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Saturday, 2 October 2010

From Today's Papers - 02 Oct 2010

Different pension for same service is patently unjust
Ex-servicemen have been campaigning for implementation of One Rank--One Pension for years, with some even returning their medals in protest. Equal pension for the same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement, is the core of their move to get a better deal Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)  One rank — one pension (OROP) has been the demand behind which Ex-servicemen (ESM) have been rallying ever since the Sixth Pay Commission was made public in March 2008. It needs to be restated that OROP is a demand for equity and justice and not for money per se. The concept is based on demanding equal pension for equal work, independent of the date of one’s retirement. This is not the case at present and older pensioners are getting lower pension than their younger counterparts of the same rank and for equal length of service. Prima facie, this is unjust.  The Congress spokesperson understandably eulogized UPA 1 and UPA 2 for what they have done for the ESM since 2004, but made some statements that do not fit facts. His assertion that all personnel other than officers have been granted OROP was incorrect. When cornered, he corrected his version to say that the difference between pre and post January 2006 pensioners is only one to eight percent. This is again blatantly wrong as the difference is more than 50 percent for jawans. He also claimed that all personnel other than officers were very happy with what they have got. If this were so, they would not have been protesting and depositing their medals still. Thirdly, he attempted to create an impression that jawans are happy and the problem exists only in officers’ pension. One wonders whether this statement and not-so-subtle attempt to create a divide was his personal opinion or whether he was towing the official line.  In either case, it was unfortunate and unbecoming and needs to be clarified. When he announced that the government has agreed to constitute a separate Pay Commission for the defence forces from the Seventh Pay Commission, he was rightly booed. Going by precedent, the Seventh Pay Commission report might come out around 2018. There is no denying that the government announcement is merely to shelve the problem and not solve it.  Some have suggested a compensation package instead of higher pension, but In this they overlooked the fact that OROP is all about justice and not about money. While accepting the hazards of military life, an economist recently equated a soldier to a fireman who might get killed while entering a building that is on fire. Apart from the fact that the fireman has a choice whether or not to enter a burning building where a soldier does not, it is also relevant to remember that there is a fundamental difference between dying and getting killed. In the former, that the soldier faces, there is a readiness, even a willingness, to sacrifice one’s life for the nation. Getting killed on the other hand is a passive action and more accidental than voluntary. While one has all the respect for the firemen, it is difficult not to point out that while soldiers die in almost every operation, firemen do not die in every building that goes aflame.  Another misconception that needs correcting is about the injustice. A father and son, both having served in the same regiment, retiring in the same rank and after equal number of years, and staying under the same roof get a different pension to the disadvantage of the father. This is patently unjust. The economist propounded a theory that a son earning more than the father is a law of nature, but it overlooks two ground realities. First, one is not talking of earning; the son might have earned relatively more while in uniform. The subject instead is remuneration for the work already done in the past. If that work was equal both in quality (rank) and quantity (length of service), then remuneration must also be equal. Secondly, if the laws of nature were to be applied to soldiering, then the economist needs to ponder how natural it is for a soldier to be ordered to advance in the face of bullets and die an  unnatural death?  The suggestion that OROP is not legally tenable is equally out of sync. If the past and present presidents, vice presidents, judges, legislators and host of others can have same pension for old and new pensioners, then why cannot the soldiers get it? Any government that hides behind the law to deny its soldiers their dues is only touting an excuse, not a reason.  Unfortunately, the bureaucracy is playing the villain, as brought out by Commodore Uday Bhaskar. When late PM Indira Gandhi gave a decision to sanction OROP and Uday, as the secretary, was required to prepare minutes, the senior bureaucrats told him to omit this point as they would take it up separately. And there is a more recent example. When enhancements in pension were announced on March 8, 2010, the service widows were left out. Aghast, I wrote to the Secretary, Ex-servicemen Welfare Department, but received no reply. I next wrote to the Defence Minister and again, no reply. Then I sent a letter to the Prime Minister. The reply that came through Army Headquarters bore a PMO file number. It said that the widows were not covered because the Committee of Secretaries (headed by the Cabinet Secretary) had not recommended it. The reply leaves no doubt about who in the government calls the shots. It is also an admittance of the harsh reality of the tail wagging the tiger. Leaving the widows out of the ambit of the enhancements has been a very insensitive action by the government and has caused widespread resentment among the veterans.  Successive Parliamentary Committees have been recommending OROP. Besides, seeing the support of the public, of the courts as evidenced by their recent pronouncements, and of the Members of Parliament, so ably shown the lead by Rajiv Chandrasekhar who has renounced the increase in his MP salary till OROP is sanctioned, the writing is clearly on the wall. Isolated, the government can only delay grant of OROP but cannot deny it. Though none of us would like that to happen, it cannot be said that a serving soldier, seeing the plight of his father or uncle whose profession he had followed, will remain unaffected. The unhappy prospect can be grave.

 More logic, less rhetoric to strike a better deal
 Maj Navdeep Singh  Is atta-dal cheaper for a pensioner who retired in, say 1995, than an employee retiring today? Absolutely not. Then why should an old retiree be paid much less pension than an equally placed person retiring today in the same rank and with the same length of service? Legalese apart, this is the question that stares the present system in its face. But then, the logic is equally applicable not only to defence pensioners but to all pensioners irrespective of the service they retired from. And this is where I differ from some veteran organisations, which time and again bring in the talk of honour, valour and sacrifice of defence personnel while trivialising the roles of other occupations.  One rank—one pension (OROP), or more precisely “Equal pension for the same grade with same length of service”, is definitely an equitable and ideal concept and should be granted, but it should be extended in time to all pensioners irrespective of the service from which they retired. If the defence services deserve it earlier or in a different format than others, it is not because their contribution is more hallowed than civilian employees but because they retire younger, at times 25 years before their civilian counterparts, are at call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and definitely lead a tougher regimented life. Every service or occupation, however, has a role to perform in sustaining this nation and the thin line between pride and superiority should not be crossed.  The outrage and retort of some members during a recent popular TV talk show, when a professor of economics suggested that there were other professionals too such as firemen who faced occupational risks, again reflected a kind of hollow supremacy which we are unknowingly instilling within the military society and that is taking us further away from the real world. Perhaps, the example of a fireman was not apt, but there are others such as personnel of the Central Police Organisations who face similar risks and probably lead an even tougher life. The only intelligible differentia that can be logically put forth is that defence personnel retire earlier.  Of course, also fallacious was the argument of the professor that defence personnel should be granted higher pay but not greater pension because the nation cannot afford it. Perhaps the professor did not know that pension, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, is a “deferred wage” and a higher wage therefore has to rationally translate into higher pension. This fight should be won not by comparisons or running down others but by articulating a logical stance that is not easy to defy.  The idea should be to convince the government, the public and the nation as to why pensioners in general and defence pensioners in particular deserve a better deal. Though I do not agree with the oft-repeated conspiracy theory of the bureaucracy being always opposed to what defence personnel deserve, I can say it with conviction that mischievous elements at not-so-high-levels definitely have the ability to deceive the upper echelons of governance with misleading file notings on which there is no proper application of mind at the top but only affixing of initials as a mere formality. Or else nobody on earth could justify what has been labelled as “modified parity” or “rationalisation of pension structure”.  The difference of Rs 1,400 between the pension of a Captain and a Major as on December 31, 2005 has gone down to Rs 250 on January 1, 2006 after the Sixth Pay Commission, rather than increasing with the enhancement of scales, while the difference of Rs 950 between the pension of a Major and a time-scale Lieutenant Colonel has gone up to Rs 11,600.  As on date, the disability element of pension of a 100 per cent disabled officer holding the rank of a full General who retired on December 31, 2005 after 40 years of service is Rs 5,880 while the disability element of an officer of the same rank retiring a day later is Rs 27,000. In fact, a Lieutenant, the lowest commissioned rank, with one day of service released on January 1, 2006 gets a disability element of Rs 8,100 which is much more than that of a 100 per cent disabled General, the highest commissioned rank, who retired a day earlier. Probably it has been somehow established on file that an injury sustained in January 2006 is more agonising than the one sustained a day before!  The government may call it anything — modified parity or rationalisation, officialdom may put across a labyrinth of rulings and decisions to defend itself, but the net result is that the differentia between pre and post 2006 retirees is something that shakes the conscience. But how do we counter it — by rhetoric and presenting ourselves as “holier than thou” or by sound and logical reasoning?

India to set up airbase near China border
Ajay Banerjee Tribune News Service  New Delhi, October 1 Countering China's aggressive stance, the Indian Air Force today announced its plan of setting up a full-fledged airbase at Nyoma in the eastern part of Ladakh that will be capable of taking front-line fighters like the Sukhois, besides transporters and choppers.  Located just 20 km from the Line of Actual Control with China, Nyoma at present has a landing strip made out of compacted mud at a height of 13,300 feet and can take no more than the USSR-origin medium transporter AN 32. That, too, only during summer months and the engines of the plane have to be kept running lest they do not re-start at that altitude. With the IAF buying the Hercules C-130-J’s, which are build specially for such rough areas, Nyoma may be up and running.  This will be the eighth full-fledged air base in Jammu & Kashmir after Srinagar, Awantipore, Udhampur, Jammu, Leh, Thoise and Kargil.  The IAF has sent a formal proposal to the Ministry of Defence, chief of the Western Air Command Air Marshall NAK Browne told reporters today, while adding that it would take some four years for the airfield to be fully operational once okayed. “We are looking to operate all platforms of the IAF and the Army and fighters are very much part of our arsenal,” said Browne in reply to question if fighters will be based there.  The Sukhoi-30 MKI has been tweaked in manner that its engines start in the rarefied air at those heights. Tests of the same have been carried out at Leh located at some 11,000 feet. Other fighters like the MiG 29s need to be calibrated each time engines have to be re-started at that altitude.  The IAF needs more flexible options in that area the weather pattern is far better than the air fields at Leh and Thoise, besides it offers a greater advantage over Chusul located in Ladakh, Air Marshall Browne added. The neglected-yet-strategically located mud-strip at Nyoma was re-activated into an operational airstrip by compacting the mud when an AN-32 transport aircraft landed there last year.  As part of firming up its plans against the growing Chinese threat, the IAF is looking to build a hard surface at the 16,000-feet high Daulat Beg Olde, located just south of the Karakoram Range in northern Ladakh. The DBO, Nyoma and Fukche are all mud-strips that were reactivated in the past two years after China ramped up infrastructure on its side. Defence Minister AK Antony had this June visited Nyoma to inspect the infrastructure development activities.  Separately, the IAF will be ramping up its capabilities, alongside the border with Pakistan. Starting early next year, two squadrons of the Sukhoi 30’s will move to Halwara airbase, near Ludhiana, located just 150 km from Pakistan. The MI-17-V5, which is the latest version of the MI-17 series choppers, will be based at Suratgarh in Rajasthan from May-June next year. The Mi-35 attack choppers, on their return from UN duties, will also be based there. The first lot will start arriving at the end of this month.  Lastly, next year the modernisation of airfield infrastructure programme will be completed in Bathinda, making it the first airfield in the country to be upgraded to that level. In total, 30 out of IAF's 51 operational airbases will be upgraded in Phase-I over 42 months.

Air security alert for CWG dictated by threat perception: IAF
Press Trust of India / New Delhi October 01, 2010, 19:26 IST  The IAF today said the tight air defence blanket thrown over the city for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) had factored in all security threats, including paragliders, microlites and UAVs that can be used as sub-conventional weapons.  IAF's Western Air Command, which has been given responsibility to provide air defence cover to the CWG, had set up a 60-km radius surveillance and monitoring apparatus ahead of the games beginning two days from now.  "All types of conventional and sub-conventional threats have been factored into it (air defence cover for CWG)," Western Air Command chief Air Marshal N A K Browne told a press conference here to announce IAF's plans for its 78th Air Force Day parade on October 8 at Hindon air base in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of the capital.     He was asked if the air defence blanket put in place a week ahead of the games was equal to the magnitude of alertness during the 2002 Operation Parakram armed forces build up following the December 2001 Parliament terror attack.     "The requirements (of CWG) are fairly different from 'Op Parakram'. Alert status remains the same. Don't forget that the threats have changed between 2002 and 2010," he said, explaining what sub-conventional threats posed by air platforms such as parachutes, gliders and microlites meant.     "We do not look at big or small threat. Threat is threat. A hang-glider could be a threat. Paragliders, fixed wing, microlites and all such could be a threat. Every single one is a threat and we take all of them into account (when an air defence cover is put in place)," he added.     Browne said though WAC would be the main agency for CWG air defence, there would be a lot of integration and cooperation with other agencies of the government to ensure foolproof security was in place both on the ground and air.     He said the IAF had the responsibility of securing the air, with sensors, reconnaissance, surveillance all put in place all over the city and its radius.     Asked if the IAF armed helicopters and fighter jets would take down an air threat if observed, Browne said there was a clearly defined Rules of Engagement (RoE) in case of such scenarios.     "It (RoE) is not ad-hoc, but a fully integrated system. A commander will be sitting at the command and control centre to take decisions (to shoot down). All decisions will be taken at the highest levels," he added.     He also noted that the Civil Aviation Ministry had already given proper guidelines for scheduled flights in and out of Delhi, with the air space being a no-fly zone during the CWG opening and closing ceremonies.

India, US to establish framework for strategic ties: Menon
Press Trust of India / Washington October 01, 2010, 9:42 IST  India and the United States are looking at establishing a long-term framework of strategic partnership when President Barack Obama visits next month, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon has said.  "The visit offers us an opportunity to put into place a longer term framework for India-US strategic partnership, and to add content to that partnership in several areas that are now ripe," Menon said at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – a Washington-based think-tank.  Menon left Washington yesterday after holding intense consultations with top US officials on issues related to the visit of President Obama to India in November.  Among others, he met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his American counterpart Gen (rtd) James Jones.  "Our goal must be to gear our bilateral cooperation towards making our two countries stronger, safer and more prosperous," Menon said, giving the first official indication of the things to be expected during the Obama visit to India in November.  "India and the US stand at an important moment in our partnership. As a result of consistent efforts by successive governments and administrations in both countries, our bilateral strategic partnership is strong. The time has come to realize its international significance. President Obama's visit gives us an opportunity to do so," Menon said.  "One final word to those in our countries who still ask: 'Is India a responsible power?' or 'Is the US a trustworthy partner?' My answer is an emphatic -- yes.  But the corollary is that we must be sensitive to each other's vital and important national interests. And we must strengthen the habit of working together, intensifying strategic consultations," he said.  Menon said "this partnership was based on more than immediate transactional advantage. I do not underestimate the human capacity for folly. But, with common values and a vision of a better world order and shared interests, I am confident that if we each proceed from our own ideals and interests, we will impart long term stability and an enduring significance to our partnership."  A major area for initiatives is the economy and trade, he noted, adding India today offers a growing market and a partner in improving the international competitiveness of US companies, creating jobs in both countries.  "I would hope that the visit will result in several concrete initiatives in this area," he said.

Pak: Militants attack NATO oil tankers, 5 killed
October 02, 2010 02:17 IST Tags: NATO, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Khyber Agency, Balochistan Share this Ask Users Write a Comment  Militants in Pakistan on Friday carried out two separate attacks on vehicles carrying fuel for NATO and United States forces in Afghanistan, killing five persons and injuring several others. Click!  In the first attack, a group of about 20 militants fired rockets at nearly 40 oil tankers parked at two petrol stations in Shikarpur, a city in southern Sindh province, officials said.  Many tankers caught fire during the attack. Police sources said at least three people died due of burn injuries while three others were injured. The dead and injured were sleeping in the tankers.  Drivers and police officials said 28 tankers and two roadside petrol stations were destroyed in the attack early this morning. A truck driver and his assistant were burned alive in the second attack on an oil tanker in the parking lot of a restaurant at Khuzdar in southeastern Balochistan province, police said.  The tanker caught fire after it was attacked by several armed militants. No group claimed responsibility for both attacks.  In both the incidents, the attackers managed to escape. Police briefly exchanged fire with the attackers in Shikarpur, officials said. Taliban [ Images ] militants regularly attack NATO supply trucks and oil tankers in parts of Pakistan, particularly the troubled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the northwest and southwestern Balochistan, both bordering Afghanistan.  This was the first time that such an attack was carried out in the interior of Sindh province. In June, around 60 NATO supply trucks were destroyed and eight drivers were killed in a major attack near the federal capital Islamabad [ Images ].  In April, four policemen were killed as 12 NATO trucks were burnt in eastern Punjab [ Images ] province. Officials say nearly 70 per cent of NATO supplies and 40 per cent of its fuel requirements are shipped via Pakistan for some 160,000 US-led troops in Afghanistan.  Pakistani authorities on Fruiday blocked oil tankers and trucks carrying NATO supplies at a check point bordering Afghanistan. The blockade came shortly after NATO helicopters attacked a Pakistani border check post in Kurram tribal region and killed three Pakistani soldiers and injured three others, sources said.  No reason was given for the blockade in Khyber Agency. However, sources said it was a reaction to the NATO air strikes in Pakistani territory. NATO helicopters have launched four attacks in Pakistan this week, sparking strong condemnation by Islamabad.  NATO has defended the attacks and a spokesman in Kabul said the action was taken in self-defence as militants had attacked a post in Afghanistan.

Five Indian Army T-90 Regiments to Receive Presidential Standards Honor
 2010-10-01 Five T-90 armoured regiments of the Indian Army will receive the Presidential Standards, a rare honor, on October 19. President Pratibha Patil will present the Colors, a first for armored regiments, at a parade to be held in Babina in Uttar Pradesh near Jhansi, an Army press release said here this evening.  The five armored regiments of 'White Tiger' Armored Division are 83, 12, 13, 15 and 19 Armored Regiments. Army Chief General V K Singh would be present on the occasion with the Southern Army Commander in tow.  Later in the day, the T-90 Division would take out a mounted parade for the President to review. "This will be a historical occasion as it will be the first time that five armored regiments of an Armored Division are presented the Colors together. The blaze of the steel chariots, equipped fully with their weapon systems, will display the nation's strength to take on any enemy," the release said.  The presentation of Colors or 'Nishaan' is a martial legacy, centuries-old and is reminiscent of heroic deeds of by-gone battlefields. "While the practice of carrying the Color into battle has died, the tradition of receiving, holding and parading it continues," the release said.

Army hands over footbridge near Nehru stadium
(Lead) Fri, Oct 1 2010 18:30 IST Games organisers, an official said Friday.  "The (95-metre) bridge has been handed over to the organisers," an official in the army headquarters told IANS. The organisers were informed Thursday evening that the overbridge was ready.  The army stepped in to build the retractable overpass after an under-construction footbridge collapsed Sep 21 near the stadium, the main venue of the Oct 3-14 sporting event, injuring 27 workers.  The Delhi government then asked the army to step in.  The new structure, made of portable steel sheets and iron angles with roadbed width of 12 feet, has been erected on concrete pillars on either side of the elevated Barapullah Nallah, on which the earlier structure rested, near Lodhi Road.  When the army was approached Sep 25, its engineers swiftly conducted a feasibility test and drew up a design, working on war footing. They added three piers to make the bridge more safe.  The framework, made of iron grills serving as support for the floor and the railings, was completed on the second day.  The bridge, to be used by athletes during the event, connects the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to a nearby parking lot.  The officials refused to give an estimate of the cost of the structure. The army will pack it away after the Oct 3-14 Games.  The bridge collapse triggered a barrage of criticism over preparations for the event, the biggest in India after the 1982 Asian Games.  The earlier bridge was built by a private company for the Public Works Department of Delhi government at a cost of Rs.10.5 crore.

Leading lady
Veenu Sandhu / New Delhi October 02, 2010, 0:10 IST  For the first time in the history of the Indian Army, a young woman led the passing out parade at the Officers Training Academy recently. Veenu Sandhu gets to know 21-year-old Divya Ajith  Date: September 18, 2010: Venue: The Parameshwaran drill square at the Officers Training Academy, Chennai. A slim and sprightly young woman in her crisp uniform draws herself up to her full 5 foot 6 inch height as she stands proudly in front of a column of 244 gentlemen and lady cadets, ready to lead the passing out parade.  It was a sight the Academy had never seen before. For the first time in the history of the Indian Army, a woman was leading the passing out parade. Twenty one-year-old Divya Ajith — now Lieutenant Divya Ajith — knows she has broken the mould. But she is quite modest about it.  “It was a great moment, but I couldn't think about it then because I was commanding the parade,” says the Chennai girl. “I had to stay focused on the task at hand.” The culmination of the gruelling 11-month training found Ajith receiving the coveted ‘Sword of Honour’, the highest award given for all-round performance to a cadet, from Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh. No woman before her has earned this honour.  As of now, women can join the Army only through the Officers Training Academy or as doctors through the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. Proving their mettle in the male-dominated field is not an easy task. The expectations, and at times the cynicism, can be daunting. But Ajith says she never felt discriminated against at the Academy. “The male dominance is only in numbers, not in attitude,” she says. “There is no gender bias as long as you prove yourself.”  ‘Proving yourself’ involves falling in line at 5.40 every morning for drill, excelling in academics, sports, weapons training, passing the test of endurance and overcoming obstacles (literally). The packed curriculum consists of 25 subjects. And the bar is high, especially when the cadet’s physical endurance is put to test. It involves 2.5 km to 30-km-long runs with packs and pouches on the back, push-ups, rope climbing, swimming and more. Ajith surpassed every cadet in her term to bag the gold in endurance, besides two other medals, again in the physical training categories, which have hitherto been male domains.  “The josh run (the Academy term for the 30-km marathon) was the most exciting,” says Ajith. “We were 33 women cadets in all, and we ran through the night carrying backpacks, reaching the finishing line around 3 am.” Had even one cadet fallen out or failed to complete the run in time, the entire team would have lost, she recalls. “We kept encouraging one another not to give up when the body felt it could not take another step forward. At times we had to push, pull and even shout if someone was left behind,” she says, with a hint of a smile in her voice. The trick was to keep the adrenaline pumping and have the mind rule the body.  Ajith, who was in the Zojila Company in the Academy — Zojila incidentally means ‘Path of Blizzards’ — says the gentlemen cadets had no problem with her success. “From the second term onwards, I was given senior appointments. The gentlemen cadets were happy for me,” says the young officer. Surely there were moments when the going got tough? Yes, she concedes honestly. “But then, all the cadets were in it together. Nobody was going through the grind alone,” she says. “Besides, I could always turn to my family when I felt low,” she adds.  Her maternal uncle was the only link with the Army, until now. Her father is a painting contractor and mother, a homemaker. “My mother was in the National Cadet Corps and I have grown up listening to NCC stories from her,” says Ajith. Initially her dream was to join the Indian Police Service. But she joined the NCC while she was in her second year BCom at the Stella Maris College in Chennai. Here, too, she excelled. At the 2008 Republic Day parade, where she represented Tamil Nadu, Ajith was adjudged the best NCC cadet and the best parade commander. At this point she decided to try for a career in the defence services, specifically, the Army. “I love the olive green of the Army uniform,” says Ajith who has been a topper throughout school (Good Shepherd Convent, Chennai) and college. Her favourite subjects were maths and accounts and her favourite sport, basketball. She has also trained in Bharatanatyam besides learning taekwondo and karate. Fond of music, Ajith also plays the drums.  Now it is time for the next challenge, as an officer of the world’s second largest army. Ajith has opted for the Army Air Defence Corps, the youngest arm of the Indian Army. “My platoon commander felt I have the skill and aptitude for this,” says Ajith. What about the perception that the Army tries to accommodate lady officers in ‘softer’ roles such as education and legal branches? “There are more men officers in the education corps than women,” she reasons.  Ajith will don the olive green uniform which she so admires for the next 10 years at least, after which she has an option to stay on in the Army for another four. But a 14-year term is the maximum the Army allows lady officers passing out from the Officers Training Academy. Women are not entitled to permanent commission, but for two non-combat branches — the Judge Advocate General and education corps. Ajith is not too worried. “14 years,” she says, “is a long time.” Things might change by then. And there’s another thing she’s hoping will change, she tells us. “I hope more young women join the Army.” Practical, level headed, gutsy young Lieutenant Divya Ajith might just be that inspiring example.

IAF helicopters to return from UN mission by month end 
The IAF helicopters currently serving in UN missions in Congo and Sudan will return to India beginning this month-end, primarily to augment the transport fleet and in support of the Army in desert terrains along the borders with Pakistan.  "The IAF helicopters in United Nations mission will be coming back by end of October," Western Air Command Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Air Marshal N A K Browne told a press conference.  On an IAF proposal citing its helicopter fleet being stretched to its limits, the Defence Ministry wrote to the External Affairs Ministry in June this year that the 17 Mi-17 medium lift helicopter, eight Mi-35 and Mi-25 attack in the UN missions in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan should be de-inducted and brought back for internal security duties.  While the Mi-17s are likely to augment the transport fleet of the IAF in view of four such helicopters busy serving in logistics role in the country's anti-Naxal operations in central India, the attack helicopters would be used to provide support roles to the Army troops deployed in the deserts of Rajasthan along the Indo-Pak borders.  "The Mi-35s will get back to Suratgarh, its home base. These will be refurbished and re-painted (in IAF colours). Gradually there will be a build of the fleet in the Suratgarh unit," Browne said.  Suratgarh will also become home for a Mi-17IV unit in May-June next year, as part of the IAF's plans to strengthen the transport helicopter fleet in the deserts, he added.  Mi-17IVs will also be based in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir following the Suratgarh deployment.  "Our resources have been stretched to the limit, particularly the helicopter fleet. For six to seven years, they have been deployed in the UN peace-keeping missions. They have taken a huge amount of workload over the years. So the Air Maintenance headquarters felt we should get these back in time and use them within India itself," Browne said on the justification for recalling the helicopters from Congo and Sudan.  He clarified that the attack helicopters, got back from UN, would not be used in the anti-Naxal operations. "These attack helicopters are not for use in the anti-Naxal operations. No," he replied to a query in this regard, pointing out that these helicopters would be used only for supporting the troops in deserts.  Browne said the attack helicopter's task had increased within India and there was "tremendous amount" of need to get more more helicopters for use by the IAF internally.  He said the 80 Mi-17 helicopters being bought from Russia was for supplementing the air force's transport tasks and in aid of civilian authorities for flood relief and casualty evacuation.

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