstanding demand for `one rank one pension’ (OROP), veteran soldiers are shifting into overdrive.

After over 200 war veterans, including decorated generals, returned their medals to the President on February 8 to draw attention to their demand, hundreds more will give up these symbols of honour on February 21 at Jantar Mantar. The disillusioned soldiers are also preparing to surrender the monetary benefits that accompany military decorations.

The government’s monthly allowance for Param Vir Chakra, Ashok Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra, Kirti Chakra, Vir Chakra and Shaurya Chakra awardees stands at Rs 3,000, Rs 2,800, Rs 2,400, Rs 2,100, Rs 1,700 and Rs 1,500. Veterans who have returned medals include Vir Chakra and Shaurya Chakra awardees.

Havildar Nihal Singh returned his Vir Chakra awarded for gallantry in the 1962 India-China war at an ex-servicemen rally organised at Narnaul in Haryana on Tuesday. Earlier, Colonel Kanwar Bhardwaj had returned the Shaurya Chakra awarded to his son Captain Umang Bhardwaj, who was killed in a terrorist encounter in the Valley in 2002. Bhardwaj also returned his Sena Medal awarded for gallantry in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Major General Satbir Singh (retd), vice chairman, Indian Ex-servicemen Movement (IESM), said, “War veterans have been given a raw deal by the government. Hundreds of ex-servicemen have pledged to return their medals in Delhi on February 21.” Singh has also returned his Sena Medal.

Over 20 lakh armed forces pensioners argue that defence personnel of same rank and same length of service must draw same pension, irrespective of the date of retirement. Various ex-servicemen organisations have criticised the Sixth Pay Commission for creating “four classes within a class” --- pre 1996, post 1996 to December 2005, post January 2006 to September 2008 and post October 2008. Hundreds of veterans have been on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar since December 16, celebrated as Vijay Diwas to mark India’s victory in the 1971 war.

All pre 2006 pensioners receive lesser pension than not only their compatriots in service but also their juniors. A havildar who retired before 1996 draws less pension than a sepoy who retired after 2006. Similarly, a lieutenant general draws less pension than a lieutenant colonel. The veterans are willing to reclaim their medals if their OROP demand is accepted. The government has, however, said that the demand was unacceptable as it had huge administrative, financial and legal ramifications.





Kasuri: India, Pak were close to agreement on Kashmir
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19
Revealing for the first time details of the back-channel talks between India and Pakistan during the Pervez Musharraf regime, former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri has said the two countries were close to working out the outline of a solution to the Kashmir issue.

“We divided the whole thing into 4 bits. And we tried to talk on each one of those. One was demilitarisation, one was some sort of regionalisation, in both parts of Kashmir, I have forgotten the exact term, then there was some sort of a joint mechanism, there was self-government or something of that nature. These were the four broad areas under which we were discussing Kashmir,” he said in an interview to Karan Thapar in ‘India Tonight’ programme on CNBC TV 18 channel.

Kasuri pointed out that an agreement on Kashmir could not have been possible without the involvement of the Kashmiris. “We thought this would provide comfort to the Kashmiris, and the question was at what time, that was the sort of thing that was going on.”

He replied in the affirmative when asked if it involved demilitarisation in both countries. “The principle of demilitarisation was more or less understood and accepted but the details had not been worked out.”

To another question, Kasuri, a strong votary of good relations between India and Pakistan, disclosed that the two countries were working on giving self-governance to the people on both sides of Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan were also willing to deny themselves the right of calling it a victory.

The fourth element of the proposed agreement was a joint mechanism that would link the two Kashmirs. It was proposed to be composed of representatives from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), Jammu and Kashmir, Indians and Pakistanis.

The agreements could not fructify because of “sheer bad luck” and because the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Islamabad did not materialise, Kasuri also disclosed that an agreement of Sir Creek was almost ready between the two sides. On Siachen also, there was a lot of understanding.

Kasuri said Musharraf enjoyed a very good relationship with the Indian Prime Minister and trusted each other. “Both thought they could do business with each other,” he said.

It was his belief that the peace between India and Pakistan served Pakistan’s national interest and “I know many sensible Indians who also believe that peace with Pakistan also is in India’s national interest.”

Defence varsity for Haryana
Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 19
The Indian National Defence University (INDU) has finally come to Haryana with Binola in Gurgaon getting the nod of the Prime Minister’s Office. However, Haryana’s gain has been Punjab’s loss which, too, had been vying for this university, hanging fire for nearly nine months.

With Binola getting the approval of the PMO, the state government would acquire the land for the university under an emergency clause which could take anywhere between one to six months. The cost of acquisition would be borne by the ministry, which had already been informed that the tentative cost of the land acquisition would come to nearly Rs 100 crore.

After exploring possibilities inside and outside Delhi and in Punjab for establishing the university, the Defence Ministry had zeroed in on Binola in March last year. In April, the Haryana Government, in a letter to the Defence Secretary agreed to make 200 acres of land available and expressed its willingness to acquire the same on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

Though Delhi was the first choice, it was rejected on account of space constraint. The ministry then turned its eyes to Punjab for setting up this university, which would run courses for the armed forces, the civil services and the paramilitary forces.

Punjab evinced keen interest in setting up the university in the state and had even agreed to give 100 acres or more land near the cantonment area. In November 2006, a high-level committee of the Defence Ministry accompanied by Punjab Government officials visited Ropar and Fatehgarh Sahib to inspect the proposed sites.

However, with the Minister of State for Defence, Rao Indrajeet Singh, closely pursuing the developments in Delhi, pushed Haryana’s case for the university in the ministry and a high-level committee explored the NCR and selected Binola.

This makes India the third country in the world to set up National Defence University, the other two countries having been China and the USA. The university will be a multi-disciplinary centre of excellence in the country in education and research on national security issues. The president of the NDU will be a serving three-star general of the armed services.

On the recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) Report on “Reforming the National Security System”, the government in 2001, set up a committee to examine the establishment of a National Defence University in India. The report of the committee was handed over to the then Defence Minister George Fernandes in May 2002.

After interactions with the government and armed services officials, in-depth studies of the National Defence Universities in the US and China and visits to armed forces institutions in India, the committee has recommended the establishment of an Indian National Defence University (INDU).

Arjun Tank Gets Vote of Support
from Indian Army chief

By Ritu Sharma


New Delhi
In a reversal of the Indian Army's stand on the indigenous main battle tank (MBT) Arjun, which has been 37 years in the making, army chief General Deepak Kapoor has written to the defence ministry appreciating the tank's performance.

The army chief's letter has come months before the MBT Arjun, which India has been trying to manufacture indigenously for more than three decades, is headed for head-to-head 'comparative trials' with the Russian T-90 tanks that the army currently operates.

"The army chief for the first time has appreciated Arjun tank for performing well. In a letter written earlier this year he said that the tank was subjected to the most strenuous of tests and it performed 'admirably well'," a defence ministry official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.

The letter from the army chief came after last year's winter trials of the tank, which has already cost the exchequer Rs.3.5 billion ($71.7 million). The stand is a complete u-turn as the army had made it clear that it would buy no more than the 124 Arjuns it has contracted for because it is unhappy with the tank on various counts.

The Defence Research & Development Organisation's (DRDO) demand for the comparative trials of the two tanks is being seen as a desperate bid to save the Arjun as it would need to manufacture at least 500 tanks to make the project feasible.

"The defence ministry had been pushing for the joint trials for the past one-and-a-half-years but people in the military set up were not too keen," the official added.

A reluctant army had also said that the Arjun can at best remain in service for five to 10 years while it is looking 20 years ahead and needs a futuristic MBT.

However, the defence ministry, which has been putting thrust on the indigenisation of the defence industry, wanted to see the project through.

On Feb 11, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had expressed his happiness on the Arjun tank becoming "a reality". "We have seen light at the end of the tunnel," Antony had said speaking of the project.

The tank has been mired in controversy with the army last year having told a key parliamentary panel that the Arjun failed to deliver at the winter trials conducted in the Rajasthan desert in 2007. The army said that many improvements would have to be carried out before it was satisfied with the tank.

Adding fuel to the proverbial fire, Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh hinted at the possibility of "sabotage" during the 2007 winter trials.

The Indian Army laid down its qualitative requirement (QR) for the Arjun in 1972. In 1982, it was announced that the prototype was ready for field trials. However, the tank was publicly unveiled for the first time only in 1995.

Arjun was originally meant to be a 40-tonne tank with a 105 mm gun. It has now grown to a 50-tonne tank with a 120 mm gun. The tank was meant to supplement and eventually replace the Soviet-era T-72 MBT that was first inducted in the early 1980s.

However, delays in the Arjun project and Pakistan's decision to purchase the T-80 from Ukraine prompted India to order 310 T-90s, an upgraded version of the T-72, in 2001.

Govt tells coast guard to start shoreline patrols

Press Trust of India / New Delhi February 19, 2009, 12:32 IST

In a bid to prevent use of the sea route by terrorists as in case of the Mumbai strikes, the Coast Guard has been asked to patrol the shoreline with locally hired fishing boats or trawlers.

Coastal states have also been told by the government to speed up implementation of the Coastal Security Scheme.

"The coastal states and UTs have been directed to immediately start coastal patrolling by locally hired fishing boats or trawlers, charges for which will be reimbursable by the Ministry of Home Affairs," Minister of State for Home Affairs Radhika V Selvi said here.

"The task of guarding the Indian coastline right from the shoreline (High Tide Line) has been entrusted to the Coast Guard. However, the responsibility of overall maritime security rests with the Indian Navy," she said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha yesterday.

Coastal States/UTs have also been directed to expedite the implementation of the approved Coastal Security Scheme such as early completion of construction of coastal police stations, check posts, out-posts and barracks apart from sanctioning, recruitment and training of executive and technical manpower, the minister said.

"The coastal States/UTs have been directed to carry out vulnerability/gap analysis on their coasts in consultation with Coast Guard and furnish their additional requirements for formulation of a comprehensive proposal for further approval of the Government of India," Selvi said.

Several meetings were held in Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport & Highways and Ministry of Agriculture to review, upgrade and strengthen the coastal security of the country, she said.

According to the minister, Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways has been directed to streamline the process of registration of all types of vessels —fishing as well as non-fishing — and also to ensure fitting/provision of navigational and communication equipments on these boats.

Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairies & Fisheries is taking steps to issue ID cards to all the fishermen. The Registrar General of India (RGI) is also issuing ID cards under Multi-purpose National Identity Card (MNICs) Scheme to all the population in the coastal villages including fishermen, Selvi added.

The break-up of Pakistan bodes well for India

February 19, 2009

Tristan James Mabry, a professor in the government department at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, believes that Pakistan is a failed State.

Although it has a per capita GDP similar to India, he points out that it scores low on political rights, ranks fifth in the world for group grievances, scores low on the State's legitimacy to represent the people, and has the army as a State within a State ("If the army is the State, the Inter Services Intelligence is its cabinet"), and is among the countries with the most factionalised elites at the highest levels of government.

Speaking to Rediff India Abroad's P Rajendran, Mabry, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and a producer for CNN, argued that ethnic differences are more likely to result in conflict than economic divisions, and that India remains undivided because it gave some authority to ethnic and linguistic groups, among other things by drawing state boundaries around them.

Given that Pakistan has not been able to address the needs of the various groups within it, he believes it would be better off as three of four stable countries than one unstable one.

How is it that you see Pakistan as a failed State?

For a State to be successful, you would assume, as a necessary condition, that it is legitimate. And for a State to be legitimate, it has got to follow the principle of popular sovereignty. It is pretty hard to find a country that says it doesn't represent the will of the people.

The central problem for Pakistan is that there's a great disagreement among the people about what Pakistan should look like. In the same way, there was a time. at least in the US when we looked at Iraq, where we would think, 'How do I make a better country for the Iraqis?'

It took a few years but, eventually, people figured out that there wasn't anything called an Iraqi. There was a Sunni Arab, a Shia Arab, and a Kurd, and they all have very different ideas about what the country should look like.

In Pakistan, the complexities of the internal ethnic divisions are difficult for policy-makers to appreciate. My experience, certainly interviewing Sindhi separatists, was that the sentiment for their own country is very deep, very sincere, and not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Image: Pakistani soldiers guard a street in the Swat valley. Photograph: Abdul Rehman/Reuters. Right: Tristan James Mabry.

India's nuclear submarine plan surfaces

Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Expressing fears about cross-border terrorism in the wake of the November 26 Mumbai attack and keeping a close eye on China's military expansion, India announced plans this week to hike its defense budget by 34% to 1.4 trillion rupees (US$30 billion) and last week revealed that its project to build three nuclear-powered submarines is nearing completion.

"Things are in the final stage now in the Advanced Technology Vessel [nuclear-submarines] project. There were [mainly technical] bottlenecks earlier ... they are over now," Defense Minister A K Antony said on February 12.

The Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project is part of India's $3 billion plan to build five submarines and complete what it calls a "triad" of nuclear weapon launch capability - from air, land and sea. India is concurrently developing the K-15 ballistic missile, which can be nuclear-tipped and launched from submarines.

Defense sources have told Asia Times Online that New Delhi has been actively seeking out assistance from France in the implementation of the ATV project, and that Russian engineers are already involved. The sources said that the sea trials of the nuclear-powered submarines should begin this month and that the submarines should be operational within the next three years.

The secretive ATV nuclear backed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) project began in the late 1970's and is being implemented at a secret dry dock in Visakhapatnam, India's Eastern Naval command base. Observers have said that the submarines are a critical addition to India's weapons capabilities.

In a grim reminder of the possible dangers facing India from the sea, India's Naval chief Admiral Suresh Mehta warned this week that terrorists could smuggle "dirty" nuclear bombs via the nation's ports as they lack adequate security measures. Terrorists also used a sea route to infiltrate Mumbai.

Nuclear-powered submarines with their greater speed, power, range and the length of time they can stay submerged compared to conventional diesel-electric submarines are effective for sudden strikes as well as fast and stealthy protection from attacks.

New Delhi has been concerned about Beijing's strengthening of bilateral ties with Islamabad, particularly given recent tension on sea projects such as at the Gwadar port. China has also been developing ties with Sri Lanka and Myanmar to deepen its control over a complex energy-security conflict being aggressively played out in the region.

Given the ongoing tussle between India and China to control the waters of the Indian Ocean, the New Delhi government has been put under tremendous pressure from the navy to ramp up India's sea power. China has already spoken of creating three ocean-going fleets to patrol the areas of Japan and Korea, the western Pacific, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean.

The ATV project has been in the spotlight as India's other attempt to procure a nuclear submarine this year received a setback when Russia "indefinitely" postponed delivery of the Akula-II class Nerpa nuclear submarine, citing incomplete sea trials and a lack of funds.

Further, the Amur shipyard in Russia's far east, where the sub is being built, is yet to finalize a new team following an accident in November in which 20 members were killed. The accident has led Indian media to describe the submarine as "cursed".

India has been looking at developing underseas capabilities to launch nuclear weapons, after gaining some competence in land-based nuclear delivery platforms for the domestically developed ballistic missiles Prithvi and Agni.

India has already developed a submarine-launched supersonic missile, a modification of the BrahMos cruise missiles, an achievement previously limited to only advanced nations such as the US, France and Russia. Ship and land launched versions of the BrahMos are being introduced in the navy and army.

The state-controlled Defense Research and Development Organization is also undertaking a joint development project with Israel Aerospace Industries to develop a surface-to-air missile which can be launched from land and ships.

Upgrade and renovation of India's navy will be an important aspect of India's US$50 billion defense modernization exercise. Under the plan, the projects code named 75 and 76 entail the production of 24 underwater vessels valued at US$20 billion to meet the challenges across the Indian Ocean.

In 2007, construction of the highly-advanced Scorpene submarine began at the upgraded Mazgon Dock in Mumbai as part of a US$3.5 billion deal for six such French submarines. As the Scorpene deal involves transfer of technology, it should be beneficial for both nations as India gains new technology and French firms gain a possible foothold in the big Indian market.

But significant delays are now expected in India's acquisition of the aircraft carriers Admiral Gorskov from Russia and two that are being developed at home. In early 2007, India purchased the 36-year-old US warship the USS Trenton (re-christened INS Jalashwa) with a gross tonnage of 16,900 tons for US$50 million.

The Trenton is the first ever US warship owned by the Indian Navy and the second largest that India possesses after the INS Viraat aircraft carrier. The Indian Navy plans to add 40 new warships to its fleet and the government plans to invest over 500 billion rupees (over US$12 billion) over the next 10 years on warships.

The government has encouraged the private sector to play a bigger role in the nation's defense, and India's largest engineering and construction firm Larsen & Toubro has announced plans to build defense warships and paramilitary vessels at a proposed facility in Tamil Nadu.

After the rude awakening of the Mumbai terror attacks, others branches of the military are also now pushing for more upgrades and additions.

The Indian Air Force, for example, is seeking 42 fighter squadrons up from the current 32 or 33 squadrons (each with 14 to 18 jets), to offset the phasing out of older Russian planes. The army, which has been allocated a large piece of the military outlay, is seeking more tanks and howitzer field guns.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at sidsri@yahoo.com.

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