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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

From Today's Papers - 18 Oct 2011




Mumbai RTI activist assaulted, dumped in Surat

Shiv Kumar/TNS  Mumbai, October 17 The controversial Adarsh Housing Society scam is back in the spotlight after an activist who filed a number of queries in the matter was allegedly kidnapped from Mumbai, beaten up and dumped in Surat in an unconscious state.  The activist, Santosh Makrande Tiwari, was picked up by the police in Surat and taken to a local hospital where he claimed to have been beaten up by goons close to a former Maharashtra Chief Minister for not withdrawing his queries under the Right to Information Act. Tiwari works as a security consultant for a firm in Mumbai.  In his complaint, Tiwari said his attackers — posing as policemen — picked him up from the Mira Road railway station in suburban Mumbai and bundled him into an SUV and took him to an unknown destination. The activist was then locked up in a transport container where he was constantly punched and hit and forced to drink alcohol to render him drowsy, Tiwari said in his complaint.


Babas of the Indian Army

by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu  After all has been said and done about the babas and their black sheep of the civilian world, there is plenty left to say about those in the armed forces. I witnessed expression of faith in divine defence personnel for the first time while exploring Sikkim. The road from Gangtok to Nathu La, on the India-Tibet border, is marked by signs pointing you to Lake Tsomgo and Baba Mandir. Now, I am a pretty reluctant visitor to places of worship – particularly the dial-a-shrine variety. That they will be a casualty on time-bound itineraries is an undeniable reality. But my cab driver would have none of it.  Thus I made the acquaintance of Capt ‘Baba’ Harbhajan Singh of the 23rd Punjab battalion, at a shrine built to mark the spot where he fell to his death in 1968, while leading a pack of mules to a remote outpost. His body was recovered three days later. Legend goes that he appeared in a colleague’s dream, led the search party to the spot, and requested to be enshrined. Revered as a protector of soldiers, he is expected to forewarn them in the event of war imminence or natural disasters. Baba continues to draw his salary and enjoy the privilege of annual leave.  Lest you believe his legend is confined to the Indian Army, let it be known that Chinese soldiers, too, reserve a chair for him at all meetings.  Two decades later, Om Prakash, another soldier manning a sensitive border post in J&K, beat back an enemy attack single-handedly. What became of him remains a mystery, but troops posted at the Siachen base camp are of the unshakeable belief that he is their guardian deity. OP Baba’s (as he is fondly called) memorial is a short distance from that snout of the Siachen glacier that melts to form the Nubra river. A formal military report is presented to him before, and after, each glacial mission; while troops give up consumption of animal protein, alcohol and tobacco during their stay.  The Plateau Nath Baba Mandir in Kargil has a somewhat diverse parable associated with it. Ingeniously named after the topographical feature the said Baba resided on, story goes that enemy shells refused to explode around him, but did so when immersed in the river; leading troops to believe that the nameless mad man was indeed a divine being. Presently a Shiva temple, maintained by the Army, stands near his hut with an ante-room dedicated to him.  My initial amusement at this tradition stands overwhelmed by the realisation that in conflict zones and inhospitable life conditions, Hope is your best friend. And Faith? Your law of survival!


Tardy pace of road work along China border

Ajay Banerjee Tribune News Service  New Delhi, October 17 In brazen slackness on the part of the Indian establishment vis-à-vis China, work on the strategically vital roads in the Himalayas is tottering way behind schedule and in some cases, has totally stopped. As a result, only 25 per cent of the road-building work that was allocated for this financial year has been completed so far, even as half the fiscal is over.  With winter having set in as far as the Himalayas are concerned, progress on the road-building will be even slower than in the first half of the fiscal that ended on September 30. So far, only Rs 1337 crore have been spent by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) out of its budget of Rs 4962 crore for the year 2011-12.  Sources said at this rate, work will suffer badly. They also estimate that the lag this year will be worse than last year, when the BRO could not utilise its Rs 5427 crore budget and returned Rs 946 crore that was meant for building strategic roads.  A reported clash of egos and divergence of priorities between two groups of officials within the BRO, who have put their ‘false prestige’ ahead of national interest, is one of the prime reasons for the scenario, sources across the BRO and the Ministry of Defence said.  Some of the roads are of such strategic importance that the Army is paying out of its own budget and some roads had been recommended by the all-powerful China Study Group (CSG) headed by the Cabinet Secretary.  A very senior functionary in the Ministry of Defence admitted there was a ‘fight’ between two groups and it was being sorted out. Just two weeks ago, the Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju visited Jammu and Kashmir and asked the BRO to put all roads on priority.  The slackness in road-building has occurred even as PM Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister AK Antony have been assuring that the work to build infrastructure alongside the Chinese frontier is progressing well.  Data of the Border Roads Organisation accessed by The Tribune shows that work on roads in Jammu and Kashmir (largely in Ladakh), Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand is way behind schedule. Here are a few examples. The Chusumle-Demchok road in Eastern Ladakh was to be completed in 2012. The revised schedule has pushed the year of completion to 2015.  The Ministry of Defence wants an all-weather road across the sensitive 18,634-feet-high Marsimik-la near the Line of Actual Control with China in Eastern Ladakh. So far, only 1.43 km of the 43-km stretch is metalled. The project was to be completed last year, but the completion has now been scheduled for 2014.


Plan for naxal-hit districts prepared with army

New Delhi: The Centre on Monday finalised a developmental action plan involving the Army to deal with the menace of naxalism in districts worst hit by the problem, particularly in eastern India.  The 'Saranda Action Plan', prepared by Rural Development Ministry, will be implemented firstly in Jharkhand's naxal-hit Saranda district after a meeting with state's Deputy Chief Minister Sudesh Mahato, CRPF Director General Vijayakumar and other top officials.  "Tomorrow, a seven-member team from the ministry is going to Saranda. We had a discussion. We have prepared an action plan," Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters here.  According to the plan, immediate priority is to distribute solar lanterns and bicycles, construction of prefab houses for BPL families under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) and bridges with the help of Army and special water supply - hand pump schemes.  On seeking Army's help, Ramesh said "we need very quick visible results on the ground. We are looking at prefab housing, prefab bridges rather than spend months and months in construction work. We will take the help of the Army also in this because they have expertise in the area."  Top Army officials made a presentation to the ministry on what it can do in these areas, the Minister said.  "We have already taken up development activities in Narayanpur and Vijaypur. We don't want to take up on a large scale, because the Army should not be visible," Ramesh said.


Back to college

For the first time a Delhi University (DU) college has trained personnel from the military police branch of the Indian Army. The forensic science unit of Shri Guru Teg Bahadur (SGTB) Khalsa College, DU, recently completed the training of 24 military police personnel in less than three months.  "The army wishes to start its own forensic science laboratory in Bengaluru in January 2012, for which, they require trained personnel who can train others in future. The military police gets to examine cases of forgery, alleged fake encounters, fake currency, unnatural deaths, etc, and till now, refers cases to the Central Forensic Science Lab, which takes a long time to deliver reports. In order to save time and also have trained personnel for their forensic lab, the military police branch of the Indian Army approached us," says GS Sodhi, associate professor and coordinator, Forensic Science Unit, SGTB Khalsa College.  Talking about the areas covered during the training, Sodhi says that the syllabus was made relevant to what the personnel have to deal with in the field. "We covered areas like ballistics, explosives, arson, DNA documentation, forensic toxicology, poison and drug abuse, etc. The classes combined both theory and practicals. For three days a week, classes were held at SGTB Khalsa College and for two days, the personnel would go to the CBI labs and have their practical classes. They studied together with the postgraduate students of the diploma programme ," says Sodhi.  "We once created a simulation of an accident between a car and an army truck. All students were required to work together. While some students managed the crowd, some examined tyre marks, while others examined headlights , the angle of the wheel, etc. It was interesting and students learnt a lot," informs Sodhi.  Besides the faculty of Khalsa, other experts were also invited to conduct classes in fingerprinting, photography, crime scene management etc.  Vimal Rarh, head of the department of chemistry, SGTB Khalsa College, who taught computer skills for forensic science, says, "The military police personnel were very eager to learn. They came back to college after many years and yet were able to learn and apply the techniques in different situations innovatively."  Subedar Naresh Kumar from the military police who took the training, says, "I went back to a college after 25 years. It was an interesting experience. I examined documents for forgery, fake currencies, etc. The training at Khalsa College has helped me in collecting evidence, identifying a genuine document from a forged one, etc. It was a very useful session for us."


Derailed modernization: Army needs Rs 41,000 crore to make up current deficiencies

NEW DELHI: Navy and IAF may be on the modernization track, albeit much slowly than desired, but the Army seems to be floundering. The 1.13-million strong force needs as much as Rs 41,000 crore to even meet its existing shortages in equipment and ammunition.  Army has painted a grim picture in its 11th Plan (2007-2012) review, pointing at operational gaps in fields ranging from artillery, aviation, air defence and night-fighting to ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles), PGMs (precision guided munitions) and specialized tank and rifle ammunition, say sources.  Holding that the "hollowness" in ammunition and equipment is "still critical", the 11th Plan review to the defence ministry says around Rs 41,000 crore will be required "to make up current deficiencies".  "There are critical shortfalls in 'war wastage reserves' (quantity of equipment and ammunition required to fight a war) in several areas," said a source.  This when both China and Pakistan, are rapidly modernizing their forces. Incidentally, Indian Army itself has projected the remote but nevertheless plausible eventuality of a simultaneous "two-front war" in a worst-case scenario, as was first reported by TOI earlier.  But the force is nowhere near reaching its 100% operational capability, which an earlier projection held would be possible only by end of the 14th Plan in 2027.  Take, for instance, ATGMs. While "authorized holding" for these missiles is over 80,000, just about half that number is actually held by infantry, mechanized infantry and armoured corps, say sources.  Similarly, the Bofors ghost is yet to be exorcised, with the force failing to induct any new 155mm howitzers since the infamous 1980s scandal. Of the different guns in its over Rs 20,000 crore artillery modernization programme, induction of 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers worth $647 million from the US was finally slated to begin later this year. But the contract is yet to be even inked due to "technical complications".  A senior official, however, said, "Deficiencies are being made up. Defence Acquisitions Council and Cabinet Committee on Security have cleared some major contracts in recent times. It will take some time for the equipment and ammunition to reach troops on the ground."  Modernization is an ongoing process, with all forces having 30% state-of-the-art, 40% prevailing and 30% outdated technologies. "Equipment in the last 30% bracket is not can still be used if required," said another official.  Arms scandals and blacklisting of foreign armament companies, lack of a robust domestic defence-industrial base, bureaucratic bottle-necks and cumbersome procedures, however, have all contributed to a situation which is fast turning alarming.  Though Army has many more ongoing procurement projects, Navy and IAF seem to be doing a much better job of pushing their modernization programmes through MoD labyrinths. "Requisite synergy between Army and MoD's land systems acquisitions wing seems to be somewhat lacking," he said.


First woman soldier triggers debate in defence service

Mhow: Women in defence service in high posts is not a new thing. But when 35-year-old Sapper Shanti Tigga, an Indian railways employee, joined the 969 railway engineer regiment of Territorial Army (TA) in first week of October, she became the first woman soldier in the Indian Army.  DNA spoke to a selected group of veterans in Mhow for their opinion on whether women should be inducted as soldier and on an equivalent post in the Indian defence forces or not.  Most veterans are in favour of women being inducted as soldiers. However, many do not approve of woman soldiers in the fighting arms.  Lt Col Onkar Singh Dikhit (retired) of the Gurkha regiment said he was all for women joining the army at lower level too.  " When I was posted in Indo-China in the 1950s as a member of the UN Peacekeeping Mission, I had seen woman soldiers on both sides performing frontline duties. So I am also in favour of woman soldiers in the combat arms," he remarked.  Lt Gen Vijay Madan (retd) PVSM, VSM of the Gurkha regiment opined that he favoured induction of women in the non-combat arms and services. On woman being posted on fighting arms, he said as far as combat arms are concerned, he felt "we must take a look at realities of the Indian society and not rush into it with haste."  Lt Gen Sher Amir Singh (Retd), PVSM, Dogra regiment, "My daughter is an army doctor. There are many areas where women soldiers can do a wonderful job. But as far as their induction into fighting arms and support arms in the frontline areas is concerned, I would say that any step taken should be in a phased manner."  Col AP Phatak (retired) of the Corps of Signals, "Initially, they may be inducted in non combat posts but ultimate object should be to employ them in combat roles. We should not forget that Netaji's INA had a women's battalion led by Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. If he could do it at that time, why cannot we do it now?"  Lt Col I S Gill (retired) of the Corps of Signals: "Indian history is full of names of women warriors like Razia Sultana, Rani of Kittur, Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. "Inducting women as soldiers will be a bold and welcome step. However, I am not in favour of inducting women as soldiers in the combat arms because of the mindset prevailing in Indian society. Can we accept a woman prisoner of war who returns home? If we can treat her with dignity then only I'm in favour for women in combat arms too."


More Armored Recovery Vehicles for Indian Army

NEW DELHI - India's state-owned Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. (BEML) will produce an additional 204 armored recovery vehicles (ARVs) under full technology transfer from Polish company Bumar for the Indian Army's Russian-made T-72 tanks.  The order is the latest the Indian company has received from the Army since a 2003 agreement between BEML and Bumar. Deliveries of the 204 ARVs, manufactured at BEML facilities in India, will be completed in three years. The ARVs are valued at about $1.4 million each. The T-72 main battle tanks are the mainstay of the Army, and there has been a shortage of its ARVs.

No global tender was floated since the purchase was a repeat order, an Indian Defence Ministry official said.  The Army will use the ARVs for recovery and repair of damaged T-72 tanks. ARVs for Russian-made BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry vehicles with the Indian Army are using ARVs made by BEML.  The ARVs will be based on the T-72 tank hull, armed with a 12.7 mm machine gun and equipped with a crane that can lift up to 15 tons and a front-mounted stabilizing dozer blade, and main and secondary winch.



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