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Sunday, 4 December 2011

From Today's Papers - 04 Dec 2011

Lt Gen Prakash sacked
Sukna scam Found guilty; he becomes the senior most Army officer to be dismissed Ajay Banerjee & Bijay Shankar Bora  New Delhi/Guwahati, Dec 3 An Indian Army Court has found that a former Military Secretary, Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash was guilty on three counts for his involvement in the Sukna land scam that rocked the Army in the late 2008. He has been dismissed from service making him the senior most Army officer to have faced a Court Martial and be dismissed from the service.  Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash has the right to appeal the verdict in the High Court followed by second appeal, if needed, in the Supreme Court. The Army Court has exonerated him on one of the four charges that related to pecuniary gains - financial corruption. Army Court is a body under the Army Act.  Though Gen Prakash retired in January 2010, the Army Act allows for punishment to be handed out till three years after the retirement. Hence, he now stands dismissed from service.  Military secretary (MS) is a crucial position. The MS decides on all postings and transfers of senior officers. The Court Martial held that Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash was guilty of misusing his position under the Army Act section 45; having a conduct unbecoming of his position as an officer under section 63 and an intent to defraud under section 52.  Following the court verdict, Lt Gen Prakash will not get any benefits like pension, medical facilities and provident fund. He will also lose his rank and other decorations.  When Army Chief Gen VK Singh had taken over in March 2010 he had announced a ‘clean-up’ operation, saying “we want to set our own culture right… improve the internal health of the organisation… the Army value system has to be different from the civil society”.  Earlier, another senior officer, Lieutenant General P K Rath, who was the 33 Corps Commander when the incident occurred, was court-martialled in the same case. The case dates back to 2008 and involves the transfer of the land next to the Army's 33 Corps Headquarters in Siliguri, West Bengal, to a real estate developer Dilip Agrawal.  It was Lt Gen Rath's chief of staff, the then Major General Ramesh Halgali who blew the whistle on the land transfer and objected to the NoC being granted. Maj Gen Halgali initially faced the music but was later cleared of all the charges. He was promoted as Lt General and commanded the Jallandhar-based 11 Corps.  Before the Court Martial was ordered, the Army, at the behest of Defence Minister AK Antony had ordered Court of Inquiry (CoI) in January 2010. The then Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, suggested ‘administrative action’. However, Antony put his foot down.  The CoI indicted Lt Gen Prakash for using his position to influence officers to transfer the land to the developer. It even suggested that Lt Gen Prakash should be sacked for he "became a facilitator in promoting Dilip Agarwal's business."  Being posted at the Army Headquarters New Delhi, Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash had no jurisdiction over Siliguri which is under the 33 Corps of the Eastern Command. The court of inquiry said that he took undue interest in the building project.  Lt Gen Rath had confessed to having taken the decision at Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash's behest.
The turban of the Sikhs was not an issue in the two World Wars
Staff Sergeant Baltej Singh Dhillon made history when he became the first turbaned Sikh to be admitted to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) two decades ago. However, it was not all that easy for Dhillon to gain entry into the force. In 1988, he applied to the RCMP, stirring Canada into an unprecedented controversy regarding the allowance of a turban and his right to practice his faith against what was perceived by many the symbol of Canada—the Stetson worn by the mountie or the mounted policemen.  He found himself fighting for his religious right to wear his turban and the opportunity to serve Canada, the country he chose to live in after migrating from Malaysia. Two years later, Dhillon came out victorious in his struggle and today proudly wears his turban while working in the RCMP. Over the years, Dhillon has worked to give back to his community. His efforts include volunteering at youth camps as a counsellor and lecturer. In India, as a guest of the Punjab Government, Dhillon spoke to The Tribune at the High Commission of Canada.  How does it feel to serve the RCMP?  I have been in service for 20 years now. I have been treated well…received various promotions. I have the respect of my colleagues and the people of Canada. It has been very rewarding.  Do you ever feel that you have been discriminated against in the force?  No, the RCMP strives on a daily basis to maintain a high level of awareness against racism or discrimination…any type of environment that will bring discomfort to anyone is strictly avoided. This job falls on every employee. I am also charged with managing a number of people. We ensure that we provide a harassment-free work place to everyone.  When did you migrate to Canada?  I was born and brought up in Malaysia. My family originally belongs to Pakhowal in Ludhiana District of Punjab. My father was a simple watchman. My mother raised six children. I migrated to Canada in 1983 for a better life. My father had passed away. My brother was settled there. Canada is a place which provides us freedom to practice our religion without persecution and we are treated equally as any other citizen. I have had the chance to travel to many countries. I can say without doubt that I am blessed and so is my family that we got to live in Canada.  Was it difficult for you to eke out a living in your early years in Canada?  Yes, nothing comes easy in Canada. You have to work hard and if you do that in Canada, if you apply your mind and body towards a particular goal, systems are there to ensure that you succeed.  Did you ever consider going back to Malaysia or settling in India?  No, I wish to continue coming to India only for a holiday.  I believe you were part of the panel probing the Air India Kanishka crash. How was the experience?  Yes, it was a very difficult investigation. So many innocent lives were lost in the name of revenge and freedom. That will be a black mark on the Sikh community in Canada and Canada itself. The Sikhs and Punjabis in Canada are very saddened by this. It does not comply with any of our teachings. To take any innocent life is a sin.  There is a raging controversy over the ban on Sikhs wearing turban in France. How do you look at it?  Sikhs have served in both World War I and World War II. They have been serving with their turban all over the world. I am a living example. It is the basic human right of any individual to practice the religion of his choice without persecution. So any country that says we will not allow Sikhs to wear the turban is hurting their sentiments. Sikhism was not born yesterday. We have a Sikh as the Prime Minister of India who is doing a reasonably good job.  What is the reason for your visit to India?  I was here at the invitation of the Punjab Government to attend some events in the state as a representative of Canada, including the inauguration of the Sikh heritage centre, ‘Virasat-e-Khalsa’ at Anandpur Sahib.  Did you meet Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal?  I had a meeting with the Chief Minister. He welcomed me and was quite appreciative that I was able to attend these functions on behalf of the RCMP as a representative of the Sikh community in Canada.
Sukna land scam: Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash found guilty, dismissed from service   Read more at:
New Delhi:  An Army court today found former Military Secretary Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash guilty on three counts in the 2008 Sukna land scam case. Following the court verdict, Lt General Prakash was dismissed from service.  Yesterday, the Army completed court martial proceedings against him. The court martial was held at the 51 sub-area Army station in Narengi on the outskirts of Guwahati. General Prakash has been held guilty of misusing his position under the Army Act section 45 (conduct unbecoming of his position as an officer) and section 52 (intent to defraud).  The dismissal from service with retrospective effect would mean General Avadesh Prakash will lose his rank and will not get any benefits like pension, medical facilities and provident fund. A retired officer of the Indian Army can be court martialled for offences committed while in service up to three years from his or her superannuation. General Prakash retired from service Jan 31, 2010.  General Prakash is the senior-most Indian Army officer ever to face a court martial. In January this year, another senior officer, Lieutenant General P K Rath, was court-martialled in the same case. Both the officers were indicted by a court of inquiry last year.  The case dates back to 2008 and involves the transfer of land next to the Army's 33 Corps Headquarters in Siliguri, West Bengal, to a real-estate developer.  The Army inquiry had indicted Lt Gen Prakash for using his position to influence officers to transfer the 71-acre plot of Army land to the developer.  This is what the inquiry had brought out. In May 2008, the Army wrote to the West Bengal government, stating that it wanted to acquire this land. In October 2008, Lt Gen P K Rath took over as the 33 Corps Commander and reiterated the Army's decision to buy the land.  A few days later, Lt Gen Prakash visited Chumta tea estate during his official tour to 33 Corps, and referred businessman Dilip Agarwal, who wanted to buy the land, to Lt Gen Rath.  In March 2010, 33 Corps under Lt Gen Rath granted the land to Mr Agarwal with a no-objection certificate (NoC).  The Army's inquiry had said that Lt Gen Prakash should be sacked for he "became a facilitator in promoting Dilip Agarwal's business."  Being posted at the Headquarters, Lt Gen Prakash had no jurisdiction over Siliguri. The court of inquiry said that he took undue interest in the building project.  Lt Gen Rath had confessed to having taken the decision at Lt Gen Prakash's behest. It is alleged that Lt Gen Prakash, who was in-charge of promotions at the Headquarters, promised Lt Gen Rath a plum posting.  The court martial ordered a two-year seniority loss and 15 years of loss of service for pension for Lt Gen Rath, who has service till March 2012.  An Army court had found Lt Gen Rath guilty of issuing the NoC to the builder, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and not informing the Command Headquarters about the decision.  The Army's internal report stated that his decision was "hasty and top-driven action."  It was Lt Gen Rath's chief of staff, the then Major General Ramesh Halgali who blew the whistle on the land transfer and objected to the NoC being granted.  The officer was initially rapped on the knuckles but was subsequently cleared of all charges.  The Army had earlier told the West Bengal government that this land could not be sold to any commercial developer for security reasons. The developer had falsely claimed that he was setting up an affiliate of the Mayo College in Sukna.  The court martial against Lt Gen Prakash was ordered by the then Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, in February last year under pressure from the Defence Ministry. (With agency inputs)   Read more at:
Indian Polo Team beats British Army Team 7-3
The Indian PoloTeam, comprising only of Sikh players and called Sherdils (The Lionhearts), beat the British Army team 7-3 in the Second Saragarhi Challenge Cup 2011 held at the Jaipur Polo Grounds. New Delhi, India. 3rd December 2011
The Indian PoloTeam, comprising only Sikh players and called Sherdils (The Lionhearts), beat the British Army team 7-3 in the Second Saragarhi Challenge Cup 2011 held today at the Jaipur Polo Grounds in New Delhi. Indian skipper Col. Navjit Singh Sandhu scored three goals while his counterpart in the British Army team, Captain Ben Vestey, scored two. The British team had narrowly beaten the Sherdils 5-4 at the inaugural match in London last year.  The Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Preneet Kaur was the chief guest at the event and gave away the trophy to the triumphant Sherdils.  The cup is dedicated to the memory of the 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment who laid down their lives in The Battle of Saragarhi on 12th September 1897. Against overwhelming odds, the 21 Sikh soldiers held back an attacking force of more than 10000 Afghan and tribal insurgents and killed 600 while fighting to the last man. This battle finds a place as one of the eight stories of epic heroism published by UNESCO and is often compared to the battle of Thermopylae where a small Greek force faced a large Persian army of Xerxes in 480 BC.
Varun Gandhi among MPs at Indian Army exercise
New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) Members of parliament, including Bharatiya Janata Party's Varun Gandhi, all part of a parliamentary committee on defence, Saturday got an opportunity to witness one of Indian Army's largest war games in the Rajasthan desert close to the borders with Pakistan.  The army took the group of MPs, numbering nine, representing various parties in parliament to Rajasthan and gave them an opportunity to take a closer look at its capabilities to wage a quick, short war to bulldoze through enemy defences with use of its battle tanks such as Russian-origin T-90s and infantry combat vehicles such as the Russian BMP-II, along with 50,000 troops in the desert terrain.  But, the army's original plan to have young MPs, including Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, for the exercise, did not materialise, as the defence ministry had shot down the proposal last month.  Called 'Sudarshan Shakti' and held under the aegis of the Pune-based Southern Army Command, the exercise is an effort to get the Bhopal-based 21 'Strike' Corps, a potent battle arm of the Indian Army, fighting fit in winter conditions.  The exercise also witnessed participation of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) combat planes, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles under the Gandhinagar-based South-Western Air Command, in support of the army troops and machines, and as part of its own exercise 'Maha Gajraj'  'The MPs, on arrival from Delhi, were taken to the exercise location where the Southern Army Commander Lt.Gen. A.K. Singh provided them an overview of the Southern theatre. The Strike Corps Commander, Lt.Gen. Sanjeev Langer apprised the MPs about the various aspects of the exercise. The MPs were then given a tour of the command and control set-up of the Sudarshan Chakra Corps, besides a glimpse of the hi-tech equipment on display,' a defence ministry spokesperson from Jodhpur in Rajasthan said.  The MPs witnessed manoeuvres by the troops and tanks of Southern Army across a formidable obstacle in conjunction with the air force effort. The MPs also gained first-hand experience by visiting the operational tactical level units to understand the nuances of their operational level activities and interact with troops.
India seeks to prevent skirmishes with China on high seas
NEW DELHI: With both India and China in the hunt for the same strategic space in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), New Delhi would like a Cold War-style of mechanism to ensure the competition does not escalate into conflict on the high seas, Indian media reported on Saturday.  The protocol to prevent skirmishes at sea could mirror the new Sino-Indian land border mechanism to prevent flare-ups along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, which would have been finalized in November if the Dalai Lama episode had not derailed talks between national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo.  "An arrangement, like the hotline between DGMOs of armies, for tackling incidents at sea does make sense," said Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma in the run-up to Navy Day on Sunday. The government is considering such a protocol, especially with countries with which "misunderstandings" can erupt, he added.  India and Pakistan have a two-decade-old agreement that holds their warships and submarines will stay three nautical miles apart from each other to "avoid any accident while operating in international waters".  While de-escalatory mechanisms with China are required, India needs to keep its powder dry for all eventualities in the future. Towards this end, "a brand new multi-dimensional Navy" with "reach and sustainability" is in the offing with over 150 warships and close to 600 fighters, maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters and drones, said Admiral Verma.  India has 132 warships (including 50 "major combatants" and 14 ageing submarines), 80 aircraft, 122 helicopters and 14 UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) but many of them are slated for progressive retirement.  "We already have 49 new ships and submarines on order, 45 of them at Indian shipyards," said Admiral Verma. The Navy’s acquisition projects and plans in the pipeline, in fact, add up to well over Rs 3,00,000 crore over the next 15 years, as was first reported by TOI earlier.  The current stark military asymmetry with China, however, can be gauged from the fact that People’s Liberation Army (Navy) has over 75 "principal combatants", 55 large and medium amphibious ships, 85 missile-equipped smaller warships and over 60 submarines, a dozen of them nuclear ones.  Then, its new JIN-class nuclear-powered submarines are being armed with the 7,400-km range JL-2 ballistic missiles, even as its DF-21D missiles meant to target aircraft carriers and other big warships is now close to becoming operational.  While there is concern over all this, India too is modernizing its own armed forces. "We have a good growth curve... There should be a greater sense of confidence in what you have," said Indian Navy chief.  India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant, which was "launched" at Vizag in July, 2009, is by and large on track. "It will be ready for sea trials hopefully in a few months," he said.  Once the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant is ready for "deterrent patrols" armed with nuclear-tipped missiles, India will achieve its long-standing aim to have an operational nuclear weapon triad - the capability to fire nukes from land, air and sea.
Army prepared to meet any external threat: Lt Gen Choudhury
Talwara (Punjab), Dec 3 (PTI) The Indian Army is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to meet any external threat, a top army officer said here. "We are well equipped to meet any external aggression ...whether recruitment, upgradation or modernisation of armed forces, it is a continuous process and we are equipped with state-of-the-art technology to meet any external threat," said Lt General A K Roy Choudhury, GOC of Rising Star Corps. Interacting with mediapersons after inaugurating an Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) Polyclinic, he said ECHS has come a long way since its inception in April 2003 in providing medicare to as many as 1.60 lakh ex-servicemen.
Remove AFSPA but don't demonise army: Mehbooba
By IANS,  New Delhi: Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti Saturday said the security forces had done a "commendable job" against terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and they should not be made to feel as if they were being pushed away by calling for the removal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).  "We also want the black law to go. It is an article of faith for us. Security forces have done a commendable job. Give them an honourable exit. Don't make them feel that you are pushing them away," Mufti told reporters here, on the sidelines of the Hindustan Times Leadership summit.  She said she was opposed to the way Chief Minister Omar Abdullah handled the situation on the removal of the AFSPA, that gives sweeping powers to the armed forces fighting insurgency.  "He did it in a haphazard manner that took by surprise everyone including the army," Mufti said.  The law has come under severe criticism from human rights activists and many political parties who allege that it was being misused in the name of collateral damage to civilian lives and properties by the Indian Army.  Abdullah has been advocating the removal of the law from selected districts of Jammu and Kashmir where militancy has been brought down considerably. Mufti called it a joke on the people of the state.  "Omar's call for the AFSPA removal is a joke on the people of Jammu and Kashmir. He is demanding the removal from the areas where the army is not even operating. What good it would do to the people," she said.  "We need to have a general consensus on the removal of the act for good."  She added that the chief minister was using the revocation of the controversial act as a "diversionary tactic" to divert the attention "from misgovernance and the rot and corruption coming from within the (Abdullah) family".  Earlier she addressed the summit along with her rival and union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah and Pakistani politician Asfandyar Wali Khan on "Settling Disputes for a Common Cause".  Reading out from a prepared speech, she said reducing trust deficit between the people of the state and rest of India could be an important step towards settling the Jammu and Kashmir issue.  She said India needed to reform its politics in the same manner as it reformed its economy in 1991.  "We need to do with politics what was was done to economy in 1991. Get rid of the past," she said.  She said Kashmir policies should not be drawn just with strategic concerns but keeping in mind values of democracy, freedom and rights.  "We need to accept that Kashmir is a problem. Peace is not a mere byproduct of India-Pakistan good ties. Subcontinental peace process has to walk on two legs - resolution of Kashmir issue and good relations between India and Pakistan."  Khan echoed the sentiment. He said change in stated positions of political parties was required to move in the direction of settling the Kashmir dispute.  Abdullah, the chief of the ruling National Conference in the state, said India and Pakistan both needed to give up their claims on the parts of Kashmir ruled by the other.  "Pakistan has to accept the reality" that people of Jammu and Kashmir acceded "with their own will" to Mahatma Gandhi's India where all Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs had equal right to vote."  "Pakistan-occupied Kashmir also cannot be brought back. We are just not ready to accept the reality," he said.  "Enough blood has been shed, enough hatred has been there. Let's work on a new chapter now," he said.

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