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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

From Today's Papers - 10 Apr 2012
Parliamentary panel summons 3 Service chiefs
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, April 9
Worried over defence preparedness and the country’s war fighting abilities, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence today summoned the Service chiefs of the armed forces — Army Chief Gen VK Singh, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne and Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma — to appear before it on April 20 and explain if the forces are battle-ready.

This will be second time in less than 15 months that the three Chiefs will appear before a Parliamentary panel. The Murli Manohar Joshi-led Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had summoned the three chiefs in January 2011 and questioned about quality of rations for troops.

The Standing Committee on Defence is looking to take a holistic view of the word “defence preparedness” and define it. It will involve nuclear positioning, strategic positioning along side readiness of fighter aircraft, warships, submarines, choppers, tanks, artillery guns, ammunition logistic chain etc, sources said.

This involves diplomacy, international relations and even energy security in the context of relations with countries like Iran, sources said, adding that the panel will not stop at just asking the three Chiefs.

More people would be asked to come and depose. The Parliamentarians will also invite subject experts on China and Pakistan from various think-tanks to brief them about ground position.

The topic of defence preparedness has come about after the Army Chief sent off a letter to the Prime Minister discussing shortages in ammunition. The letter was leaked to the media for which the intelligence bureau is conducting a probe to establish the source of leakage. Notably, the ability of the forces to tackle a simultaneous ‘two front war” scenario - against Pakistan and China -- cropped up at today’s meeting. Sources said Congress MP from Ludhiana Manish Tewari asked the Vice Chief of the Indian Army Lt Gen SK Singh “will we be able to do justice in case we face a two front war”?

The Vice Chief, who has commanded the Leh-based 14 corps, was reportedly candid and told the panel about the Chinese war fighting doctrine. He also told the MPs the way China was expanding its military infrastructure.

The Indian defence budget this fiscal is Rs 1,93,407 Crore -- nearly $ 38.6 billion. In contrast, China’s budget is $ 106 billion.

Naresh Gujral, Akali Dal MP in Rajya Sabha, was among those who were agitated over the defence preparedness. He was informed by the Ministry of Defence officials that enough budgetary provisioning has been made for the purchase of ammunition and purchase has been fast-tracked.

The DRDO and Army official gave a green signal to the quality of the Tatra trucks. A CBI probe has been ordered into its purchase and pricing. The truck is crucial as the entire ‘cold start’ doctrine.

Meanwhile The Defence Secretary Sashi Kant Sharma told the standing committee of MPs that a newspaper report on movement of two key units of the Indian Army towards New Delhi on Jan 16-17, was ‘wrong inference’ and based on ‘conjectures’. No permission was required from the MoD for such routine exercise. The Defence Secretary described it as ‘regular exercise’, sources said. A mechanised unit from Hissar had moved toward Delhi and a unit of para-commandos based at Agra had also done the same.
India, Pak may talk terror next month
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New Delhi, April 9
India and Pakistan are discussing the dates when the Home/Interior secretaries of the two countries could meet to take up terrorism and other security related issues as part of the dialogue process between the two countries.

Indications are that the meeting will take place after the Budget session of Parliament ends in the third week of May, sources said. Pakistan had proposed mid-April for the meeting. However, New Delhi expressed its inability to send Home Secretay R K Singh to Islamabad around that time in view of the Chief Ministers' meet on internal security here on April 16.

The meeting between the Home/Interior secretaries is expected to discuss the issue of terrorism at length as was suggested by both India and Pakistan after yesterday's meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

Zardari, in fact, also told the Indian PM that the issue of Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, could also be discussed by the Home/Interior secretaries.

The two top officials could may also sign the liberalised visa agreement that India and Pakistan have finalised to make it easier for the people of the two countries to travel, especially the business community.

The sources said External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is expected to travel to Islamabad in July-August to review the progress at the end of the second round of the dialogue process, that was revived in February last year after a hiatus of more than two years in the wake of the Mumbai massacre.

Asked if the PM's proposed visit to Pakistan could also materialise by the end of the year, the sources said it all depended on concrete results emerging from the dialogue process. ''The PM has already stated that he would visit Pakistan if there is something solid to celebrate,'' they added.

The sources welcomed the Pakistan President's statement that Islamabad was looking at adopting the India-China model of bilateral relations in its ties with India so that both countries could gain economically.
Antony knew of Tatra scam in 2008: BJP
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 9
The scam in the supply of Tatra trucks to the Indian Army was brought to the notice of Defence Minister AK Antony in 2008, claimed the BJP today. BJP MP from Jabalpur Rakesh Singh said he had written a letter to the Defence Minister on May 12, 2008, alleging a scam in the purchase.

He had said that the government was procuring Tatra trucks at Rs 65 lakh each when the government-owned Vehicle Factory Jabalpur (VFJ) was offering the same trucks at Rs 30 lakh each.

“A policy was formulated that existing stallion 4x4 5/7.5-tonne vehicle manufactured at the VFJ will be replaced in a phased manner with mobility vehicles …in order to have the same mobility as that of mechanised formations. The estimated requirement of the Army is around 5,500,” he said recalling his letter.

He said the VFJ developed “high-mobility 6x6 vehicle with Ashok Leyland which was approved for induction in 2000, but the final specifications were issued only in 2007”.

According to him, he had stated in his letter that “it will not be out of place to mention here that the BEML-Tatra tie-up for heavy recovery vehicles has been under CBI investigation for non-fulfilment of indigenisation and continuing large imports”.

He had informed the Defence Minister that “Ravi Rishi (promoter of Tatra) has been a negative catalyst in the recently scrapped Eurocopter defence deal. His involvement and other nefarious events led to the same deal being re-tendered”.

The Jabalpur MP claims that the government was only helping the BEML-Tatra at the cost of the VFJ, threatening its basic existence and putting in jeopardy employment of around 4,500 employees of the factory. Antony acknowledged the receipt of his letter on May 30, 2008, he said.

The BJP claimed that the Defence Minister was not telling the truth when he claimed that he had came to know about the Tatra deal from Gen VK Singh only now. The party has demanded his sacking, accusing him of either being directly involved in the “scam” or shielding someone involved in it.
Service chiefs to explain defence preparedness to MPs on April 20
New Delhi:  The three service chiefs will meet a cross-section of MPs on April 20 to explain their troops' preparedness. Their appointment with the standing committee on Defence comes weeks after a letter from the Army Chief to the Prime Minister was leaked. The note detailed the obsolete equipment that General VK Singh said the army is saddled with.  He warned in his letter dated March 12 that the country's security is at risk.
Last week, the vice chief of staff Lt General SK Singh told the same committee that in the event of a war, ammunition to take on enemy tanks, which is meant to last 40 days, would be exhausted in less than 20 days because of poor reserves. Combined with the Army Chief's letter, this highlights the urgent need to speed up the procurement process for arms and ammunition. General Singh had written in confidence to the PM to say that air defence was "97% obsolete" and the Army's tanks are "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks."
The Opposition agreed that the leak of the Army Chief's letter was as worrying as its contents. The Intelligence Bureau has been assigned to identify the mole while the government has promised to explain what is being done to procure the equipment and ammunition needed for the defence forces.  As a starting point, Defence Minister AK Antony has said more financial powers will be transferred to the Army.
The standing committee on defence, which is headed by Congress MP Satpal Maharaj, will meet the heads of the Army, Navy and Airforce, a day after the combined commanders' conference, where the country's overall defence strategy will be analysed. 

The standing committee on defence had last week met with the vice-chief of the Army and other officials. MPs had reportedly asked for clarifications on the Indian Express report which said that in January, the Army moved tow units towards Delhi without informing the government. The newspaper claimed that movement had "spooked" the government. The Prime Minister has described the report as "alarmist" while General Singh has dismissed it as "absolutely "stupid."

Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma told the committee today that the movement of the troops was standard operating procedure; the MPs decided to close the matter.
Tatra case: CBI examines 3 senior BEML officials
Sources refuse to reveal officials names as they are neither accused nor concerned with alleged irregularities
Press Trust of India / New Delhi Apr 09, 2012, 19:28 IST

Three senior officials of the finance and vigilance wings of BEML were examined by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today regarding the case of alleged irregularities in the Tatra truck supply deal to the Army.

The three senior officials including the finance head of the BEML were asked about different aspects by CBI officials to understand the nuances of the deal, CBI sources said.
They were also asked about prima facie discrepancies which have appeared from the scrutiny of documents and questioning of Vectra chairman Ravinder Rishi by the CBI last week, they said.

The sources refused to reveal the names of the officials as they are neither accused nor concerned with the alleged irregularities, they said.

The CBI sources said it was not a questioning but an examination to clarify the finer points of the truck supply deal with Tatra Sipox UK and subsequent changes made in it over the period.

The sleuths asked from the officials the reasons for signing of contract with Tatra Sipox UK which was not the original manufacturer in 1997 and its renewal in 2003.

They also asked the rules which could have been violated in doing so and whether such an action was in accordance with the procurement rules.

They were also asked about payments modes adopted for Tatra Sipox UK and where the payments were actually going, the sources said. The officials were also asked about the changing of currency from dollar to Euro in making payments to Tatra.
Call for action against ‘coup’ scaremonger
NEW DELHI: With the government admitting that "mischief" by an insider was responsible for the scare over a routine movement of two Army units, demand for a probe into the matter is gathering momentum amid indications that the Army headquarters itself may seek an inquiry.

The issue figured in the meeting of Parliament's standing committee on defence on Monday. Asaduddin Owaissi of UPA component MIM demanded a probe for getting to the bottom of the mysterious way in which a normal military exercise on the night of January 16 was portrayed as a sinister development fraught with implications for the civilian-Army equation.

Owaisi made the pitch before defence secretary Shashikant Sharma who had to appear before the panel for the second time to clear the air over the way sections of the government cranked up a routine military movement into an extraordinary and dangerous maneuver by sections of the Army.

The UPA member's demand coincided with a similar stand taken by the BJP. "What has the government done about the mischief makers?" asked party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar. The day also saw retired Army and Navy chiefs, Gen. V P Malik and Admiral Arun Prakash, respectively, asking for a probe.

Defence secretary repeated to the House panel the government's stand: the suggestion that the army units involved in the exercise were actually flexing their muscle was based on "wrong inference" drawn from "conjectures". He also rejected the premise of panic that the concerned units did not inform the defence ministry in violation of protocol. Sharma said there was no procedure requiring units to inform MOD of routine movements.

On Sunday, minister of state for defence Pallam Raju confirmed the widespread suspicion in the top echelons of the government that it was somebody, seen as reliable, who misrepresented an exercise by a mere two units consisting of a few hundreds of soldiers as a potentially dangerous situation.

The subsequent alert saw police being directed to slow down the "advancing" columns. Although CRPF sources have denied that their elite COBRA units were deployed and a 'lookout' was mounted at railway stations, many in the government consider it frightening that insiders could precipitate such a situation.

Eventually, it took an intervention by defence minister A K Antony to quell the panic. Antony is learnt to have dismissed the alert sign hoisted by the authorities as misplaced.

Significantly, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi parried a question on Raju's statement in a TV interview.

Sections in the government seem to have come around to suspect that the artificial scare may have been scripted to prejudice the government against the Army chief, General V K Singh As it happened, January 16 was also the very day when General Singh had , in an unprecedented development, moved the Supreme Court to challenge defence ministry's rejection of his claim for the revision of his date of birth.

Several senior military officers are of the belief that the government should promptly fix responsibility and take action against those who created the unnecessary scare over routine military movements. The ``apolitical and disciplined'' Army has been ``insulted'', either because of ignorance or deliberate design, they contend.

This sentiment was also reflected in minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju's interview to a TV channel on Sunday. Raju said he would "like to read it that way", when asked if someone was trying to create mischief. "It is a possibility that people would try to cr eate a little bit of confusion in the current scenario," he said.

Former Army chief V P Malik called for an inqurity."The incident has had far reaching implications. The fact that there is so much suspicion within the government and panic is itself worrisome. Whoever spread it should be taken to task. People in the army and veterans are feeling insulted. It has affected their morale."

Another Army officer pointed out that a comprehensive inquiry was necessary to ensure that such an alert is not generated again. "When almost every day we have troop movements, why was such a scare created just on that day?"

Another former military chief , who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also supported the demand for an inquiry.``If it happened once it can happen again", he said arguing "something is seriously wrong within the system."

Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, however, is not too sure if a probe would bring out anything. "The Army is right in feeling indignant, asking for a probe. I do not know if anything would come out but I personally feel that we need to find out if someone planted the information and similarly it was also important to know how the Army chief's letter to the Prime Minister came out in the media."

A senior MoD source pointed out that when the IB warning reached Antony, he promptly dismissed it as a misinformed alert. It was at the MoD level that the seeming panic ended. When asked why the MoD has not initiated action against those responsible for creating the scare, one senior official said, "It is not our ministry." The IB, which issued the alert, comes under the home ministry.

A senior officer pointed out that the alert, over the movement of a unit each of the 50 Para Brigade from Agra and the mechanized infantry from Hisar, was reflective of the lack of appreciation for the Army's "commitment to democracy and Indian Constitution".
New Delhi, Apr 9: After the Indian Express’ exposed the Indian Army’s unnotified move towards Delhi on Jan 16 spooking the Defence ministry and the government; the Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma will have to reply to the ‘spook story’ before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence to give clarity on the issue.

Sharma will reportedly be quizzed on the controversial movement of two military units of the Indian Army on Jan 16 and also on the stunning claims made by the Army chief Gen VK Singh on the lack of army preparedness in the event of war. The Parliamentary Standing Committee will probe into all these in much detail. [Read: Army has ammunition only for 10 days in war situation!]

Along with Sharma who will depose before the committee, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff will also be expected to depose before the Parliamentary panel. Gen VK Singh, however, will be exempted from doing so.

Gen Singh had stirred a hornet’s nest when the letter written by him to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was leaked to the media that exposed the country’s defence preparedness and the present state of the Indian Army. The Defence ministry will also give a detailed explanation on the Indian Express report on the unauthorized troop movement on Jan 16 that created a furore in government circles and sparking off an army coup rumour.

The expected Standing Committee will be the second such instance where they will meet on the army row. The first meeting was held after the Indian Express expose on unauthorized troop movement. Gen Singh had called the report “baseless and defaming”.

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