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Monday, 5 July 2010

From Today's Papers - 05 Jul 2010

  Unfair to military personnel They must get their due
by Lt-Gen Vijay Oberoi (retd)  Governments, they say, are impersonal and yet a democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We take pride in saying that we are the world’s largest democracy. Yet, the people’s voice is largely not heard because the political leadership and the bureaucrats who advise them are so bound by rules and regulations (of their own making unfortunately) that unless they are nudged, nay shoved violently, it is difficult to change their somnambulant state.  Unfortunately, the military fraternity of both serving and retired categories seems to be experiencing the brunt of it, especially since early 2008, when the continuing and tragic saga of the Sixth Pay Commission commenced. While the commission has been hogging the headlines, there are many other important issues that also need to be highlighted so that the people, who after all are supposedly the real rulers of the country, are aware of them.  This piece is about a few inter-linked yet vastly different issues that are making military personnel very angry and justifiably so. The first is the case of the “rank pay”, where despite an elaborate and clear ruling by the Supreme Court, the authorities, ill advised by the bureaucracy, have filed another appeal! This is a farce of monumental proportions being played against a large number of affected military officers. As a case of bureaucratic pusillanimity and procrastination, this does take the cake. Let me briefly narrate the essentials.  In 1986, the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission included the grant of “rank pay” to all defence officers of the rank up to brigadier and equivalent. However, while implementing the same, equivalent amounts were reduced from the pay, by an omission or by design (both perceptions exist)! No military person noticed this at that time. This may be hard to believe but the prevailing culture at that time was that most military personnel were fairly blasé about their pay and allowances.  It was in fact considered infra dig to get in to mundane issues like entitlements, as it was a firm belief that the authorities will always look after one’s interests. It is now clear that we were really naive. The authorities in the corridors of South and North Blocks, however, had little time for such niceties! Having learnt bitter lessons after the Sixth Pay Commission, the military has now become wiser, but at the huge cost of losing confidence, trust and fair play in the government (read bureaucracy).  Reverting to the “rank pay” case, the issue came to light only when retired Major Dhannapalan discovered it, approached the Kerala High Court for redress and fought it with the unrelenting Ministry of Defence (MoD) in both the High Court and the Supreme Court, till he won the case in 2005, after nine years. However, while implementing the judgment, the MoD gave benefits only to the officer. The representations of a large number of similarly affected officers were ignored. This resulted in a flood of writ petitions, as the affected officers had no other option but to seek justice from the courts. Finally, despite the vehement opposition by the MoD, the Supreme Court ruled on March 8, 2010, that the benefit of the judgment must be extended to all eligible military officers and also awarded 6 per cent interest on the amount due to the officers.  While the affected officers were still doing their calculations, the empire struck back with an appeal against the ruling. Why is the MoD deliberately trying to deny justice to a large number of military officers? Is it a delaying tactic designed to cheat the military personnel and stall the implementation of the judgment, or a case of losing face or the fear of being penalised for a deliberate act of commission, or a combination of all three? Whatever be the motivation, the military personnel are livid on being denied their legitimate emoluments.  This also begs the larger question of the government being the single biggest litigant, keeping the courts busy and in the process preventing them from dispensing justice to more needy persons. I fail to understand the logic of the government contesting every order the Supreme Court has passed in favour of defence forces. It did so for umpteen years in the case of fixation of pension of Major-Generals. In the case of a disabled officer, Capt CS Sidhu, the Supreme Court was constrained to remark that the government treated its soldiers worse than beggars!  Dr V. Moily, Minister of Law and Justice, has recently announced the National Litigation Policy, which aims to reduce average pendency time from 15 years to three years. The policy emphasises that the government must cease to be a compulsive litigant. The Law Minister may keep making announcements and publishing policies, but will the stalwarts in the MoD as well as other ministries listen? In the meantime, the large numbers of affected military personnel continue to be deprived of their legitimate emoluments.  Let me now highlight the second and a more recent issue, relating to jobs for military personnel after their retirement. In 2004, the Directorate-General of Resettlement, as part of its drive for securing jobs for retired officers and soldiers, had persuaded the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to accept retired military personnel for running toll plazas on highways. Being disciplined and honest, they are doing a superb job and have already increased collections at the ex-servicemen-run toll plazas from the earlier 15 to 80 per cent. There are over 25,000 military veterans running NHAI-owned toll plazas, while another 10,000 provide logistical support.  Now, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has decided to auction all the toll plazas to the highest bidder. The motive is undoubtedly monetary, while efficient running or jobs for the needy veterans do not seem to have any place in the thinking of the government! As a sop, the NHAI has stated that the toll plazas in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states or other disturbed areas would continue to be kept for the military veterans sponsored by the Director-General of Resettlement. How nice, but no toll plaza exists in these areas!  While the government is keen to employ military veterans to do all the difficult fighting against the Maoists, including the highly dangerous clearance of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), when it comes to giving them their dues in terms of their legitimate emoluments or jobs as part of their rehabilitation, it baulks at and panders to power and money brokers. Is this our version of democracy?

More choppers for Naxal-hit areas 
New Delhi/Raipur, July 4 With Naxal attacks against security forces showing no letup, the government is planning to position helicopters at a few additional places for quick response to reinforcement and rescue needs. To enable deployment of additional helicopters, officials of the central security forces and the Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand governments are scouting for safe helipad locations as close as possible to the battalion or company headquarters.  Helicopters of the Border Security Force (BSF) are presently stationed at Ranchi and Raipur, the state capitals of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, respectively.  The existing BSF fleet of three to four Dhruv Advance Light Helicopters and two Mi-17 helicopters are deployed in supporting anti-Naxal operations and the Home Ministry is planning to add some more helicopters to it.  The new helipad sites surveyed in Chhattisgarh are Narayanpur and Kanker where the Army-run counterinsurgency and jungle warfare school is located and one site at Gumla in Jharkhand.  These steps have been fast-tracked in the aftermath of the April 6 Dantewada attack, which left 75 CRPF personnel and a Chhattisgarh policeman dead.  According to sources, helicopter support in Naxal areas has helped save the lives of paramilitary and police personnel who were injured in Maoist ambushes.  A senior officer disclosed that two bleeding CRPF men among those ambushed in Dantewada were saved because of the timely airlift to a hospital by a BSF helicopter. “The helicopter is the best friend of troops in operation,” the officer added.  While a Mi-17 can accommodate about 25-27 personnel, a Dhruv can carry 10-12 men. The number of stretchered casualties that can be carried are far less.  According to sources, the new helipads will be "located close to the base of paramilitary or specialised combat forces so that the security and safety of these air assets can be ensured by these troops," a senior officer said. — PTI

Antony to attend LCA roll-out ceremony
Shubhadeep Choudhury Tribune News Service  Bangalore, July 4 Defence Minister AK Antony will be in Bangalore on Tuesday to attend the roll-out ceremony of the naval version of indigenous LCA (light combat aircraft).  Antony, who has been criticised for backing the delayed LCA project including infusing an additional funding of Rs 8,000 crore for its progress, can deservedly rejoice at the results being produced by the project in recent days.  The proposed roll out of the naval version was preceded by a 40-minute flight of the LCA in Bangalore on June 2 in a configuration specified by the IAF. In all likelihood, by December this year IAF pilots will be flying these fighters.  While the IAF has a requirement of 200 single-seat and 20 two-seat LCA trainers, the Indian Navy may order up to 40 single-seat LCAs to replace its aging fleet of Sea Harrier fighters.  “LCA (navy) is the most important project of the prestigious naval programme of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA)”, a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) official here said. He said Tuesday’s function would be attended by top officials of PSUs, private industries and research institutions which supported the programme during its development phase.

SMILE for Navy 
New Delhi, July 4 The Navy is planning to buy Submarine Mine Laying Equipment (SMILE) to augment the existing capabilities of its conventional fleet. It has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to vendors and manufacturers seeking details in this regard, a Navy officer said here today.  The Navy at present has a fleet of 16 conventional submarines, but is in the process of adding a few more when the Scorpene submarines currently being built by Mazgaon Docks, are ready for induction and a follow-on project of the type is ordered.  The SMILE, according to the RFI, should be capable of laying 24 ground mines and withstand maximum underwater speeds of the submarine.The basic design of the SMILE should comprise components and sub-systems such as two independent magazines capable of housing at least 12 mines each.  Each magazine should have a glass reinforced plastic hull and needed to be attached to the submarine. Its design should suit the contours of the submarine for a snug fit.  The magazines should have its independent hydraulic station for engaging and disengaging the SMILE with the submarine and also for loading, unloading and launching of mines with ports and mechanisms for the same.  It should have adequate ballasting and de-ballasting arrangements to embark and disembark the magazines on the submarine in an afloat condition.The mine magazines should have suitable hoisting and lifting mechanisms to handle the SMILE while embarking, disembarking and transporting the magazines at the submarine berth. Each mine trunk should have suitable mechanisms for arming the mines prior to their deployment. — PTI

B’desh Rifles encroaching on Indian land: BSF 
Shillong, July 4 Bangladesh Rifles has been making attempts to encroach on Indian territory and obstructing Indian farmers from cultivating their land, the BSF said today.  "There have been numerous occasions during the last six months when BDR fired at Indian nationals to prevent them from cultivating their land. BDR has been trying to encroach on Indian territory following such firing," a BSF statement said here.  Claiming that Indian villagers have been cultivating their land well inside Indian territory since decades, the BSF said the Bangladesh border guards have been resorting to unprovoked firing. — PTI

US, Russia vie to sell choppers to IAF
Ajay Banerjee Tribune News Service  New Delhi, July 4 Another “fight” is set to begin in the Indian defence sector in the next couple of weeks. On one side is India’s long standing defence partner Russia and on the other is its new-found strategic friend the USA, which is vying to further chip away at the largely Russian hold over the sector.  Within next three weeks, the Indian Air Force will commence field trials to select a heavy lift helicopter for its operations. The trials will be conducted in hot conditions of deserts and on Himalayan heights. US company Boeing with its “Chinook”, which operates for NATO forces in Afghanistan, will compete with Russian Mi-26 for the deal.  The IAF is looking to replace the ageing lot of the previous generation Mi-26 inducted in the mid 1980’s. Russia’s Rosoboronexport, the makers of the chopper, have offered the latest version.  A heavy lift chopper is of immense strategic value as it can lift up to 70 armed troops and even lift artillery guns like the ultra light howitzers which the Indian Army is buying for deployment in mountainous areas bordering China and Pakistan. Among its several other usages is the rapid deployment of missile launchers for Agni or Prithvi from one place to other.  Mi-26 with 20-tonne carrying capacity, which is the biggest among choppers, have even lifted Bofors guns to higher reaches, placed bulldozers at a height of 16,500 feet and landed critical equipment for the IAF at places like Ladakh.  US-made Chinook, which has contra-rotating twin-rotors to withstand rough weather, is being used extensively in Afghanistan to maintain steady supplies to the troops. It can also carry artillery guns slung under its belly to be dropped off at inaccessible locations. Both choppers have twin-engined operations.  The same US and Russian companies will also be in race for attack choppers the IAF is buying. Trials for them are slated to start in two months. The Boeing is offering its “AH 64D” Apache fighting machine, which is on duty in Afghanistan, while Russian Rosoboronexport has offered newer versions of its latest Mi 28 ‘Havoc’ helicopter, which was inducted by its armed forces in 2006.  The US “challenge” to the Russians is the new face of India’s evolving defence needs wherein it has ordered C-130 J medium transport aircraft from another US company, Lockheed Martin, delivery of which starts at the end of this year. This even as the IAF operates some 100 AN 32 medium transport planes of the Soviet-era which are presently undergoing phased refit at Ukraine.  C-17 Globemaster, a big transport aircraft, has been okayed by the US Congress for sale to India through the foreign military sales (FMS) route. India is looking to replace IL-76, another Russian origin plane. The cost may be hindrance, the US plane costs somewhere around $580 million a piece, while the Russian one is for one-tenth the price.  Separately, the IAF has already placed an order to buy 80 MI-17 “V5” series choppers to replace the existing lot of MI-17’s - another workhorse in the mountains.  Another contract for the long-range sea-based reconnaissance for the Indian Navy has been awarded to a US company, while the Russians are supplying the Airborne Early Warning Systems (AWACS) for the IAF.  The fight goes on. The US has bagged the contract to supply business jets for VVIP travel, while Italian chopper maker AgustaWestland had bagged the contract to provide 12 choppers for VVIP use.

Lt Gen Nanda’s ‘misconduct’: Army court summons defence attaché  
Suman Sharma       / DNA Monday, July 5, 2010 1:35    The court of inquiry into alleged sexual misconduct by lieutenant leneral AK Nanda, the army’s engineer-in-chief, has taken a new turn, with the authorities deciding to summon Group Captain Ajay Rathore, defence attaché in the Indian embassy in Israel, as a witness.  Shimla-based Army Research and Training Command (Artrac) initiated the inquiry on June 17 after Colonel CP Pasricha, Nanda’s technical secretary, accused the engineer-in-chief of making sexual advances towards his wife in a hotel in Israel on May 12 while on an official visit.  Rathore, a Sukhoi pilot in the air force, is likely to depose when the inquiry resumes after a short break. He will report to Artrac. Both Pasricha and Nanda have claimed Rathore was almost always in attendance when they carried out their business in Israel.  Meanwhile, sources said Pasricha’s charges were being closely examined by the court of inquiry presided over by Lieutenant General AS Lamba, general officer commanding-in-chief, and why he had not been able to prove any so far. They said the inquiry would be completed within a month since Nanda was retiring in October.  Sources said army chief General VK Singh’s wife Bharti, who is president of the Army Wives Welfare Association, met wives of both officers after Pasricha lodged the complaint. Later, Nanda was summoned by Singh.

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