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Saturday, 2 April 2011

From Today's Papers - 02 Apr 2011

SC fumes over illegal sale of Army weapons
R Sedhuraman Legal Correspondent  New Delhi, April 1 The Supreme Court today expressed shock over the sorry state of affairs in the Army and the Defence Ministry that not only resulted in the illegal sale of a large number of prohibited weapons by its own officers to around 800 people, including terrorists and criminals, in connivance with top civil servants but was also impeding the inquiry and disciplinary action.  “We are shocked and surprised at the state of affairs. The matter does not appear to be receiving a serious attention,” a Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Vivek Tankha. The Bench was hearing a PIL that has sought action against the officers of the Army and the civil administration involved in the illegal sale. The Bench made the remarks after Tankha informed the court that the Defence Ministry had asked the Army to review the policy of giving weapons to top defence personnel for personal use in the light of a September 2008 Court of Inquiry (CoI) against some officers involved in such sales.  “See what is happening in the Army and the defence forces? That is why the pain is more. That is why the anguish,” the judges lamented. The apex court felt the proposed policy review would not serve the purpose. “There must be a wholesale ban on this. Where is the need for transfer of weapons,” the Bench asked. The Additional Solicitor General said it was just an aberration on the part of some personnel. “What an aberration and touching what aspects,” the Bench retorted pointing out that the crime posed a grave danger to national security.  “Of all the places, these things have happened in the armed forces where utmost discipline is required,” the judges remarked.  The Bench also took exception to the Defence Ministry filing an affidavit in the SC through a junior officer (having a rank of an Under Secretary). “These matters should be dealt with at the appropriate level. Does the Defence Secretary think it is below his dignity to file an affidavit,” the judges wanted to know.  “It was unfortunate that the SC had to tell the ministry as to who had to file the affidavit and what details should be given to the court in such a serious matter. And, you are in charge of the Defence of the country,” the Bench remarked sarcastically. The ASG assured the court that action would be taken against all officers, but the judges were not convinced. “It is a very, very serious matter. Weapons have gone into whose hands and from whom,” the court said.  At one point, the Bench noted: “It appears we are heading for another racket.” At this, the ASG said “There is no racket. It is just an aberration.”  The petitioner, advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma, said the Army was presently moving against officers only in the Western Command, while it had five commands. Around 40 officers, including those at the rank of a Major General, were involved in the Western Command, whereas their number would go up to over 200 if all the commands were covered, he said.  The accused officers had bought these weapons for as little as Rs 500 and sold them for as much as Rs 10 lakh, Sharma contended. A CBI inquiry was conducted against Army officers and civil servants in Punjab and Haryana. “We don’t know what happened after the inquiry,” he said. The ASG said the Defence Ministry wanted an inquiry against all other officers, who were not covered under the earlier CoI.  When the ASG said the relevant file was moving in the right direction, the Bench was sarcastic again: “Ultimately, it will go to a hawaldar.”  Rajasthan informed the court it was proceeding against the three IAS officers and five officers of the state administrative service (RAS) for their alleged involvement in the issue of arms licences. The SC directed the Defence Secretary and Rajasthan’s Chief Secretary to file fresh status reports and affidavits by April 29, the next date of hearing, giving details about the progress from now and then.

Army jawans to soon have wrist-mounted computers Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service  Chandigarh, April 1 As part of its endeavor to transform the foot soldier into a techno-savvy combat system equipped with state-of-the-art gadgetry, the Army has initiated the process of procuring wrist-worn computer and communication system.  In a recently floated global request for information for “integrated computer and communication system (ICCS) for infantry soldiers”, the Army has sought an end-to-end, full-featured computer and communication solution which provides “scalable, high-quality data services that include both real-time and non-real-time services”.  The ICCS, with its display and communication unit worn on the wrist and other elements like the battery carried in the battle-load vest, will interlink a soldier vertically with his commanders as well as laterally with fellow troops in the field. This will enable an individual soldier to receive as well as transmit information or orders, resulting in fast communication and greater situational awareness in any operational and environmental condition.  The ICCS is being implemented under the Army’s much talked about F-INSAS (future infantry soldier as a system) vision, conceived to significantly enhance the potential, lethality and survivability of infantry soldiers through modern weapons, sensors, communications and other offensive and defensive measures.  With 360 battalions, the infantry forms the Army’s largest fighting arm, making up about a third of its total strength. As compared with modern armies, the personal equipment of the Indian foot soldier is largely rudimentary.

US looking at various options to support Libyan rebels
The US along with its partners are looking at various other ways apart from military action to support the opposition in Libya, the White House has said.  "We are already taking measures that are non-lethal and looking at ways that we can help the opposition through humanitarian assistance and other non-lethal things that we can do to help them," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.  The US is meeting with the Libyan opposition, he said, adding that the decision on whether or not assistance would include weapons has not been made.  "We haven't ruled it in or out, but it's clearly something that is under consideration," Carney said.  The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorises all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians, and obviously the US was a participant in that and continues to be, he said.  "The fact that we are working together with a coalition, and how assistance, whether it's non-lethal or lethal, the origin, source of origin of it, how it's put together and packaged, whether it's medical supplies or, if that decision were to be made, military equipment, is something for the coalition itself to decide," he said.  "We are a part of this effort. It is not a unilateral US effort, and that is a good thing, for a variety of reasons, not just because sharing the burden with our allies reduces costs and risk for the American military, and not just because we have a lot of other commitments around the world, but because the President is focused, in this and in all things, on the end result," he said.  "He believes that working together with coalition partners including Arab nations, the Arab League and our partners in NATO enhances the chance of success, and that this will end well.  "That was the approach he took to Egypt and it's the approach he took around the region, and it's the approach he takes, frankly, to domestic issues as well as international ones that the point is not to do or say what feels good today from a political point of view," Carney said.  Responding to questions on the Libyan opposition, Carney acknowledged that there's a certain amount of diversity on them.  "What I can tell you is that the leaders of the council that the Secretary of State has met with and are saying the right things, they have been vetted by us and our partners, and they are committing themselves, through their statements, to a process that we would support -- a process that embraces democratic reform, that embraces free and fair elections, that espouses tolerance... So these are all good things," he noted.

Gurkhas fought to save UN staff from Afghan protest mob
UNITED NATIONS: Four Nepalese guards fought desperately against an armed mob that stormed a UN compound in Afghanistan, but were overwhelmed and died with three workers they were protecting, officials said.  United Nations leaders and governments paid tribute to the seven staff killed in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called an "outrageous and cowardly attack" in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.  The UN Security Council called on the Afghan government to increase protection for UN workers and bring those responsible to justice.  The attackers broke away from a big demonstration in the city against the burning of a Koran, Islam's holy book, by a US pastor.  "Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building" and set it on fire, UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Friday.  "The security guards, who were the Gurkhas, tried their best but the number was so high that they were not able to prevent it."  He denied reports that two of the dead were beheaded but said one victim had his throat cut.  UN officials said the Gurkhas, security mainstays in many world trouble spots, were believed to have killed a number of assailants before they were overcome.  An Afghan provincial governor said at least five Afghans were killed in the compound.  An unknown number of UN staff were also wounded and they have been evacuated, Le Roy said. The Mazar-i-Sharif base would remain open though, he insisted, adding that he did not believe the United Nations had been a specific target of the attack.  Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, and a top peacekeeping official had left for Afghanistan to conduct a review of security in UN facilities, Le Roy said.  The attack was the worst suffered by the world body since a bomb blast at the UN compound in Algiers in 2007 that left 17 staff dead.  "Afghanistan has become one of the most dangerous places for UN personnel," the UN staff union said. It listed nine other deaths of UN workers in the country in less than two years, including in targeted attacks, suicide bombings and drive-by shootings.  "This was an outrageous and cowardly attack against UN staff, which cannot be justified under any circumstances," Ban said on a visit to Nairobi.  The United Nations did not announce the nationalities of the three civilian staff killed. But Sweden named one as 33-year-old Swede, Joakim Dungel. Norway said Lieutenant Colonel Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot, was killed. Diplomats said the third was a Romanian.  The 15-nation UN Security Council held a special meeting on the incident and condemned the attack "in the strongest terms".  It called "on the government of Afghanistan to bring those responsible to justice and take all possible steps, with the assistance of ISAF as appropriate, to protect UN personnel and premises."  The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has about 140,000 troops in the conflict-stricken nation.  "The dedicated staff of the UN Mission in Afghanistan does courageous work every single day to support the Afghan people under extremely difficult circumstances, including repeated attacks," said US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.  Protests against the burning of the Koran in the United States were also held in Kabul, where demonstrators shouted slogans against the United States, Israel and Britain.

Indian Army undertake expedition to Mount Manaslu
Indian Army's 15 member expedition team is set to scale the eighth highest mountain peak Mount Manaslu in Nepal next month. Col Ajayn Kothyial is leading the first expedition to Mt Manaslu by Indian Army.  India's Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood handed over the flags of Nepal and India to the expedition group amidst a function at Indian Embassy premises in Kathmandu on Thursday.  The expedition will leave Kathmandu for the base camp on first week of April and it is expected to attempt on the summit in the third week of May.  Indian Army had first scaled Mt Everest in 2001 and since then it has been scaling above 8,000 metre peaks every alternative year.  This will be the 7th eight thousander to be scaled by the Indian Army personnel.  Mount Manaslu is the eighth highest peak in the category of 8000 metre high peaks in the world.

Brig Verma new commandant Army Base Workshop
ALLAHABAD: Brigadier Tumul Varma took over the command of 508 Army Base Workshop as the Commandant & Managing Director replacing Brigadier Raju K Subramani, who proceeded on permanent posting as Deputy Director General Project at Headquarters Technical Group EME, Delhi Cantt.  A second generation EME officer, Brigadier Tumul Verma is an alumnus of the Indian Military Academy, Defence Services Staff College, Army War College and College of Defence Management.  He was commissioned in 1984. During his illustrious career spanning almost three decades, the officer has held varied prestigious command and staff appointment, which include Staff Officer at United Nation Mission in Somalia, Assistant Military Secretary at Military Secretary's Branch, Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defence (Army), Assistant Quartermaster General of a Corps responsible for guarding India-Pakistan border in Northern Theatre, commanded an EME battalion in a strike formation, was Class-A Instructor at Military College of EME, Secunderabad and Directing Staff at Defence Services Staff College, Wellington.  He was recently the Colonel Logistics and Administration of a Division deployed along India-China border in Eastern theatre.  Brigadier Raju K Subramani, while addressing the workshop employees conveyed his best wishes to all the staff and their families. He took over the command of 508 Army Base Workshop on August 21, 2009 and completed one year and seven months tenure in this workshop.

Supreme Court pulls up Centre for delay in probe into weapons scam
As if the scams relating to the Adarsh housing society at Mumbai, golf course land deals, and substandard ration for jawans aren’t enough, the Indian army appears to be caught in another scandal over the illegal sale of “non-service pattern” weapons and releasing licenses to dubious persons.  NSP weapons are issued to the army personnel for their personal use from ordnance depots.  “It seems that we are heading for another racket,” the Supreme Court observed on Friday as it slammed the defence ministry for being ineffective in dealing with this scandal, which surfaced four years ago after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Arvind Sharma, an advocate, who sought a probe into the trafficking of weapons and wanted all the civilian and military brass involved in the fraud to be punished.  Defence ministry’s lawyer Vivek K Tankha said a status report on the issue would be submitted to the court within six weeks. A bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar, which is also hearing the black money scandal case, has also sought report on the probe against three IAS officers for their alleged involvement in the NSP weapons’ scam.  “We are really shocked and surprised that the issue did not draw serious attention from the Centre and the state government,” the judges observed.  In 2007, authorities in Rajasthan’s Ganganagar district noticed that several licenses had been issued to dubious persons, including terrorists, smugglers, and rowdy elements by the local authorities without verification.  Later, the government revealed that several army officers , including some holding the rank of major generals, IAS officers, and those belonging to the Rajasthan state service, were allegedly involved in the sale of NSP arms to these dubious elements.  The state government identified about 284 beneficiaries of this sell-off.  Last year, the army admitted that 72 officers, including a serving colonel and three lieutenant colonels, posted in the sensitive border districts of Rajasthan and at the Indian Army Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan, were a part of an illegal arms selling racket.  Defence minister AK Antony has told Parliament that disciplinary proceedings were initiated against 30 officers and a junior commissioned officer for failing to deposit their NSP weapons.

Navy dismisses officer for sexual misconduct
A senior Indian Navy officer has been dismissed from service on charge of sexual misconduct during his posting in Russia while overseeing the refit of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.   The action comes almost a year after sexually explicit photographs of the officer, Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, with a Russian woman emerged. The pictures were taken while he was posted in Russia.   Defence Minister A.K. Antony had in February this year announced that the officer would be dismissed from the service.   Singh, an engineering officer, has been discharged and he would lose pension and other benefits of military service. The sacking was approved by the defence ministry under Section 216 of the Navy Regulations Act.   Singh, holding the rank equivalent of a brigadier in the army, was India's pointsman in Russia overseeing the repair and refit of the Admiral Gorshkov. The controversy over his relations with the Russian woman erupted in early 2010 following the leaking of the photographs in which the two were shown involved intimately.   The scandal came at a time when India and Russia were finalising the increase in the cost of the aircraft carrier's repair. India finally agreed to pay $2.34 billion for the second-hand warship in February 2010.   The photographs formed a major part of evidence to indict him in the navy's court of inquiry. The officer was found fit for dismissal, though his liaison with the Russian woman was not found to have had any national security implications.

Pipavav eyes acquisitions, large defence deals
Mumbai: Pipavav Shipyard is scouting overseas for firms catering to the oil and gas and defence sectors, besides setting up a second dry dock facility to tap the lucrative Indian defence and offshore segments, a top official said.  “We are on the lookout for opportunities, our eyes and ears are open and we are very keen but we must have the right opportunity that will create both huge visibility and significant value proposition,” chairman Nikhil Gandhi told Reuters on Friday.  The shipbuilder, India’s largest by market capitalization, is eyeing companies in Asia and Europe, especially Scandinavia, he added.  “Oil and gas asset building and operating companies and defence sector companies interest us. Eventually, we will have to do a backward and forward integration plan.”  Last week, Pipavav Shipyard got the go-ahead from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to build warships, thus making it eligible to bid for multi-billion dollar defence contracts along with foreign partners.  In February, rival ABG Shipyard also received government approval to foray into defence-related contracts.  Pipavav is also bidding for a multi-billion dollar helicopter carrier as well as a submarine programme “of substantial value”, Gandhi said.  The Indian firm has already tied up with a host of foreign firms to build defence hardware.  Last December, it signed an agreement with SAAB Dynamics enabling the latter to enter India’s army and air force segments. In February this year, Pipavav tied up with Northop Grumman Overseas for defence production.  The firm’s order book now stands at around $1.5 billion and Gandhi expects this to “grow substantially” once new orders come in from defence and offshore.  “We think there would be substantial increase (in orders), The opportunity that exists in India’s oil and gas and defence sectors in next two years is worth over $50 billion.”  The recent surge in crude prices has prompted oil companies to step up their thrust on exploration and production, which could result in increased offshore orders for firms like Pipavav.  The firm is expanding capacity by adding a dry dock adjacent to the existing facility on the south western coast of Gujarat, at a cost of around $230 million, Gandhi said.  “We are in the process of beginning the work on a second dry dock, which will start soon. We already have a wet dock which we will convert into a dry dock, he said, adding the whole process could take around 16 months.  “This additional facility will help us carry out some international work we might get and also we can work with far larger number of assets. With the second dry docking facility and associated infrastructure our ability to deliver the ships at one third or one fourth the time of anyone else,” Gandhi added.  Pipavav’s current infrastructure alone has the potential to clock revenue of nearly Rs10,000 crore, he said.  At 12:25 pm Pipavav Shipyard shares were up 1.27% at Rs80 in a weak Mumbai market.

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