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Sunday, 8 April 2012

From Today's Papers - 08 Apr 2012
Avalanche buries 100 Pak soldiers in Siachen

Islamabad, April 7
A massive avalanche slammed into a Pakistan Army base in the Siachen sector close to the border with India today, burying over 100 sleeping soldiers under snow and triggering a frantic search for survivors.

The bodies of some soldiers had been pulled out of the snow, state-run Radio Pakistan quoted the army's media wing as saying. It did not say how many bodies had been recovered.

Some reports suggested that 135 to 150 soldiers had been hit by the avalanche, but these could not be independently confirmed. The rescue operation will take some time to complete, the report said.

The avalanche hit a battalion headquarters at Gyari in Siachen sector at 5.45 am. Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the media that over 100 soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry, including a Colonel, were trapped following the avalanche. "It's a very massive scale slide.

They (soldiers) are under the slide but we haven't lost hope. The rescue work is on, and we are keeping our fingers crossed," he said.

Helicopters, sniffer dogs, additional troops and teams of doctors were sent to the desolate region as the army launched a massive rescue operation.

Army officials said heavy engineering machinery had been moved by air from the garrison city of Rawalpindi to speed up the rescue work.

However, state-run Pakistan Television said rescuers were facing difficulties in moving heavy machinery to the far-flung area. — Agencies
US Navy jet crashes into apartment complex

Washington, April 7
Firefighters combed through the debris of a partially destroyed Virginia apartment complex today after a US Navy F-18 jet crashed into it, triggering a massive inferno but injuring nine persons. Virginia Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Riley stressed that some residents had still not been accounted for, though none had officially been reported missing so far.
US Navy F-18 jet fighter crashed into an apartment complex after take-off, in Virginia
US Navy F-18 jet fighter crashed into an apartment complex after take-off, in Virginia. — AFP

Part of the jet’s wreckage lay on the grass behind some buildings after emergency teams doused the area with foam to tamp down the blaze.

Authorities were still scouring through the charred wreckage of about 40 apartment units after the massive blaze ignited by the crash blew off the roofs of buildings, charring and burning top floors.

The two crew members ejected safely from the jet which hit a populated area in the eastern coastal tourist resort of Virginia Beach, officials said.

US Navy Captain Mark Weisgerber blamed a “catastrophic mechanical malfunction” for the crash. Governor Bob McDonnell told CNN officials were hoping to confirm a “Good Friday miracle,” with no loss of life.

The specifics of the mishap were still unknown, Weisgerber said, but added that it resulted in the “forced ejection” of the crew-a local student pilot in the front seat and an experienced instructor in the back. The city’s mayor William Sessoms told CNN that nine people had been injured including the pilots.

Sentara Healthcare said all but one of the seven people taken to hospital with non life-threatening injuries had been released. Only one of the pilots remained at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital. — AFP
Chinks in India’s armour
Underneath the spat over leak of the Army chief’s letter to the PM — pointing out gaps in defence equipment and preparedness — lies the much bigger debate of national security held hostage to an arcane procurement process
Dinesh Kumar

Lost in the din over the leak of a sensitive letter written by the Chief of Army Staff, General V.K. Singh, detailing certain basic deficiencies in weapon systems, are its contents that point to a grave situation fraught with adverse implications for national security.

In his letter dated March 12, the Army chief has asked the Prime Minister to “pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the Army”, while describing the state of artillery, air defence and infantry as “alarming”. Specifically, he has pointed to how the Army’s tanks are “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks”, the air defence is 97 per cent obsolete and does not give the deemed confidence to protect from the air”, the infantry lacks night-fighting capabilities and the elite Special Forces are woefully short of essential weapons.

Equally significant, General Singh has also pointed out that the “hollowness” in the system is a manifestation of the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments created by vendors. Besides, he has said, the work quality is poor and there is a “lack of urgency at all levels” on matters of national security. He concludes by stating that such shortcomings are eroding the Army’s preparedness, considering the two “inimical neighbours” (China and Pakistan) and the “reality of large land borders”.

Bofors and after

The Bofors 155 mm Howitzer gun played a crucial role in the Kargil war, but it had kicked up a huge bribe row when it was acquired in the mid-1980s. Ever since, India has not been able to acquire any major artillery gun, despite requirement. The Bofors remains a classic case of procurement hazards the Indian forces face.
                Procurement perils

In defence procurement, 13 agencies reporting to different functional heads are involved. There are, by turn, eight stages of processing, each consisting of nine to 10 approval points, with each approval point having at least three submission points.

These are serious observations and should make the government take notice. Yet, the fact is this is not the first time (and likely not the last) that a Service chief has written such a letter to or delivered a presentation on these lines to the Prime Minister (and the Defence Minister), listing deficiencies in the defence preparedness.

But we need not depend on a leaked letter alone for such information. Successive reports prepared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence (ever since it came into existence two decades ago) and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), along with answers to questions asked and tabled in Parliament, continue to detail deficiencies in military preparedness. All these reports are posted on the Internet.

One example of a critical deficiency should suffice. It is widely known in defence circles that the Army’s artillery is horribly vintage. The last time the Army acquired a major artillery gun was in the mid-1980s, when the government bought the 155 mm Bofors Howitzer that got mired in controversy over allegations of kickback. But this Howitzer, the only 155 mm gun in the inventory, forms only one portion of the artillery. All other artillery, such as the 130 mm and 105 mm guns, date back to the 1970s. In other words, the bulk of the artillery is three-four decades old! Kargil War is one recent example of the importance of artillery, more specifically the Bofors 155 mm Howitzer, which played a pivotal role in softening the Pakistani Army’s Northern Light Infantry that had set up bunkers on peaks and ridge lines on the Indian side of the LoC in the mountainous Dras, Kaksar and Batalik subsectors of Ladakh.

The Service headquarters are regarded as mere departments that have the powers to recommend, while generalist (and many times ignorant) bureaucrats with no prior understanding of the Services form the superior second-tier in the decision-making process. This often results in misgivings, turf wars, and in an “us versus them” situation that serves as an impediment to national security.

The deficiencies in India’s defence preparedness are far too many to list here. But the most disconcerting is that the world’s fourth largest armed force is continuing to struggle for basics, that too weapons that are critical for defensive (rather than offensive) deployment — ammunition, artillery guns and air defence systems, to name a few.

The state of affairs continues despite the Indian armed forces’ long history of military engagement, both internal and external. In 1999, the Indian Army managed to vacate the Pakistani Army’s intrusion in the Kargil sector after two long months of fighting and at considerable human and material cost. The sordid state of affairs at the time was reflected in then Army chief Gen V.P. Malik’s declaration at a news conference in the midst of the war that “if war is thrust upon us, we will fight with whatever we have”. Such was the state that both during and immediately after the war, India signed 129 contracts worth Rs 2,175 crore for the purchase of several basic items for the Army, including special mountain clothing, bulletproof jackets and ammunition.

Following the tabling of the report prepared by the Kargil Review Committee chaired by K. Subrahmanyam, the government set up a Group of Ministers Committee in 2000, which recommended significant reforms on issues related to India’s higher defence management system, intelligence apparatus and the border management system. Yet, these recommended reforms were clearly insufficient. For, the Army’s large-scale mobilisation aimed at attacking Pakistan immediately after the terror attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, two and a half years after the Kargil War, revealed further deficiencies.

One would have thought that 11 years on, the situation would have improved. Yet, we are still struggling with the basics that include sufficient quantities of ammunition, notwithstanding purchase or agreements for big-ticket items. These include Scorpene submarines from France; an aircraft carrier; scores of more Su-30 long-range multi-role fighters; T-90 main battle tanks; IL-78 air-to-air refuelling aircraft from Russia; airborne warning and control system (AWACS) from Israel mounted on Russian-made IL-76 aircraft; P8i maritime multi-mission aircraft; a warship (ex-USS Trenton); and C-130J Hercules aircraft from the US.

Deficiencies persist

The continued deficiencies in equipping the defence forces beg the question ‘why?’ The answer comprises a complicated set of reasons. One, there are basic flaws in India’s higher defence management system. Two, India has a severely limited military-industrial complex that necessitates buying defence equipment from abroad. Three, procurement continues to be a long and cumbersome process.

Unlike advanced western democracies, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not integrated. The Service headquarters are regarded to be mere departments that have the powers to recommend, while generalist (and many times ignorant) bureaucrats with no prior understanding of the Services form the superior second-tier in the decision-making process. This often results in misgivings, turf wars, and in an “us versus them” situation that serves as an impediment to national security.

This is not to say that the armed forces know it all. Or, that a civilian bureaucracy has no place in the MoD. The ministry without bureaucrats is unthinkable in a democracy where civilian supremacy is and must always remain paramount. Rather, what is required is the Clausewitzian dictum “of the need for overlap of knowledge and understanding between the civilian rulers (in this case the bureaucracy and politicians) and military commanders to create a near semblance execution of their aggregate responsibilities”.

Instead, what we find is that the insular armed forces have little understanding of the functioning of the government and procedures, in which bureaucrats have a longstanding experience. On the other hand, a generalist and often ignorant but attitude-laden bureaucracy has little domain knowledge of the armed forces and sometimes fails to understand the urgency and importance of the demands and requirements.

In 1997, when George Fernandes was Defence Minister, a group of bureaucrats kept delaying the purchase of much needed snow scooters for troops posted in the Siachen Glacier. An angry Fernandes despatched the bureaucrats to the Siachen base camp to get them to understand the ground realities faced by Army soldiers in the hostile high-altitude terrain. It might help if there were to be an institutionalised system whereby bureaucrats holding key positions in the MoD spent some time with armed forces formations for orientation. Likewise, defence officers need to be educated on the government’s decision-making processes.

Import reliance

Considering that India is severely limited in self-reliance, we have no option but to import. India, which has been ranking among the world’s top three importers of defence equipment for the past several years, gets 70 per cent of its weapon systems from overseas due to serious drawbacks in the country’s military-industrial complex.

India’s indigenisation capability in high-end technologies is mostly based on licensed production and technology transfer. Indigenisation efforts have mostly been confined to components and subsystems fitted on various equipments. The drawback continues despite major decisions such as permitting 100 per cent participation to the Indian private sector in the traditionally state-controlled military-industrial complex and permitting 26 per cent foreign direct investment, subject to licensing.

Procurement process

Much of the delays, which have often led to the MoD annually surrendering large sums of its capital budget (between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 crore), arise from the cumbersome procurement process.

The MoD has been consistently improving on the Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP), yet just how cumbersome is the process is gauged from the fact that 13 different agencies reporting to different functional heads are involved. There are, by turn, eight stages of processing, each consisting of nine to 10 approval points, with each approval point having at least three submission points. Even for post contract management, four different agencies are involved with very little coordination among them.

Yet, the fact remains that defence acquisition is a cross-disciplinary exercise requiring expertise in technology, military, finance, quality assurance, market research, contract management, project management, administration and policy making. Often, people involved do not have adequate training or exposure to project, procurement or contract management. Then again, technical processing in the Army’s War Establishment, which is a key procurement activity, is done by Service officers on a tenure posting that does not last more than three years. This prevents specialisation.

Advanced countries have a separate integrated defence acquisition organisation within the Defence Ministry, which brings the Service, technical, finance, quality assurance and administration elements under one accountability centre.

Big aspirations

Can a country India’s size and importance with a disputed land border stretching across hundreds of kilometres (about 4,000 km with China and about 1,000 km with Pakistan) and having aspirations of being a player in world politics afford to perennially suffer from basics like ammunition shortage?

Over the next decade, India will spend some US$ 50 billion, buying big ticket items to develop major capabilities aimed at power projection and deterrence. Yet, we have been unable to put in place certain basics — a faster and more efficient decision making process, a healthier and realistic higher defence management system, and more serious efforts at building self-reliance. Instead, what we continue to specialise in is petty politicking arising out of turf wars and bruised egos.

Is this the sum total of the wisdom of a country that prides in Chanakya’s “Arthashastra”, written long before Niccolo Machivelli’s “Prince” and perhaps even before Sun Tze’s “Art of War”?
Kathmandu:  Army Chief General V. K. Singh has described as "fables of a sick mind" the theory that two army units who moved towards Delhi without allegedly informing the government, were some sort of show of strength as he took the government to court in January. He wanted the Supreme Court to order the government to accept that he was born a year later than his records reflect. "Anyone who makes a connection needs to see a psychiatrist," he said to the newspaper, The Hindu of suggestions that the army exercise was linked to his court battle.

In the interview to the national daily, the General says that the movement of the troops was "a routine exercise."

On April 4, the Indian Express ran a story that said the government was "spooked" by the unnotified movement of the units.
General Singh tells the Hindu that questioning the motives of the army are worrying. He said anyone who joins the army takes a pledge to uphold the Constitution of India.  He says, "No other service does it. You will not find anyone else more committed to the country, to the Constitution, and to democracy."
Zardari meets army chief, Gilani ahead of India visit
Official sources said the USD 10 million US bounty for Saeed necessitated the late night meeting of the top civil and military leadership at the Governor's House in Lahore [ Images ].

Zardari is visiting India on Sunday for a day-long visit that has primarily been billed as a personal one for paying obeisance at the Sufi dargah at Ajmer, but will also see him having a lunch meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ].

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik [ Images ] and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani were also present at the meeting.

Sources at Governor's House told PTI that the president took the army chief and prime minister into confidence over his visit to India.

Presidential spokesman Faratullah Babar said the security situation was discussed during the meeting.

Babar said the president held a separate meeting with the prime minister and army chief and discussed the search and rescue operation to save the lives of at least 100 soldiers trapped in the snow after an avalanche hit Siachen on Saturday morning.

Expressing grave concern over the incident, Zardari emphasised that all resources should be employed in the search and rescue operation.
Army truck deal: BEML flouted deal, used Tatra name
NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation has come across evidence which show that manufacturers of Tatra trucks did not object to a key violation of the contract agreement between them and defence public sector unit (PSU) BEML.

The violation, of BEML allegedly using the trade name and trademark of Czech Republic-based original manufacturer of Tatra trucks, is being examined in the light of the contract agreements between the two signatories in 1997, sources said.

Among the several documents recovered during raids, CBI officials have found the document related to the 1997 contract between BEML and Tatra Sipox, in which Paragraph 11 reportedly states that BEML cannot use the trademark of Tatra. However, for so many years, BEML has been making trucks for the Army in the name of Tatra. "They (BEML) are only buying parts from Tatra, not the trucks. They assemble the trucks here in India. We will look into the whole contract and other details," said a senior CBI official.

This is the reason that agency has also asked for the documents from Tatra as well, and an LR would be sent soon, seeking further information. The agency is also planning to soon question BEML chairman VRS Natarajan.

Earlier, the agency had questioned UK-based NRI businessman Ravi Rishi for six times in connection with the Tatra deal. The CBI probe is expected to take time as voluminous documents collected from the defence ministry in connection with the Tatra deal are being studied.

In 1997, Tatra Sipox UK had signed a truck supply deal with BEML allegedly in violation of defence procurement rules which say that purchases should be done directly from original equipment manufacturers. The first agreement for supply of all-terrain trucks used for transport of soldiers, heavy machinery, missile systems etc was signed with the Czechoslovakia-based firm, Tatra, in 1986.

In 1997, BEML started procuring trucks through Tatra Sipox UK, which claims to be the marketing arm of Tatra, in which Ravi Rishi had a substantial stake. CBI has alleged that since Tatra Sipox UK was not the original manufacturer of these all-terrain trucks, the rule that defence purchases should be made from original manufacturer has also been violated.
PIL alleges communal angle to Army chief General VK Singh's age row
NEW DELHI: The row over the affairs of the Army and its equations with the government continues to turn murkier, with a PIL in the Supreme Court alleging a "communal conspiracy behind" the rejection of Army chief General VK Singh's claim for revision of his date of birth.

The PIL, filed by retired Navy chief L Ramdas, former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami, three senior former Army officials and others, say that ex-Army chief JJ Singh, currently the governor of Arunchal Pradesh, masterminded " Operation Moses" to clear the way for Lt Gen Bikram Singh to succeed Gen VK Singh.

The PIL challenging Lt Gen Bikram Singh's appointment, which has been submitted to the SC registry, has said the Arunachal governor enjoyed blessings from the highest level, and that was why the conspiracy against Gen VK Singh succeeded even when he enjoyed the sympathies of defence minister AK Antony.

The PIL does not take names, but insinuates that JJ Singh could not have succeeded without support from the highest echelons, considering that he being Arunachal governor was in no position to influence the line of succession after he retired.

Bikram Singh, who is the Army chief-designate, would not have taken the top rank in the force if the incumbent's plea for the revision of his age had been accepted: something that would have extended Gen VK Singh's tenure to May 31, 2013.

The damning charges in the PIL, including the alleged communal dimension of the "plot" to deny VK Singh an extended tenure, were confirmed by petitioner's counsel, senior lawyer Kamini Jaiswal. "It is unfortunate yet true that the present day politicians have succeeded in dividing all institutions on communal lines. The PIL has placed facts before the court and it is for the court to arrive at a conclusion and save the country," Jaiswal said.

The disclosure of the sensational charge followed the stunning allegation by VK Singh that "rogue elements in bureaucracy" concocted an impression of muscle flexing by his supporters to drive a wedge between him and the government. Explaining why a routine exercise was painted as a coercive attempt to force government's hands, the Army chief even went on to refer to a newspaper report that had blamed an unnamed Union minister of orchestrating the impression of a crisis: a first for a serving chief.

The petition arguing for scrapping Bikram Singh's appointment as chief of Army staff, harps on the role of someone at the top in determining the line of succession that favored the chief-designate. It says that there were "constant references to orders from above", while Antony would acknowledge that his hands were tied.

The petitioners claim that there were "constant reference to 'orders from above'" remains baffling. "Gen JJ Singh, despite being the chief architect of the 'line of succession', was the Arunachal governor with no direct authority over the defence minister," the PIL says, when discussing how this particular decision ensure Bikram Singh becomes the Army chief.

"Orders from above virtually gave the bureaucrats in the ministry licence to flex muscle; a series of selected leaks began to paint Gen V K Singh as a conniving officer who was desperate to gain an additional 10 months in office, either by hook or by crook," allege the petitioners.

They claim that Antony "repeatedly let it be known that though he sympathized with General VK Singh, his 'hands were tied' in the matter and that the pre-determined line of succession had to be maintained at all costs."

The petitioners have alleged Bikram Singh is facing a case in the J&K high court in an alleged case of fake encounter and that his lack of control over Indian peacekeeping force in Congo when the sex scandal broke out is still under probe, claiming that his appointment should not be approved on the same ground on which PJ Thomas was removed as the CVC.
Lt Gen Jacob's credit for 1971 win flouts Army ethos: Kuldip Singh Bajwa
CHANDIGARH: A book by Major General (Retd) Kuldip Singh Bajwa, a local war veteran, on the 'falsehoods' in the account given by Lt Gen (Retd) J F R Jacob on the Indo-Pak War 1971, has set the cat among the pigeons. It has also sparked a fierce debate in the defence circles.

Lt Gen Jacob is considered the architect of the 1971 victory against Pakistan.

In his book 'India-Pakistan War 1971, Military Triumph and Political Failure', Maj Gen Bajwa has alleged that Jacob in his two books published after the death of Field Marshal Manekshaw and Lt Gen Aurora and in an article published in a Bangladesh newspaper has blatantly claimed that he was the architect of the military campaign that led to the liberation of Bangladesh.

"The final decision on to how to conduct the operation is that of the commander alone, as is the command ethos in the Indian Army as well as other armies. A staff officer, even at pinnacle of the staff ladder, howsoever brilliant he may be, neither claims any credit for success nor earns stigma for failure," the book says.

Lt Gen Jacob, who has also served as Punjab governor, was chief of staff (COS) of Army's Eastern Command during the 1971 war. Lt Gen J S Aurora was the Army Commander of the Eastern Command, which is credited to have won the war, and Field Marshal S H F J Manekshaw was the Army Chief at that time.

Bajwa's book, however, says that the contribution of Jacob in persuading Lt Gen Niazi of Pakistan to accept the terms of the unconditional surrender must be acknowledged. But adds that by ''proclaiming himself as the architect of the victory, Jacob has denigrated Indira Gandhi, Manekshaw as well as the chiefs of the Air Force and Navy''.

The credit for winning the 1971 India-Pakistan has become the subject of a new book by a war veteran Maj Gen Kuldip Singh Bajwa. Reacting to the Maj General's version, Lt Gen Jacob sent an email to TOI saying, "Bajwa is certainly entitled to his opinion, but all those who served in HQ Eastern Command during the 1971 war will confirm that Lt Gen Aurora left operations and logistics entirely to me. Why did Aurora shred all documents, perhaps all operational assessments and orders on logistics signed by me?"

"Why did Indira Gandhi not give him (Gen Aurora) anything despite his requests to her? Gandhi was well aware of his contribution in 1971. I was promoted to raise 16 Corps. The Akalis later nominated Aurora to the RS...I do not want to say more." Jacob also clarified that his book ''Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation '' was published in 1997 when Manekshaw and Aurora were alive. "I gave copies to Manekshaw and Aurora in 1997 and they never contested anything in the book.''

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'Indian army can't run short of ammunition'
NASHIK: Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on Saturday reiterated that on the basis of his experience in his earlier stint as the nation's defence minister, he was certain that the army can never run short of ammunition and it always had sufficient stock to tackle any eventuality.

Speaking to mediapersons on the sidelines of a whirlwind tour of Nashik, the former Defense Minister Pawar said, "While ammunition is utilized in the daily exercises of the defense forces, it also has to be disposed. However, at any given time, the army has sufficient ammunition to tackle any eventuality."

Pawar's remarks came in the light of army chief General V K Singh's letter to the prime minister, asking the latter to pass suitable directions to enhance the army's preparedness. Singh's letter to the PM had pointed out that the army's tank regiments were devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks and the existing air defence systems were not in a position to effectively protect the country against enemy air attacks.

About Singh's allegation that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore for clearing a contract for trucks, Pawar said that he failed to understand why the army chief was pointing out such things after so many years. "Had he told the Centre about the offer he was made at the very same time, things would have been taken care of right then," he said.

Expressing his views about the different reports about the army's movement towards Delhi, Pawar also clarified that he was sure that India's defence forces would never indulge in anything that 'might happen in neighbouring countries'.
Army in James Bond drama
Of late the army has been continuously in the news about events reminiscent of a James Bond movie. A retired army officer has the audacity to offer a huge bribe of Rs 14 crore to the Army Chief. One would have expected the Chief to instantly push him out of the room, a course Sam Manekshaw would have undoubtedly adopted. Instead, the Chief reports the matter to the Defence Minister, does not file any complaint and curiously forgets all about the shameful incident until his recent public disclosure. The Army Chief in his confidential letter to the Prime Minister lists various deficiencies in our army’s unpreparedness to meet any external attack. This letter is leaked. Who leaked it is a typical James Bond mystery. To cap the climax, there are reports in The Indian Express of unusual troop movements giving rise to suspicions. The PM described the report as ‘alarmist’, the Defence Minister called it ‘absolutely baseless’ and the Army Chief rubbished it as ‘most stupid’. The newspaper stands by its report. And as a result of this drama unfolding daily in the print and electronic media, the world and in particular Pakistan and China, know about the nation’s state of defence. In my view, the army can never successfully stage a coup in our country. Our army is a professional body and has not been politicised. Besides, India is a large country and Indian people will never accept a military regime. Let us reflect on the demoralising effect of these happenings on our brave jawans and on the honour and dignity of the army and draw a curtain on these unseemly controversies.
No Truck With The Devil
BEML’s Tatra trucks, ‘substandard’ monopolies and yet another defence scandal
A common refrain about Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) in defence circles is as that “rogue PSU”. Now, it would be unwise to reject the moniker as the fulmination of insular armymen. The Bangalore-based public sector undertaking, it seems, has been taking the army for a ride by supplying them with “substandard” Tatra vehicles all these years—and in a brazen manner, arm-twisting and forcing its way when faced with obstacles. In this season of sensational disclosures and fabricated fears of a coup, the original issue of corruption—which triggered the ruckus—has been somehow obfuscated. Outlook has learnt that BEML is upset with Gen V.K. Singh not just for blocking the procurement of a tranche of 644 vehicles. There’s also the prospect of the PSU losing its decades-old monopoly in supplying heavy-duty Tatra trucks to the army. In the event, it seems the bribes offered to the general in the coming months would have been much more.

The army’s projected requirement for the next few years is roughly 5,000 high mobility vehicles (HMVs) and it has been recommended that procurement be initiated by inviting competitive bids from multiple vendors, instead of the single vendor system (BEML-Tatra) resorted to earlier. After Operation Parakram in 2001-02, a decision was taken to upgrade the Tatra fleet to increase their load-carrying capacities. New parameters were formulated and a request for proposal (RFP) was floated in 2010 by the weapons and equipment directorate where six vendors, namely M/s Vectra, M/s Ural, M/s Mann Force Trucks, Vehicle Factory Jabalpur, M/s Tata Motors and BEML were shortlisted for 10-tonne 6x6 vehicles. Simultaneously, a request for information was also floated for 12-tonne 8x8 vehicles to expand vendor base and trials began. The then Master General of Ordnance branch (MGO), Vinay Sharma, recommended that since trial testing is likely to take 3-5 years, procurement for 644 vehicles take place through the single vendor (BEML) as before, to meet immediate operational requirements.

“Neither Mr Ravi Rishi (above) nor Vectra Ltd have control over Tatra a.s. We’ll ask for an explanation from him on the CBI probe.”          

Documents with Outlook show that following the chief’s objections, even this had been rejected in favour of the multi-vendor route. An audit report from 2008 sheds more light on why the army is keen to get rid of BEML. In ’06, the MGO had placed an order for 490 Tatras (6x6) for Rs 254 crore with BEML. The scrutiny showed that though the other two vendors, Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland, had carried out the new modifications suggested and approved by the army, BEML had not. Yet it got the supply order, on the strong recommendation of secretary, defence production, MoD. It also discovered that though the army needed the lighter Tatra 4x4s to ferry troops, they had not been given troop carriers, but vehicles built for laying mines. “Thus vehicles not designed to carry troops had been keep BEML’s production line alive,” the ’08 report noted.

BEML chairman V.R.S. Natrajan, who has not fought shy of calling the army chief names after the CBI came knocking, has publicly admitted that it procured completely knocked down (CKD) kits from Tatra Sipox (UK) Ltd, and that the UK-based firm has been appointed by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMS)—Tatra Slovakia and Tatra Czech —to market Tatra products in India. He also said that Tatra Sipox, Tatra Cz and Tatra Sl were all owned by the same organisation, the Vectra Group, “a consortium whose majority shareholder is Ravi Rishi, an NRI entrepreneur”.

But this is what Tatra, the original Czech company, has to say through spokesman Vladimir Bystrov. “Tatra wishes to state that neither Mr Ravi Rishi nor his investment company, Vectra Ltd, have control or have ever controlled, directly or indirectly, Tatra a.s. The British company, Vectra Ltd, is a minority stakeholder in Tatra Holdings and in principle holds one of the four votes. Nonetheless, Tatra will request from Mr Rishi and Vectra Ltd an explanation of the information about any initiated investigation of him and Vectra Ltd by the Indian CBI as it relates to sales of products branded with the ‘Tatra’ name.”

On the mysterious Tatra Sipox UK, the go-between in supplying the trucks to BEML, Bystrov says, “There is no working relationship with did exist in the past dating back to over 20 years ago when Tatra was a state-owned enterprise in the former Czechoslovakia”. In April last year, a story broke out in the Czech media about a criminal complaint being registered against Tatra trucks and Ravinder Rishi for allegedly purchasing CKD kits at below production cost for his Vectra Ltd and supplying them onward to BEML, resulting in losses to the Czech firm. Though Tatra CEO Ronald Adams denied the complaint, he had in an earlier interview justified “the questionable deliveries to the Indian army on the ground that the orders saved Tatra during the depths of the economic crisis”.

Cut to August 2011. Stung by the prospect of losing its monopoly, BEML shot off a strongly worded fax to the ministry of defence insisting the army “cannot use any other vehicle except BEML Tatra”. It goes on to list a series of ‘grievances’. We reproduce sections of it, verbatim:

    “In normal parlance as per the existing purchase system the proposals of MGO for budget-linked requirements will go directly to the ministry for processing and placement of purchase order, but strangely for the first time, told to put up to Army HQ for clearance.”
    “All proposals reliably learnt have been told on file, in writing to await the outcome of trial of multi vendor tender”
    “On change of MGO with effect from August 2011 it is officially conveyed that there are no requirements for revenue (replenishment as per old norms) side vehicles which is mystery and strange”
    “The Army HQ/MGO to be advised to release the order on BEML as we have taken advance action for 1,000 vehicles production of 6x6 and 8x8 on the assurance of then MGO retired on July 2011.”

So BEML had clearly initiated more imports of the ‘substandard’ trucks without confirmed orders from the army, which under Gen V.K. Singh has indicated that it is unlikely to accept anymore.

As an officer connected with the process says, “As it is, the 2006 defence procurement procedure states that it should only be from the oem. The PSUs are now just trading conduits. So why is BEML now dictating to the MoD to force the army to somehow buy the trucks?” With skeletons tumbling out thick and fast, the battle has just begun. As the fog lifts, the full Tatra affair will come to light.
No 'c' word in Indian Army's lexicon
The dreaded 'c'-word has rarely been uttered in connection with the Indian Army because it is supposed to have inherited in full measure the professional traditions of its colonial mentors about the military being subservient to the civil authorities. Hence, the idea of a coup d'etat has always been deemed to be alien to its mindset.
That does not mean fears about what happens with distressing frequency in neighbouring Pakistan being repeated in India haven't been expressed. For instance, according to a biography of Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa written by his son, the retired commander-in-chief, as the post was known then, was appointed as India's high commissioner to Australia in 1953 to forestall such a possibility.

Cariappa did feel that "an indefinite President's rule all over the country would do us a lot of good". He said in an interview that during this period, "only such areas which may be unruly can be given in the hands of the army" and that "only after the restoration of normalcy can elections be held". This was in 1974.

A year later, the Emergency, which the enfant terrible of the time, Sanjay Gandhi, wanted to be "indefinite", was imposed. But that is another story.

What is relevant is that since Cariappa's time, all the army chiefs have stuck to the straight and narrow path of neutrality. Whether during defeat, as in 1962, or at a time of triumph, as in 1971, there hasn't been a whisper about the army nurturing political ambitions.
The latest brouhaha, therefore, would have been seen as a storm in a tea cup even if the prime minister had not called the report about supposedly suspicious troop movements in January 'alarmist'. Manmohan Singh's comment was followed by the army chief, Gen. V.K. Singh, describing the Indian Express report as 'stupid'.

To complicate matters, the Free Press Journal of Mumbai claimed that 'some time in late January the services of this newspaper were sought to be enlisted by elements hostile to the army chief for putting out a report that he could even consider the unthinkable if he did not get his way in his dispute over his actual year of birth.

Indeed, sources close to the government suggested that he had given up the idea of the unthinkable only because he had failed to enlist the support of the top army brass'.

Several factors can be held responsible for the rumpus, of which competitive journalism is one. Of the others, the government's palpable weakness because of its embroilment in various scams provides an ideal setting for rumours about a coup, for it is precisely such conditions which the armies elsewhere use to overthrow a stumbling government.

Considering that responsible columnists believed that an Arab Spring could not be ruled out in India, and even saw its first signs in Anna Hazare's movement last year, showed how conducive Delhi's hot house atmosphere was for such fanciful speculation. If an Arab Spring could be envisaged, why not a coup?
There is little doubt that the 'breaking news' syndrome - 'there are lots of people who want to make stories these days', to quote Gen. Singh - plays a crucial part in sustaining the capital's endless quest for gossip. To

return to Cariappa, when the field marshal sent an article to the Indian Express about his pet idea of an 'indefinite' President's Rule, the editor of the time, Frank Moraes, returned it saying that it would embarrass the newspaper and harm the former commander-in-chief's reputation.

Today, any newspaper or magazine or television will lap up any such article sent by a retired general. At the same time, it also has to be admitted that despite the cut-throat competition in the media world, and the eagerness with which 'experts' articulate their views in 'prime time' shows, instances of gross irresponsibility are few and far between in spite of what the irrepressible Press Council chief, Markandey Katju, may say.

But as the Niira Radia tapes showed, there are elements in the government and outside who are involved in all kinds of games. The 'leakage' of the tapes and the 'leakage' of Gen. Singh's letter to the prime minster on the army's obsolescence are evidences of insiders trying to undermine other insiders with the help of journalists during a turf war.

However, the good news is that the institutions have stood firm. There are no signs that anyone in the army wants to emulate Ayub Khan or Zia-ul Haq. The media has tried to look at the scene dispassionately even if some of them are momentarily swept off course, as during Anna Hazare's agitation last year. The judiciary, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) are acting as the guardians of a free society.

Even the bumbling government has had the sense to respond with dignity to attempts to create a mountain out of a molehill, as the prime minister's reference to the 'exalted office' of the army chief shows.

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