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Thursday, 14 April 2011

From Today's Papers - 14 Apr 2011

MoD yet to clear promotion policy proposed by Army
Ajay Banerjee Tribune News Service  New Delhi, April 13 The Army’s proposal to make major changes in the existing promotion policy for senior officers — brigadiers and above — has not been okayed by the Ministry of Defence so far. It has asked for more time to study the impact of the changes.  It means that some promotions that should have been announced by now have been held up leading to anxiety in the hierarchy and some of the candidates could retire by the time the results are declared. Each promotion beyond brigadier means an extension in service by two years.  Military secretary of the Army Lt-Gen GM Nair clarified today that the decision of the last selection board conducted in January, this year, “will not be dependent on the outcome of the ministry’s decision”.  Which means that the Army will disclose the result soon on the basis of the existing policy as the ministry was not set to okay the proposed changes in the policy.  The issue of promotion policy cropped up as the Army wants to merge the two existing streams that are segregated as command and staff for officers at Major General and above. The difference is the officers who are the first one go on to command formations while others do not.  The Ministry has asked as to what was need to change the policy that was anyway introduced only two years ago during the tenure of the then Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor. Then two streams were segregated to “adjust” officers after some senior posts were added by the Defence Ministry following the recommendations of the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC).  Gen Nair said the result of the selection board was expected anytime now and this was the normal time it takes for approval of result of the selection board. He claimed that there was “no spat” between the Ministry and the Army over the proposed changes.  The Defence Minister is empowered to okay the decision for promotion from Brigadier to Major General while in case, a Major General is to be promoted as Lieutenant General, the appointments committee of the Cabinet (ACC) ratifies it.  The Lieutenant General is the highest rank in the Army after the chief, who is a General. A Major General serves for two years less than a lieutenant general, who retires at 60 years.  The impasse means that crucial posts - for example, in the Directorate General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), the Military Operations Directorate and general-officers-commanding of some divisions and corps - are vacant.  The development also sets to rest speculations in sections of the media that the new promotion policy proposed by the Army has been okayed and was being implemented.

IAF women team embarks on mission Everest
New Delhi, April 13 An Indian Air Force (IAF) mountaineering team, comprising 11 women officers, embarked on a mission to scale Mount Everest today.  It is the first time in the history of the IAF that its women officers have embarked on an expedition to scale the highest peak on earth. The idea to undertake such a mission was conceived in 2009. The team has undergone a rigorous training schedule, including basic mountaineering course and winter training camps at Siachen in 2010 and 2011.  The team has scaled Mt Stok Kangri (6,121m) in Leh, Mt Bhagirathi II (6,512m) in Uttarakhand, Mt Kamet (7,757m) in Garhwal and Mt Saser Kangri I (7,672m) in Ladakh over the past two years.  The team will be accompanied by a doctor and eight male air warriors, who are qualified mountaineers. The team will follow the southeast ridge route as was used by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in the first successful expedition to Mt Everest in 1953.Officer-in-charge-Administration Air Marshal JN Burma flagged off the team and wished safety and success to all its members. “Do well, the nation is looking up to you,” he said. — TNS

New Delhi, Beijing to cement strategic ties
PM meets Prez Jintao, discusses border issue, trade Ashok Tuteja writes from Sanya in China  China refrained from publicly announcing any change in its policy of issuing stapled visas to Indian nationals from Jammu and Kashmir even as the two countries today decided to establish a working mechanism at the official level for consultation and coordination on border issues.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese President Hu Jintao here this evening on the margins of the BRICS summit and discussed a wide range of bilateral issues as well as international developments.  “I wish to reaffirm the desire to strengthen strategic and economic partnership with China in every possible way,” the PM said as he shook hands with the Chinese leader before the start of their meeting. India, he said, was keen to expand the areas of cooperation with China.  Briefing reporters on the 50-minue meeting, National Security Adviser (NSA) Shivshanker Menon said the two leaders held “very productive” talks in a friendly atmosphere. They expressed satisfaction at the steady progress in bilateral ties and said they looked forward to further expanding the ties.  Manmohan Singh and Hu formally announced the launching of the “Year of India-China Exchange 2011” during which the two countries would exchange high-level visits by senior political leaders, start a strategic economic dialogue, hold official consultations, exchange defence visits and intensify people-to-people contacts.  The establishment of the working mechanism on border affairs is being considered a significant move by the two countries to maintain peace and tranquility along their long border. The idea, which emerged during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in December last year, has now been given a proper shape. The proposed mechanism would explore possibilities of further cooperation between the two countries in border areas, particularly in the field of trade. The mechanism would also seek to implement the 1993 and 1996 agreements between the two countries for maintaining peace on the border, which Menon described as “most peaceful”.  In response to a question, the NSA said defence exchanges between the two countries had never been frozen. “We always continued defence exchanges. We have maintained communication in the defence field,” he said.  Asked if military exercises would also resume between the two countries, Menon replied in the affirmative but declined to say when it would actually happen.  Following discussions between the two sides in the past few months, it has been decided that a multi-command Indian military delegation would be visiting China this year.  India had stopped sending military delegations to China after Lt Gen BS Jaswal was denied a proper visa by the Chinese authorities in July last year on the ground that he commanded Indian troops in J&K.  On whether the stapled visa issue came up at the meeting, he said the two countries were working on resolving it satisfactorily. However, it did not come up during today’s meeting.  The two leaders asked the Special Representatives (SRs) of the two countries to carry on their work on finding a mutually acceptable solution to the border dispute from the political perspective. Menon himself is the SR from the Indian side while the Chinese SR is senior Communist leader Dai Bingguo. The SRs, who have met 13 times so far, are expected to meet again this year in India.  On the economic side, both Singh and Hu expressed confidence that the two countries were well on their way to achieve the trade target of 100 billion dollars by 2015.  Singh wanted that China should provide better access to India in fields like IT, pharmaceuticals and agro products to reduce the trade deficit between the two countries.  The two leaders also discussed the turmoil in certain countries in West Asia and North Africa and how it could have an impact on energy security.  While Manmohan Singh accepted an invite from Hu to visit Beijing, he also extended an invitation to the Chinese leader to visit New Delhi. The dates would be decided in consultations through diplomatic channels.

No demolition of Adarsh until both sides heard: HC
In a breather for the Adarsh Housing Society here, the Bombay High Court today said that before taking any "drastic step" like passing an order for demolition, it will first hear the society and the Environment Ministry.  "Anything which is illegal needs to be demolished. We agree with that, but at this stage we would like to first hear the arguments to satisfy our judicial conscience. Demolition is a drastic step," said a division bench of justices Ranjana Desai and RG Ketkar.
The court was hearing the petition filed by the society, challenging the demolition order passed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in January.  The ministry ordered the demolition of the 31-storey building after concluding that it was unauthorised and had violated several norms. The society had got three months' time to file appeal.  The high court today posted the matter for hearing on April 27. But before that, the judges observed, "We are assured that the MoEF would maintain status quo until the court decides the case. Nothing drastic will happen. In case it does, the society can rush to the court immediately."  In any case, the building is empty. There is no water and electricity supply. So the society is not going to get any benefit if it is not demolished. We are not saying MoEF does not have a good case. Maybe after hearing the arguments we would direct demolition but before passing any direction, the court needs to hear the case."  Additional Solicitor General Darius Khambata, appearing for MoEF, said that Adarsh did not take any permission or clearance before the construction, which started in 2003.  "They never came for permission. The building is illegal and needs to be demolished."

India to end freeze on high-level defence exchanges with China
After a pause, India is set to restore full defence cooperation with China, with a high-level military delegation to visit the country expectedly in June and an in-principle agreement reached for setting up a mechanism for consultations and coordination on border affairs.  The decisions were arrived at during a 50-minute meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu Jintao here where the Indian leader also voiced concern over the growing trade imbalance in favour of China, evoking an assurance that it would be addressed.
During the "very productive, warm and friendly" meeting, Singh and Hu launched the 'Year of India-China Exchanges in 2011', National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told reporters.  As part of the measure, there will be a series of visits including by an Indian military delegation to China besides exchange of visits by senior political leaders, holding of strategic economic dialogue, official consultations and people-to-people contacts, he said.  "It has been agreed that a multi-command Indian military delegation will visit China later this year," Menon said.  Sources said the delegation could visit as early as June and is expected to be headed by a Corps Commander level officer of the rank of Lt General.  The decision to send a military delegation to China marks an end to the freeze on high-level defence exchanges by India after the then Northern Army Commander Lt Gen B S Jaswal was denied a proper visa in July last year for travel to Beijing because he served in Jammu and Kashmir.

India, Pak impasse unlikely to end soon: Pentagon
The current impasse in ties between India and Pakistan is unlikely to end soon given the fragile government in Islamabad, overshadowed by a powerful military that heavily influences policies on Kashmir and Afghanistan, a top Pentagon official has said.  "And unquestionably, there remains a level of tension across the border that is hard to impact," Admiral Richard Willard, Commander of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), said while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The admiral told lawmakers that given the turmoil Pakistan has been in for the last couple of years, it's hard to imagine that a fragile governance in Islamabad is going to break the impasse in the ties.  The improvement, the US commander said, in relationship between the two South Asian neighbours requires a very high level of commitment, which seems to be unlikely at present even after New Delhi's effort in this regard.  "There are certainly dynamics between India and Pakistan that are based on historical animosities ages old that we're all aware of. And Kashmir has often been a focal point for those antagonism to play out," Willard said.  "The recent concerns in Kashmir that manifested both in demonstrations within the valley have resulted in some of the accusations that have gone back and forth regarding Chinese presence in the region and so on, as well as terrorist activity across the line of control, are making this particular challenge acute for the moment," he noted.  "I think the Indians have made overtures to attempt to work more closely, at least at the ministerial level, with Pakistan in terms of ongoing discussions. But unquestionably, there remains a level attention across that border that is very hard to impact," Willard said.  Willard argued that it is important that the US continue to work with both these partners very carefully and thoughtfully in order to encourage them to come to the table.  "India has very firm views on this and are sometimes quick to remind us that, in their view, is Kashmir is a bilateral issue and theirs alone to deal with," he said.  "I think that the way in which we handle this challenge, the way in which we deal with the two military, the way in which we encourage their respective governments to engage, very, very important, not just to India and to Pakistan, two nuclear-powered countries, but to all of South Asia and to the dynamic in Afghanistan that is of great concern to us," Willard said.  Willard was responding to a question from Senator Kay Hagan. "Securing Pakistani regional cooperation, while placating India, is a difficult task. Pakistani officials seek a long-term bilateral partnership with the US based on regional vision conducive to Pakistanis' strategic interests," he said.  "That's going to be difficult to develop as long as there continues to be an India-Pakistani impasse on Kashmir. Progress is possible as the US carefully reduces India's expectations for influence in Afghanistan, facilitates the Pakistani movement to reduce its proxies in Afghanistan and gets India and Pakistan to the negotiating table," he said.

India and China agree to resume defence exchanges
India and China today agreed to resume high-level defence exchanges with Beijing giving its consent to let a division commander, a Major General-ranked officer, from the Northern Army Command to lead a military delegation to China later this year. The understanding is that this officer will be given a proper visa, not a stapled one.  This effectively ends the year-long Indian suspension of high-level military exchanges with China after it conveyed last year that the Northern Army Commander, who was to lead a multi-command delegation to China, would require a stapled visa. This was based on the reasoning that China provides stapled visas to residents of the area, Jammu & Kashmir, which fall under the command of the Northern Army Commander.  As reported first by The Indian Express, the compromise was reached after India conveyed that instead of the Northern Army Commander, this delegation would be led by a Major General from the Northern Command and would include representatives from other military commands as well.
In fact, sources said, the delegation size would be of eight to nine members with more officers from the Northern Command besides the leader and all of them would get proper visas.  This significant breakthrough was firmed up at the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the margins of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit here.  Given that a division commander is in charge of only a part of the area under Northern Command, sources said, was an argument that helped resolve the deadlock.

Army unit in Maoist hotbed
New Delhi, April 13: The Chhattisgarh government has permitted the army to use 54,543 hectares in a Maoist hotbed for a training unit, a move in which it could showcase its military might before the rebels without coming under the scanner for “deploying” or “using” the defence force against them.  The land (around 1.34 lakh acres) in Narayanpur district, which is close to Bastar district, is to be used to set up a “manoeuvre range” for counter-insurgency drills.  A infantry brigade — which would have around 2,500 soldiers with supporting units of engineering, supply and signals — will arrive for the “manoeuvres” before the monsoon sets in.  However, even as it moves ahead with the plan, the state’s BJP government does not itself have full control over the land, large tracts of which fall on the fringes of the Abujhmarh region controlled by Maoists.  There may even be an exhibition of air power over the thickly forested hilly area with the army’s choppers hovering around and airfields built for them to land.  In Bilaspur, also in Chhattisgarh, sources said the Centre-run Airports Authority of India had transferred more than 350 acres at the local airport to the defence ministry for possible use by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Sources said there were plans to station an IAF Hercules plane, used to transport troops and material, at Bilaspur.  At present, the IAF is engaged in rescue and evacuation during anti-rebel operations led by the police and the central paramilitary forces such as the CRPF. The army is involved in training the central forces.  For the army, a manoeuvre range is usually used for drills either within the confines of a counter-insurgency unit or a jungle warfare school. Such a range on international borders involves the infantry or armoured troops. In Narayanpur, however, it would be about counter-insurgency exercises in the jungles and, perhaps, even amid villages. It will involve troop movements, cutting off enemy lines and rescue and evacuation procedures in difficult terrain.  A senior Chhattisgarh government official suggested he saw no major hurdles in the way of the plan. “We are foreseeing some trouble from the pro-Maoist civil society groups but nothing much. In any case, the government has not transferred the land to the army (but only permitted its use),” the official said over the phone.  The state government, though, is treading cautiously. It has, for instance, put three conditions before the armed forces, all of them relating to environmental and human concerns. The ministry of defence has been told that no trees should be felled, nor should people be evicted from the area. Also, no permanent structures should be built.  Officials in the ministries of defence and home affairs feel the conditions are a bit restrictive but hope the issue may be “sorted out” soon.  The decision to allow the army to use the land comes less than a year after a key Delhi meeting where the Centre had ruled out the use of the army against Maoists. The cabinet committee on security huddle on June 18, 2010, had struck down a proposal to deploy two battalions of the army’s Rashtriya Rifles in rebel-hit Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.  However, the same meeting had put the seal on a plan to ensure the “presence” of the army in the Naxalite-affected central India, including Chhattisgarh, by setting up a Chhattisgarh-Orissa Sub-Area (Cosa) command. “A brigadier has been deputed here in Raipur to do the work (for the sub-area),” a source said.

Army planning to open more avenues for women
New Delhi, Apr 13 (PTI) After giving Permanent Commission (PC) to 18 women officers in its education branch, Indian Army is planning to open more avenues for the fair sex in other branches also."Permanent Commission to women officers is under review at various levels. Presently, the cadre structuring is done by the Adjutant General (AG) branch. So far 18 officer in the Army Education Corps (AEC) have got PC," Military Secretary Lieutenant General M G Nair said here today.Women are taken as officers in Judge Advocate General branch (JAG), Air Defence (AD), Army Services Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), Army Aviation Corps, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (EME) Corps, Corps of Engineers and Intelligence Corps."PC (for women officers) would be be extended in JAG also. Other branches are under consideration and decision would be taken in the best interest of the organization and the individual," Nair said.Asked about the steps taken by Defence Ministry to overcome shortage of officers in the three forces, Nair said: "One more squadron would be added in the National Defence Academy (NDA) by 2013. Presently NDA has 13 squadrons." He added that army was facing a shortage of around 12,000 officers and plans to overcome it by 2020 with implementation of the steps taken to fill the vacancies which are mostly in the middle and lower rank cadre.

Graft eating into border roads, finds CVC probe
NEW DELHI: Corruption has seeped so much into the defence establishment that even projects connected with national security are failing to emerge unscathed. An inquiry ordered by the Central Vigilance Commission into Project Deepak of Border Roads Organization (BRO) has opened a can of worms, with shocking tales of manipulation of tenders, cartelization, lack of quality control and use of substandard material to maintain and construct crucial roads.  The audit conducted by the chief technical examiner (CTE) of the Border Roads Development Board (BRDB), in fact, found the quality of roads and bridges in some stretches is so pathetic that "specialized Army vehicles will find it extremely tough to use them in times of emergency."  The report is especially alarming since China has gone in for a massive upgrade of its border infrastructure over the last decade, with an extensive rail network and over 58,000km of roads in the Tibet Autonomous Region. India, in contrast, is floundering to make the 73 all-weather roads earmarked for construction along the 4,056-km Line of Actual Control with China, with not even 20 of them being completed so far.  The CTE inspection report, which has indicted several top BRO officers, was recently submitted to the defence ministry as well as the CVC, said sources. On being contacted, minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju, who is also the BRDB chairperson, however, said, "I have been travelling for the last 10 days. I don`t specifically remember seeing anything like that. But if an inquiry is held, we will definitely follow procedures and take action."  BRO also downplayed the report, holding that such checks were "a routine matter" and "corrective action" was taken if needed. But with Project Deepak being just one of the several such whose primary task is to construct strategic roads and other infrastructure along the fronts with China and Pakistan, there are fears that similar stories are being repeated elsewhere. The inspection report itself says that "proper investigation" by an "outside agency" is required to "reveal all the facts."  The technical audit inspected 31 works and purchase contracts under Project Deepak, including the Manali-Sarchu, Hindustan-Tibet and Dhami-Kiongal roads in Himachal Pradesh, undertaken from September 2005 to October 2010.  But it was forced to drop the work associated with the proposed 8.8-km long Rohtang Tunnel due to "reluctance" of the directorate general of border roads to "provide tender documents and correspondence of the contract".  As for the works examined, the report says, "Serious types of financial irregularities and manipulations regarding award and administration of contracts, besides poor quality of works execution and documentation, have been observed by the chief engineer (quality control) both in contractual and departmental execution."  Though the report gives an estimate of "more than Rs 100 crore" of financial irregularities in "selected contracts", it warns that the "actual figures may be manifold higher". "Financial management is lacking in BRO," it says, adding that officials responsible for irregularities get away scot free since there is "no accountability."  While BRO`s in-house capability and resources are being "misused" or under-utilized, "more and more contracts are being outsourced to private constructors." The report dwells upon how only a few contractors are being favoured with contracts after contracts, without any market rate analysis, transparency and "healthy competition in violation of CVC and other guidelines". Moreover, tender rates are being pegged way above the actual costs by "showing false scarcity of road construction material" at or near the work sites, among other things.  Even more worrying is the finding that "practically no quality control" has been exercised during execution of contracts to repair or construct roads. "Neither the material conforms to the stipulated specifications and gradation, nor are the thickness and quality`s a matter of grave concern that locally-available quarry spoil/river bed material has been used without proper compaction and wet rolling," says the report.  Even roads constructed or repaired by BRO are plagued by similar problems, with total disregard of "geometric standards" and strategic needs. Take the widening of the Manali-Sarchu road, which is part of the strategic Manali-Leh highway. "Quality of execution is extremely poor. Road geometrics is not being achieved as per laid down standards...Specialized Army vehicles cannot move easily during emergency on this vital axis to Leh (J&K)," it says.  Bridges, too, are being constructed without proper planning and care. For instance, the report dubs as "technically unsafe" the 50-metre span steel super-structure bridge being constructed over the Koksar Nallah on the Manali-Sarchu road.

Army's promotion policy for high officers could be delayed
Government's approval of Indian Army's proposed new promotion policy for high-level officers could be delayed as Defence Minister A K Antony has asked for more time to examine it.  The Army had late last year sent a proposal to the Ministry to follow a 'single stream' policy for promotion to higher ranks of Maj Gens and Lt Gens, instead of the 'Command and Staff' and 'Staff' streams propagated by former army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor.  "Defence Minister A K Antony has sought more time to examine the proposal regarding the promotion to Maj Gens and Lt Gens," Military Secretary, Lieutenant General G M Nair said here today.  "We have proposed a new system to ensure seniority-cum-merit is applied for General Officers to be appointed to command Divisions and Corps. Segregation of promotion policy into two streams is not in favour of the organization," he added.  Ministry sources said the policy has not yet been approved as there is a need to further deliberate on it before clearing it and its impact on the officers who will be adversely affected by the change needs to be studied.  The Defence Ministry had also refused to consider the last two promotion boards constituted for these ranks held in January under the proposed policy in which 63 Maj Gens and 139 Brigadiers were considered for elevation.  The Military Secretary said these two boards would now be considered under the existing policy only. Under the two stream policy, officers promoted in the 'Command and Staff' stream are considered to be superior than those promoted in the 'Staff' stream.  After the Lt Gen K R Rao committee observed that the two stream policy was not popular, "it was observed it has not found acceptance by majority in the organization. In a recent feedback, officers indicated that a Single Stream policy is more acceptable as it does not divide the general cadre," Nair said.  He said the time sought by Ministry to examine the proposed policy would not have any impact on the prospects of the officers who appeared in the two promotion boards in January and "the results are expected to be announced very soon and it would be much earlier than previously-held boards."  However, he said, the changes suggested in the computerized 'Quantification Policy' for promotions have been accepted by the Ministry.  Under the Quantification Policy, the promotion board holds 100 marks, out of which 95 are awarded by a computerised method in which service courses, gallantry awards and distinguished service awards were taken into account and five marks are awarded on the value judgment of the board.  "Now we have removed automatic awarding of points for distinguished services. The decision would now rest with the value judgment of the board to award such marks," said Nair.  The new policy also proposes to extend the residual service clause for promotion of Maj Gens while assuming command of divisions to four years.  "The residual service clause recommended is four years, with two years in current rank, which will be implemented in a phased manner starting with three years, gradually increasing to four years," army officials said.

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