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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

From Today's Papers - 17 Apr 2012
No clash with HP over Annandale: Army Chief
Tribune News Service & PTI
Shimla’s Annandale ground.
ZONE OF CONTENTION: Shimla’s Annandale ground. — PTI

New Delhi, April 16
After Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal flagged the issue of the illegal occupation of Shimla’s Annandale ground by defence forces, Army Chief General VK Singh said he would speak to the CM to resolve the matter.

To further soothe frayed nerves in Shimla, the Army ordered a probe into the Press statement issued by the Western Command, wherein it had stated that the Himachal Chief Minister was acting under the pressure of forest mafia to divert a ground of strategic importance for “games and gimmick”.

PK Dhumal took strong objection to the statement again today and stuck to his stand of filing a defamation suit against the Army in case an unconditional apology was not tendered.

General VK Singh said he had already asked the Western Command Headquarters for a report on the Press statement issued by it. "They have told us they will rectify it and we have no problem with that,” the Army Chief said, adding, “I will talk to the CM (Dhumal).”

The Army Chief’s statement was followed by a formal order of an inquiry into the objectionable Press note. “With regards to Annandale land issues, the Army has instituted an inquiry into the press release issued by the HQ Western Command, which was derogatory against the state government and Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh,” the Army said late in the evening.

Earlier in the day, Dhumal took up the issue with the PM and also at the meeting on internal security where he said the Army was in illegal occupation of the 121-bigha Annandale ground since the Second World War and continues to hold control even after the lease has expired. The evacuate-Annandale movement is being led in Himachal by Dhumal’s MP-son Anurag Thakur.

Arriving for the meeting at Vigyan Bhavan today, Dhumal took up the Annandale ground issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also said he would meet the Defence Minister over the concern. Dhumal today insisted for an apology from the Army and said the allegations leveled were without basis. “Let them face the results of what they said,” he said.
47 killed as Afghan forces end Kabul siege

Kabul, April 16
Afghan forces today regained control over parts of the capital Kabul after killing all the 36 Taliban militants, some wearing burqas, who unleashed the biggest wave of coordinated suicide attacks in a decade.

The brazen 18-hour attack on the city was brought to an end this morning after militants holed up in two buildings near Parliament were killed by heavy gunfire by Afghan security forces and air assaults from NATO helicopters.

“A total of 47 persons were killed in the attacks which also left 65 wounded,” Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi told reporters here. He said the figure included 36 Taliban militants, eight Afghan security guards and three civilians.

“Some of the Taliban suicide bombers came wearing burqas and carrying flowers to their intended targets which included a number of embassies and the Parliament building, before casting it off to unleash their lethal weaponry,” he said.

For the first time, Afghan security forces took the lead in beating back the Taliban assault, a NATO spokesman said, adding that their helicopters had provided air support to obliterate some of the militant held areas.

The response of the Afghan security forces was hailed by top US commander Gen John Allen and the US ambassador to the country Ryan Crocker.

The attacks raised fears over the precarious security situation in the country as NATO prepares to withdraw the bulk of 130,000 troops from the war-torn country by the end of 2014 and hand over responsibility to the Afghan army.

The Afghan forces flushed out insurgents from the central diplomatic area and  killed the last gunman who was fighting near Parliament in the west of the city, a senior police official said.

Earlier today, residents of Kabul woke up to a second day of explosions and the crackle of gunfire as Afghan forces hit the two spots were militants were holed up overnight with heavy guns to bring an end to multiple sieges clearly designed to undermine confidence in NATO and Afghan military gains.

After the last of the militants was smoked out, silence fell on the city whose roads were littered with bullet shells. “The battle is over in Kabul... All the three places in Kabul were cleared and all the militants were killed,” Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Siddiq Seddiqi told PTI.

“The fighting ended at 7:20 Kabul time (this morning) and all the roads are open now,” he said.

Kabul and three other Afghan cities were hit by a wave of suicide attacks yesterday, with embassies and NATO bases coming under fire in what Taliban said was the start of their “spring offensive.” — PTI
BI quizzes Rishi in Tatra case

New Delhi, April 16
Vectra chairman Ravinder Rishi was today questioned by the CBI in connection with alleged irregularities in the supply Tatra all-terrain trucks as it prepares to quiz the BEML Chairman V R S Natarajan tomorrow.

The 57-year-old British national Rishi, named as an accused in CBI's FIR in alleged irregularities in purchase of the Tatra trucks, has now been quizzed seven times at the CBI headquarters here. Rishi has a substantial stake in Tatra Sipox UK. Natarajan has been asked to appear before the agency tomorrow.

The CBI has registered a case naming Rishi and unnamed officials of Defence Ministry, Army and the BEML on March 30 for alleged criminal conspiracy, cheating and relevant sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The CBI is probing alleged irregularities in assigning of supply from Czechoslovakia-based Tatra, with which the agreement was originally signed in 1986, to the Tatra-Sipox UK owned by Rishi in 1997 showing it as original equipment manufacturer and the fully-owned subsidiary of Czech company, they said.

A CBI spokesperson had said this was against the provisions of Defence Procurement Procedure for supplying the vehicles to Indian Army on the basis of the orders placed by the Ministry of Defence.

"It is further alleged that in this manner, vehicles worth thousands of crores of rupees have been supplied to the Indian Army. In continuation of the aforesaid conspiracy to cause undue benefit to the UK-based company, the unknown officials of the Defence PSU allowed change of currency from US Dollar to Euro and further by not levying the Liquidated damages, thereby causing further loss of Rs 13.27 crores," the CBI spokesperon had said.

Rishi had termed the allegations against him as unfortunate, saying the trucks were sold through public sector undertaking BEML.

He also said the charges levelled with regard to Tatra trucks by Army Chief Gen V K Singh that they were "sub-standard" and that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to clear the deal of 600 such trucks were baseless.

Natarajan has also refuted the alleged involvement of agents and lobbyists in placement of orders for the Tatra all-terrain trucks.

"In last 26 years, from 1986 onwards BEML assembled, manufactured, supplied 7,000 Tatra trucks. All of them have been done on single nomination basis, single inquiry basis".

"This type of equipment no body in world makes, because of its superior technological features. When I am the single vendor and there is no competition, there is no influence required," he had said.

The BEML chief had said that "there is no need for BEML to influence. Not a single TATRA representative has ever marketed the product (trucks)." — PTI
IAF may use basic jet to train pilots
Shubhadeep Choudhury/TNS

Bangalore, April 16
From using jets in place of propeller-driven aircraft for training the beginners, IAF may do a role reversal and use a basic trainer aircraft for intermediate jet training of fighter pilots.

The Swiss Pilatus PC-7, the turboprop aircraft chosen by the IAF for replacing the grounded HPT-32 Deepak as a basic trainer, is yet to get clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), but IAF is hoping that the deal will be cleared by the CCS sooner rather than later.

A senior official at the IAF’s Training Command here told TNS that the Swiss aircraft, a basic trainer, would double up for stage 2 training of fighter pilots before they graduated to the advanced jet trainer (AJT) Hawk. However, if the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is able to deliver the intermediate jet trainer (IJT) ‘Sitara’ to the IAF in time, it will not be necessary to use the Pilatus for intermediate jet training of fighter pilots.

The IJT was supposed to get initial operation clearance by July 2011. But HAL failed to keep the deadline. An IJT prototype also crashed near Bangalore last year, resulting in further confusion about the probable date of induction of the IJT in the IAF trainer fleet. “Pilatus PC-7 may not be a jet but it has features which will help prepare the pilots for flying a fighter jet. Of course, the pilots will train in advanced jet trainer (AJT) Hawk before they are given to flying a full-fledged fighter aircraft,” the official said.

“We have no plans for purchasing intermediate jet trainers from abroad. If IJT is not ready before the Kiran aircraft are phased out of service, we will use the Pilatus to fill up the void left by the exit of the Kiran,” the IAF official said.

The plan is a tell-tale sign of the deficiencies of training aircraft being faced by the IAF and its fear that the problem may persist. Recently, IAF officials also told the parliamentary standing committee on defence that they had requirement of 181 basic trainer aircrafts, 85 intermediate jet trainers and 106 advanced jet trainers.

Since the grounding of the propeller-driven HPT-32 in 2009, the Kiran is being used by the IAF as a basic trainer. The two-seater Kiran, also built by the HAL, is a subsonic jet trainer. Kiran jets are used for basic training of all rookie pilots. The fighter pilots do their intermediate jet training also aboard Kiran jets and then graduate to the British Hawk.
Antony urges Army to be vigilant
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New Delhi, April 16
India today strongly condemned the coordinated terrorist strikes by the Taliban in Afghanistan and said the security situation in the Af-Pak region continued to be a cause of concern to New Delhi.

Addressing the biannual army commanders’ conference here, Defence Minister A K Antony asked the top brass of the Indian Army to be vigilant and take steps keeping in view the terror attacks in Afghanistan. He, however, made it clear that India was committed to providing support and assistance to Afghanistan so that it evolved into a stable country, strengthened by pluralism and free from external interference.

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna conveyed his profound concern over the violence in the trouble-torn nation to President Hamid Karzai and the people of Afghanistan.

“Indian believes that the people of Afghanistan will have to settle issues among themselves in a civilised manner without resorting to mindless violence,’’ he said. Krishna said it was India’s earnest desire that normalcy would be restored in Afghanistan so that the country could move ahead and develop itself.

Meanwhile, Antony, in his address, also referred to the sharp increase in its defence spending by China. “We will continue to bolster our infrastructure and strengthen our capabilities along the border areas. However, our efforts are focused on safeguarding our security interests and not dictated by what other nations are doing,” he added.

On the modernisation of armed forces, the minister said the government’s endeavour was to provide the desired impetus to arming the forces in a systematic manner. “There is clearly an urgent need to achieve self-reliance in the field of critical defence equipment.’’
Certain areas need AFSPA: Army Chief

New Delhi, April 16
Amid renewed demands for the repeal of the controversial AFSPA, Army Chief Gen V K Singh today said the law was a functional requirement for the armed forces in certain areas.

"Everyone knows what our view is on this subject. It is based on functional requirement and how the Army is supposed to be in a particular area," he told reporters here when asked to comment on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). "It would be better if you ask the Home Ministry on this issue," Singh said when asked whether laws like AFSPA were required in the backdrop of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and their likely impact in India.

He said the Defence Minister had asked the armed forces to monitor the happenings in the neighbourhood as its fallout could be felt in the country someday or other. — PTI
MoD, Army Chief downplay China’s Aksai Chin move
New Delhi: Hours after reports claimed that China is attempting to establish an astronomical observatory in Aksai Chin - a remote part of J&K that Beijing occupied after the 1962 war, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Monday downplayed any threat emanating from the move to the nation’s security.

“We are aware of China’s defence spending and modernisation plan and its latest move in the Aksai Chin region. It poses no significant threat to the country,” a statement released by the MoD said.

Meanwhile, Army Chief Gen VK Singh also sought to play down reports that Beijing has dared India again by trying to legitimise its control over Aksai Chin in Ladakh.
Speaking to reporters, Gen Singh said, “Aksai Chin is at a considerable distance from the Siachin Glacier region so there is absolutely no threat to the country’s borders.”

The reaction from the MoD and the Army Chief came in the wake of reports that China is pushing Japan and South Korea to establish an astronomical observatory in Aksai Chin.

Defence analysts see the Chinese proposal for the observatory as an attempt to complicate the Aksai Chin dispute by drawing in Japan and South Korea.

Aksai Chin is a remote part of Jammu & Kashmir that Beijing occupied after the 1962 war. Pakistan ceded parts of the region to China a year later.

The East Asia Core Observatories Association (EACOA) with China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan as its members has identified Aksai Chin for the observatory after surveying several areas in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Pamirs Plateau in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

A remote area in Tibet can also be chosen as the location for the new international astronomical observatory, because of "limited clouds and vapour" but "high transparency" ideal for observation activities.

The planned observatory will enable scientists from China, Japan and South Korea to build large-scale telescopes and carry out joint research programmes, said Yao Yongqiang, chief researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A possible location for the new observatory will be in the mountains of Tibet's Ngari prefecture, at an altitude of over 5,000 metres.

As per reports, the astronomical telescopes will be installed at the Ngari observatory this year to carry out research on planetary science, star formation and gamma-ray bursts.

The Qinghai-Tibet plateau has long been a popular location for stargazers. The 13th king of ancient Tibet's Yuyuhun kingdom, who reigned from 481 to 490 AD, built an observatory in the Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan prefecture in Qinghai province.

A cosmic ray observatory has also been built in Yangbajing in Damxung county, about 90 km from Lhasa.
18 yrs after he survived encounter, Army officer returns to help village
When a project to make its people self-sufficient was inaugurated in far-flung Longdaipabram in Manipur last week, it formalised a bond between an Army officer and the village forged under the worst of circumstances in the state.

Eighteen years ago, as a young Indian Army captain, D P K Pillai, had received near fatal wounds heading a team that carried out raids in Longdaipabram. It was 1994 and the Army had just re-entered the state after being pulled out and stationed in Kashmir. The NSCN-IM had taken over entire tracts, and the Tamenglong district was one such area.

While flushing out militants in Longdaipabram, Pillai was shot six times and his left foot blown up by a grenade. He was to be airlifted when he decided to stay back, insisting that two children who were caught in the crossfire be airlifted instead. While the Captain would survive and spend the next year in hospital, Longdaipabram never forgot Pillai’s gesture — as he was to realise much later.

“Many years after that, one of my friends was stationed here. He knew I had been injured here and visited Longdaipabram. They remembered me and the village head got in touch with me. I came to meet them in March 2010 for the first time since the incident,” says Pillai, now a Colonel.

He made several repeat visits, and eventually decided to help change life of people in the village where he had seen near death. The two projects the officer has helped launch hope to make Longdaipabram self-sustaining. Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju, who was initially supposed to launch the projects, will now come on May 12 for a visit.

While one of the projects, taking the help of the National Bamboo Mission, will give villagers machines to make bamboo products, under another, villagers have been organised into a cooperative so that they can collectively own orange plantations.

Atounbo Panmei, the village headman who made that call to Pillai in 2010 re-establishing his connection with Longdaipabram, says the projects are a godsend. Tucked inside heavily forested mountains, residents of the village live hand to mouth.

Listing their problems, Panmei says: “We usually walk four hours to get to Tamenglong, which is the closest town. There is no transportation to our area. We grow rice but because of the terrain it is only enough for us to consume. We do not sell the produce. The weather is ideal to grow very sweet oranges, but we don’t have the capital to produce this on a commercial basis. Each family has a small garden with an orange tree or two for their own consumption. Most villagers are employed as labourers with the NREGS, which pays Rs 126 per day.”

The colonel has enlisted Sanjeev Nair, formerly with the National Bamboo Mission and now a principal secretary in the Uttar Pradesh government, and Aseem Narain, working with the National Mission Bamboo Applications under the Department of Science and Technology.

“We have engaged trainers to teach villagers to make two essential products — bamboo mats and agarbatti sticks. We have been working in different states in the Northeast and across the country and it has been our experience that these are the two products in great demand,” says Nair.

They have already found buyers for the agarbatti sticks, he adds, including in Thailand. “In Nagaland we started selling the bamboo mats several years ago at Rs 35. Now the market price is Rs 85, and yet there is demand.”

They plan to next teach villagers how to build more sustainable bamboo houses.

Regretting the circumstances in which the villagers live, Pillai says: “If I was in their place, even I would become an insurgent. Peace has to be an active process and not a passive one.”
Army orders probe into Annadale statement
New Delhi: With the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister taking an exception to it, Indian Army has ordered an inquiry into the "derogatory" press release issued by its Western Command Headquarters against the state government over Annadale ground ownership controversy.

Insisting that the relationship between the force and the state government is very good, Army Chief General V K Singh also said he would speak to Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P K Dhumal over the issue.
"I will talk to the Chief Minister. Ours and the Chief Minister's relationship is very good," Singh said when asked to comment on the row between Himachal Pradesh government and military over ownership of Annandale ground.

Singh said he has sought a report from the Western Command Headquarters over the statement issued by it.

"They (Western Command) have told us. They will rectify it and we have no problem with that," Singh said.

Ordering an inquiry, the Indian Army in a release said, "With regards to Annadale land issues, Army has instituted an inquiry into the Press Release issued by HQ Western Command, which was derogatory against the State Government and Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh."

The 121-bigha ground, surrounded by thick forests just 4.5 km from Shimla's Ridge, has been under the army's control since World War II.
The area has become a bone of contention between the state government and the Army amid an intensified campaign launched by Himachal Pradesh Cricket association headed by Dhumal's son and MP Anurag Thakur.

Thakur has been demanding restoration of the ground to the state authorities.

The row escalated after Army, in a statement yesterday, said national security cannot be ignored for "game and gimmicks".

After the Army's statement, Himachal Chief Minister P K Dhumal had threatened to file a defamation suit against the Army if it did not tender an unconditional apology for allegedly maligning the image of the government and him in particular.

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