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Saturday, 4 January 2014

From Today's Papers - 04 Jan 2014

 New Delhi, January 3
As India and British-Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland get ready for a long drawn out international legal battle, the company has welcomed New Delhi’s move to appoint an arbitrator while pointing out to the Ministry of Defence that its own statement in February 2013 had said all procedures for the tender were followed.

On January 1, the Ministry of Defence had cancelled the contract it had signed in 2010 with AgustaWestland for the supply of 12 helicopters at a cost of Rs 3,600 crore for ferrying top VVIPs like the Prime Minister and the President. In the same cancellation order, the MoD said it had appointed Justice BP Jeevan Reddy as its arbitrator.

AgustaWestland in a statement issued in New Delhi said it “welcomes the appointment of an arbitrator”, saying it had requested the MoD on November 25 and December 4, 2013, for having arbitration.

The company cited the MoD’s own press release on February 14, 2013, which said the tender process has been duly followed and added it will soon propose the names of the persons for the purpose of selecting the third arbitrator by agreement of the parties.

On its part, the MoD has invoked a clause to encash the whopping 270 million Euro bank guarantee that helicopter maker AgustaWestland had paid when signing the deal. The money works out to almost Rs 1,700 crore and is close to 45 per cent of the entire Rs 3,600 crore deal

We have initiated the process to encash the bank guarantee, an MoD official said. India has so far paid almost Rs 1,160 crore as the first installment to the copter maker and the payments were ‘frozen’ in February last year. Three of the copters had already been delivered before the contract was frozen after allegations of kickbacks surfaced in February last year.

“The MoD is not going to lose any money. India will not lose any money,” a ministry source said amid concerns over the fate of the money already paid. AugustaWestland deal has bank guarantee which are in international and Indian banks.

The ministry would soon take a call on the fate of three choppers. It is unprecedented that any defence deal had been scrapped midway during the acquisition under such circumstances, they said.

India terminated with immediate effect the agreement, which was signed on February 8, 2010, on grounds of breach of “the Pre-contract Integrity Pact (PCIP) and the agreement” by the firm, the ministry had said yesterday.

Controversy over the 2010 deal for the supply of 12 helicopters for Indian VVIPs erupted in February last year with the arrest of two top officials of the firm in Italy, triggering a political storm here.
Indian army's big step in plugging gap along China border
On New Year's Day 2014, India's 1st Mountain Strike Corps has been launched, designed for mountain warfare along the border with China.

A Corps is the largest fighting formation in the Indian Army with troops usually numbering 40,000 to 60,000 directly coming under its command.

India has 13 full-fledged Corps out of which three--1, 2 and 21-- are designated as Strike Corps for an offensive against Pakistan. The new Corps allows India to plug the gap in its preparedness along the China border both in the Northern and Eastern Sectors

The eventual strength of the Corps is meant to be 80,000 troops. The Corps is currently headquartered in Ranchi in Jharkhand, but is expected to move to Panagarh in West Bengal.  The move will happen after the infrastructure needed in Bengal is developed -that includes training area, ammunition dumps, barracks and location for various units including infantry, artillery, army aviation, signals, ordnance, and supply formations.

The latest Corps of the army has a budget of 64,000 crores over seven years.  The new mountain Corps will require light artillery which can be easily airlifted to the highest mountains. Given India's painfully-slow process of weapons acquisition, empowering the Mountain Strike Corps quickly will be a big challenge

At least six C-130J aircraft of the Indian Air Force will be attached to the Corps at Panagarh. The C-130J is a versatile medium-lift transport aircraft which can transport at a time up to 200 fully-equipped soldiers from the Parachute or Special Forces regiments.
Tech majors cry foul over defence inventory project tendering
The government's ambitious project to computerise Indian Army's inventory in a phased manner could suffer more delays, with technology companies Oracle India and Infosys Ltd raising concerns about the manner in which the project has been tendered.

Over the past three months, Oracle and Infosys have written to the defence ministry alleging "preferential procurement practices" while selecting the implementation agencies for the project. The letters have also been marked to Defence Minister A K Antony and the Central Vigilance Commission.

The initiative, the Computerised Inventory Control Project, was first opened for bids in 2008 and has been tendered thrice. The current phase, the second, aims to bring Indian Army's inventory - including arms and ammunition, vehicles and fuel - to the central ordinance depot level online by using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. While the second phase was expected to cover 4,000 users, the next phase is aimed at increasing the users by four times. The current project was tipped around Rs 500 crore.

In a letter dated November 19, Oracle India had alleged that "all bids quoting Oracle ERP Solution have been rejected over last 4-5 years in all the defence ERP projects during the technical evaluation leading to the commercials of only single ERP being opened."

Financial bids of two entities, which had qualified the technical rounds, were opened last month. L&T Infotech emerged the lowest bidder, though it was competition with a leading infotech firm. Both the entities had partnered with Oracle's rival ERP firm, SAP. L&T has quoted Rs 450 crore for the project. However, the contract has not yet been awarded.

None of the firms involved - Oracle, Infosys, SAP and L&T Infotech - commented. Queries sent to the secretary of defence, R K Mathur, on Monday remained unanswered despite repeated phone calls.

The letter, seen by Business Standard, gave details of the stages at which Oracle bids were rejected for the project. It also named other projects of the various arms of the defence where Oracle had been unsuccessful in bagging a contract. "We are at a very initial stage of computerisation in Indian defence and removing the competition in ERP projects will lead to a huge loss to the exchequer," the Oracle letter added.

Infosys, which had partnered with Oracle, said in its letter it had offered "an alternative but technically compliant solution for ERP". It has requested a "re-evaluation by a freshly constituted independent board which does not have any representation from the existing evaluation committee." Oracle, too, has asked for a re-evaluation by an independent and neutral committee.

The Infosys letter, dated October 22, which was also seen by Business Standard, said, "This would offer an unbiased evaluation of the POC (proof of concept) and also clear any misgivings about any prejudice towards Infosys Ltd due to its alternate ERP product which has eventually benefitted the organisation by introducing competitiveness in an otherwise monopolistic environment."
Army's Northern Command to buy over 980 mine prodders for J&K
Northern Command has issued a global tender for procuring over 980 mine prodders, used for detection of IEDs and other explosive substances buried under ground, for its units in Jammu and Kashmir.

General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GoC-in-C) Northern Command recently issued Request for Proposal (RFP) tender for procurement of 984 mine prodders for its units operating in Northern Command theatre in J&K.

The bids are invited from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of Defence Procurement Manual 2009 or Permanent Registered Authorised Distributors of OEM, a senior officer of the Electric and Mechnical Engineers (EMA) Branch at Northern Command Headquarters said.

Mine prodders are used for detection of IEDs, mines and other explosive substances buried under ground and also used by road opening parties and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) teams deployed in counter insurgency (operations) areas in Jammu and Kashmir.
China mulls first joint military command system: Report
BEIJING: China's military plans to set up a joint operational command so that the world's biggest army could efficiently respond to a crisis, the state media reported, amidst regional tensions over the PLA flexing its muscle over contesting territorial claims.

Setting up a joint operational command system is a basic requirement in an era of information and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has launched positive pilot programmes in this regard, the ministry of national defence said.

The joint operational command system would be established "in due course", the China Daily reported.

Qoting observers, the paper said the proposed joint operational command system will result in more-coordinated and combat-capable forces to efficiently respond to a crisis.

The report comes amidst rising tensions over Beijing's territorial claims in the region.

In November, China unilaterally declared air defence rights over much of the East China Sea. Besides, China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, triggering tensions with countries like the Philippines.

The PLA is the world's largest military force, with a strength of nearly 2,285,000 personnel.

The China Daily report also comes shortly after the Japanese media said China is considering reorganising its seven military regions into five.

Each of the new military regions would create a joint operations command controlling the army, navy and air force as well as a strategic missile unit, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.

Reacting to the report, China's defence ministry said that the modernization of the PLA is not targeted at any country.

Meanwhile, experts said the PLA's structural reform is gathering pace as the country increases sophisticated technology but also faces different security challenges.

Ouyang Wei, a professor at the National Defence University of the People's Liberation Army, said a joint command system highlights unified command and information sharing across at least two different military forces.

It would help the military respond quickly to a contingency, he said, adding that "The system, which has been popular in the West for decades, is not (aimed at) starting a war, but to kill it in the cradle."

Zhao Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the center on China-US defense relations at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said the seven military regions were established in 1985, with the army as the backbone force.

China has been trying to optimise the allocation of these military regions, given that incidents are increasingly likely to happen at sea, said Zhao.

Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, said the country will give top priority to modernise its navy, including having more aircraft carriers and stronger fleets.

"China has built an iron bastion in its border regions. The major concern lies at sea," Li said.
Army road threatens Neora Valley wildlife
JALPAIGURI: After a rail link, a road - being planned by the Indian Army - is threatening the rich wildlife of north Bengal.

The road, if constructed, would pass through three major forested areas of the region - Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, Neora Valley National Park and Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary - resulting in a mammoth loss of green vegetation that will also hit the rich wildlife of the region. The road will also intersect one of the main elephant corridors of the region, the Chapramari-Panjhora-Hilajhora-Gorumara National Park corridor shrinking the routes for the elephants which they have been using conventionally since years.

The Indian Army is keen to construct this new road through Khunia More, on NH-31C in Jalpaiguri district, Kumani, Todey, Tangta, Rachella and Sikkim's Aritar for a better access to the NE state accessibility of the region keeping in mind the infrastructural development that China is carrying out on the other side of the Sino-Indian border. But what the Defence Ministry is overlooking is that the road will ensure security to the nation at the cost of the country's national treasure in the forms of lush flora, fauna and rich wildlife.

Not only this, the proposed road will cut across whole of the Neora Valley NP from east to west. Forests here area of these areas comprise the catchments and watershed of the Neora river and its tributaries. Neora river is originating from the Rachella block. It originates from Rock strata.

If the catchment of Neora river is disturbed, in near future there will be an acute scarcity of water in the towns, army establishments, and its surrounding rural areas. Besides, any disturbance in forests will hit the watershed of Teesta and catchment of Neora river which will impact the habitat of the whole of Neora Valley. This, experts feel, may lead to complete change of vegetation and extinction of many threatened, rare and endangered species of wild lives, flora and fauna.

Located in the Algara block of Kalimpong subdivision in Darjeeling district, the Neora Valley National Park is a virgin forest spread over 88 sq km area in the Himalayas ranging from 600 ft to 10600 ft. With a very thick vegetation of Oak, Sal, Rhododendron, malling bamboo and ferns, the Neora Valley proudly houses some of the endangered species of the world, including the Bengal tigers, red pandas, clouded leopards, Himalayan black bears, sloth bear, Himalayan thar, serrow, gural and several lesser cats.

Owing to the uniqueness of this forest, it has been proposed to be included under World Heritage Site.

If the proposed road is constructed, it will cut through the core area of the Neora Valley from Tangta to Zero Point in Rachella traversing a distance of some 30 kilometres taking a toll on the vegetation spread over 200 hectares. In addition to this, the road will also result in deforestation of green cover in Chapramari and Pangolakha (Sikkim).

"This will have a massive impact on the natural habitat of animals like tiger, red panda, Himalayan black bear and clouded leopard. In a world where their number is shrinking every day, Neora Valley is like a paradise for these Schedule-I animals. The Indian Army should realize this. And secondly, if the water source of the Neora river is disturbed, the entire park will be destroyed in no time. The Army officials should construct a road parallel to the proposed route bypassing the forestland. Protecting the nation's assets is also a duty of the Army," argued Mousumi Dutta, a member of Society for Preservation and Awareness of Wildlife & Nature (SPAWN).

In a meeting with the Indian Army, the forest department of West Bengal had proposed two alternative alignments to the Army for their consideration. The first one is using a route through Bagrakot, Chunabhati, Chuikhim, Lolegaon, Lava, Algarah, Pedong and Aritar. The other alternative route proposed is the one through and the other one being ---- Damdim, Gorubathan, Ambiok, Lava, Kolbong, Kolakham, Chhagey, Lingsakha and Aritar. Both these roads connect north Bengal with Sikkim but don't cut through any forest land bypasses the forest lands.

"Both these roads will avoid the forest land to reach Sikkim. Thus both the interests - national security and conservation of forest - will be secured," said N C Bahuguna, the head of forest force. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life).

According to sources, the entire stretch of both the proposed alignments already exist except for a small patch of about 2-3 km at Chhagey to Aritar which has to be constructed. The entire stretch of the road from Kolbong Chhagey to Aritar will pass through Khasmahal area without disturbing any forest areas.

The Army is yet to get NOC for the said project, but environmentalists fear that if the state fails to put pressure on the Army, they might get the required clearance.

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