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Friday, 21 February 2014

From Today's Papers - 21 Feb 2014

 AFT stand on pension cases under HC lens
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 20
There may still be hope for disabled soldiers and widows whose cases have been dismissed recently by the Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) on the basis of the principles of “limitation” stating that they had approached the tribunal long after retirement. The High Court has issued notices of motion in some such matters in the last few days where the affected individuals filed writ petitions against orders of the AFT.

In a series of recent decisions by the AFT, many pensionary matters of disabled soldiers and military widows have been dismissed on the ground of delay despite the fact that last year the High Court had opined that such an approach of the Chandigarh Bench of AFT was not tenable and that pension was not a bounty.

Even the Delhi High Court had overturned many such decisions of the AFT based on Supreme Court judgments where it had been held that pension was a recurring cause of action and hence was unaffected by the concept of limitation. The Chandigarh Bench had similarly held that delay or principles of limitation would not affect matters of pension which gave rise to continuing wrongs.

Several litigants were of the opinion that most of the cases in the AFT relate to pensionary benefits and such dismissals were detrimental to the concerns of military veterans since the AFT was primarily created to redress their grievances.

In the past, many decisions of the AFT rejecting claims of pension of defence veterans have been overturned by High Courts. In the case of Maj Arvind Suhag, the Delhi High Court had termed the AFT’s narrow interpretation of war-injury pension as “unwarranted” and had stated that the “cavalier manner” in which the claim for war injury pension was rejected by the respondents was “deplorable”. While setting aside the order of the AFT, the High Court had also awarded costs of Rs 50,000 to the officer.
India, France to co-develop military equipment: Envoy
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service
 Chandigarh, February 20
Stating that Indo-French defence relations are poised to take off in a new direction, Ambassador of France to India François Richier revealed that the two countries would be co-developing and co-manufacturing new military equipment. This is a step forward from the traditional buyer-seller arrangement that the two countries have had since 1953.

“We are looking at jointly developing a new generation short-range surface-to-air missile. It is something that does not exist but both countries need this technology,” he said while interacting with The Tribune here today. A former Adviser for Strategic and Security Affairs at the Presidency of the French Republic, this is his first visit to Chandigarh since he was appointed Ambassador in October 2011.

On the much-hyped $ 10 billion deal for procuring 126 Rafale fighter jets, which has been hanging fire apparently for want of funds, the Ambassador stated he was sure that the deal would go through.

Some negotiations still needed to be done. Issues and differences that had cropped up over the setting up of a production plant for the fighter jets in India have been largely resolved and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and French manufacturer Dassault have reached an agreement, he elaborated.

France is also a major competitor for supplying 1,800 artillery guns for the Indian Army and 197 light helicopters for use in the high-altitude areas. While admitting that France has not been a key supplier of military equipment to India, Richier said the situation had been changing over the past 10 years and France was ready for transfer of technology.

On the impact of India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, a legislation that aims at providing a civil liability for nuclear damage and prompt compensation to the victims in the event of a nuclear incident, Richier said while France could not impinge on the sovereignty of the Indian Parliament, it would work and cooperate with the country within the framework of the law.
 OROP explained

ONE rank one pension implies equal pension for having served in the same rank and having rendered the same length of service. At present, the pension of armed forces personnel who have retired at different times is different even though they are similarly placed as far as rank and length of service goes. This is because after implementation of a new pay commission, the revised pension is fixed at the bottom of the new pay scale corresponding to a particular rank or grade. While those in service get annual increments and hence their pension, which is 50 per cent of the last drawn pay, increases, the pension of prior retirees remains fixed at the bottom of the scale. An officer, for example, who retired prior to 2006, when the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented, was getting lower pension that a colonel who retired after 2006 as he had the benefit of additional increments.

Judiciary on pension

    A Supreme Court ruling from 1983 states, "Pension is not a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer. It is not an ex-gratia payment, but a payment for past services rendered."
    The Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, then headed by Justice Ghanshyam Prashad, had in 2010 ruled that the state cannot lay down different criteria for grant of pension for the same rank on the basis of cut-off date of retirement. Stating that all pensioners irrespective of rank were entitled the same pension, the bench had ruled that grant of unequal pay in the same rank violated Article 14 (Equality before law) of the Constitution.

Parliamentary panel’s stance

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence had, in its report submitted in December 2001, observed that OROP had been in vogue till 1973, when the Third Pay Commission had taken an ex-parte decision to do away with this concept. While affirming the tough service conditions, high risk to life and disturbed family life in the armed forces, the report stated that if the concept of OROP had been working satisfactorily for 26 years after independence, that what was the harm in continuing with the concept now.

Excerpts from budget speech

There is still a small gap in pensions in the ranks of Sepoy and Naik and a gap in the ranks of Major and above. We also need to take care of those who served in the defence forces only for a limited number of years. Government has therefore decided to walk the last mile and close the gap for all retirees in all ranks and has accepted the principle of One Rank One Pension for the defence forces. This decision will be implemented prospectively from the financial year 2014-15. The requirement for 2014-15 is estimated at Rs 500 crore and the sum will be transfered to the Defence Pension Account in the current financial year itself.
A long battle is won for pension parity
Armed forces personnel have to be young, in keeping with their role that requires high standards of physical fitness. Therefore, unlike other government employees, they are compulsorily retired at an early age. Grant of One Rank-One Pension is considered a partial compensation for the curtailment of their service
Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)

FOR students of military history, the only significance of February 17 is that on this day in 1864, Hunley became the first submarine ever to engage and sink a warship during the American Civil War. But for Indian veterans, February 17, 2014 marks another important milestone. It was on this day the Union Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, during his presentation of the interim budget in the Parliament made an announcement of the government accepting the concept of “One Rank — One Pension” (OROP). If many veterans who were watching the live telecast wanted to reconfirm if what they heard was correct, it was understandable. They had been short-changed and their expectations had been belied so many times that hope was almost lost. Many are still not reconciled to the reality that it has actually happened.

OROP had been projected as a demand for the first time in 1982. It had been simmering since then. It was rekindled and put on the front burner and truly on the national map by the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement staring in 2008. Today almost everyone in the country is familiar with the term, though not many outside the uniform may understand its nuances. Armed forces personnel have to be young in age in keeping with their roles and tasks that require a high standard of physical fitness. Therefore, unlike all other central government employees, they are compulsorily retired at an early age. Nearly 85 per cent defence personnel retire before they reach 40 years of age. It is a big blow to a person to be thrown out of his job at an age when his financial commitments are at the peak. There is no provision for him to be absorbed in another government job till his normal age of superannuation. Nor is there any compensation worth the name. OROP is designed to partially address this issue.

What is OROP? The central pay commissions are constituted every 10 years. Every pay commission recommends enhancement of salaries keeping in view the prevailing cost of living and other relevant factors. Rise in salaries leads to an increase in pensions, which are a percentage of the salaries. The increase in pension is always applied prospectively and past pensioners are left out. This creates a gap in the emoluments of old and new pensioners and this gaps keeps widening with every successive pay commission. Since pension is a remuneration for services rendered, this is an unfair disparity between two defence pensioners that have rendered equal service and have handled the same level of responsibility. To remove this anomaly it is essential that persons retiring after rendering the same length of service and from the same rank always get the same pension. In other words, “equal service, equal rank, equal pension.” This is referred by its shortened version of “One Rank — One Pension.”

Why only the defence pensioners have been persistently demanding OROP? As already explained, this is a partial compensation for the curtailment of their service. For clarity on why it affects the defence pensioners more, an example may be in order. Let us assume there are two young men of the same age and same education. One joins the military and the other the police. Let us assume they are unable to rise above their lowest rank of sepoy and constable, respectively. Statistically, if they both survive till the age of seventy-five years, the difference in their total earnings through salary and pension is nearly Rs 47 lakh in favour of the latter. This of course does not take into account the psychological trauma the soldier suffers for losing his job when he is in his 30s, which can never be compensated.

Veterans’ war strategy

How was the present OROP battle won? When the Sixth Pay Commission report came out at the end of March 2008, it was patently damaging to the interest of the veterans. Some of us ex-servicemen got together and founded the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) to push the case with OROP as their bell-weather demand. Additionally, a separate pay commission for the armed forces and an Ex Servicemen Commission with constitutional powers to ensure the enforcement of central schemes was demanded.

Military service imposes many restrictions on one's freedom of expression. Having served for decades in military uniform, ex-servicemen were quite naturally reluctant to voice their demands in public. They, therefore, made many attempts to press for OROP through memorandums and meetings with decision makers. In April 2008, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh gave a personal audience to ex-servicemen who requested for the grant of OROP. His reply was that if the government gave OROP to defence pensioners, others would also demand it. We contended that if soldiers are kept in a government job till the age of 60 like the others, then even we would not need it. This argument was met with silence. We then cautioned the government that we would be forced to take to the public platform to voice our demand.
When we did not get a satisfactory response from the authorities, we held our first rally on April 27, 2008. Taking help from the internet, the word was spread quickly and the first rally was held simultaneously in 61 cities across India. After that many public demonstrations were held. This included a relay fast at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, lasting over four months. We gradually increased the pressure on the government. The most potent weapon in our armoury turned out to be the depositing of our medals, to which the government till date has not found any effective counter.

Simultaneously with the public demonstrations, we also kept the channels of communication open. We kept meeting Defence Minister AK Antony, regularly. These meetings proved useful in that we never felt that the doors were finally closed. We also briefed the Members of Parliament who individually were in support of OROP but towed the party line in the House. The media covered our activities widely. The issue became known and we were able to win public sympathy and support. We also kept the public shows totally disciplined and dignified.

A monumental exercise

What happens now? While OROP has been accepted in principle on the floor of the House by the government, and cannot be reversed or modified, it has not fully removed the apprehensions in the minds of the veterans. There have been too many dashed hopes along the long journey of the OROP; some hapless veterans passed away in its wait. Admittedly, there is vast diversity among the defence pensioners. Apart from the three different services of the Army, Navy and Air Force with their own peculiarities, the Army itself has 17 ranks in its hierarchical ladder and numerous different groups, categories, trades, etc. Each case requires individual handling. Considering that there are nearly 30 lakh defence pensioners, the task of working out the final details will indeed be a monumental exercise. However, the veterans have shown perseverance in their struggle and will now show patience. There are many knowledgeable veterans willing to render assistance.

We veterans are responsible people. We are disciplined, patriotic and harbour a strong loyalty to the nation. We understand the constraints of the system and do not ever make unreasonable demands. We only seek our legitimate dues. Kautilya, the legendary political strategist had told Chandragupta that the day the soldiers have to demand their dues, would be the saddest day for the empire. In fact, when the Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, came to interact with the veterans on February 14, 2014, had said that he believed the soldiers should be given their dues without their having to ask for these. One does hope all governments in future will follow this dictum.

Getting OROP sanctioned is widely considered as a great victory for the veterans. Notwithstanding the fact that we were compelled to air our demands in public as all other attempts had failed, it ran counter to our intrinsic soldierly values. The government must remain sensitive to the genuine needs of the armed forces.

The writer, a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff, is Chairman, Indian Ex Servicemen Movement

The Long Haul

    OROP had been projected as a demand for the first time in 1982. It had been simmering since then
    Attempts by ex-servicemen to press for the OROP demand through submission of memoranda and meeting the decision makers did not get a satisfactory response from the authorities
    They then took to the public platform to voice their demands and also deposited their medals with the government, while keeping in touch with the Defence Minister and Parliamentarians
    Having accepted OROP in Parliament, the decision cannot be reversed or modified
 Indian Army Southern Command delegation visiting Sri Lanka
 Feb 19, Colombo: A three-member delegation comprising Commander of the Indian Southern Command Lieutenant General Ashok Singh has arrived in Sri Lanka on a five day friendly tour.

The Indian Commander and the delegation called on Sri Lanka Army Commander Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake at Army Headquarters Wednesday (19) evening.

The Indian Commander has received a comprehensive presentation that elaborates Sri Lanka Army's present day roles as well as training modules in the newly-established Army Training Command (ARTRAC) at Diyatalawa which is identical to the ARTRAC of the Indian Army, the Army said in a statement.

The Indian delegation has provided insight to further support fine-tuning of Sri Lanka's ARTRAC since it provides training support to soldiers in all facets of development and dissemination of concepts and doctrines in the art and science of warfare.

The two commanders have discussed matters of relevance to both Armies as well as further enhancement of training slots in both organizations.

Lieutenant General Singh has also called on the Chief of Staff at Sri Lanka Air Force Headquarters, High Commissioner of India and Chief of Defence Staff.

The visiting Indian Army delegation also laid floral wreaths at the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) memorial at Sri Jayewardenepura, Battaramulla and paid their respects to the fallen officers and soldiers of the IPKF, who served in Sri Lanka fighting against the Tamil Tiger terrorists.

During IPKF operations against LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka in the period from 1987 - 1990, a total of 1,138 Indian Army personnel were killed in the north and east while fighting with the Tigers. Another 2,762 IPKF soldiers sustained injuries.

The Southern Command is one of the oldest and the largest Army units in India.
Modernising Indian Army’s Tactical-level Communications Systems – Analysis
By Gurmeet Kanwal

The MNCs manufacturing defence equipment have been rushing to India as the country is likely to spend approximately US$ 100 billion (Rs 250,000 crore) over the next ten years on defence acquisitions. This has been evident in the recently concluded DefExpo 2014.

However, most of this expenditure will be on weapons platforms like main battle tanks, 155 mm artillery, infantry combat vehicles, fighter aircraft, ships and submarines and very little on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems (C4I2SR). In fact, the modernisation of communications systems has lagged far behind that of weapons platforms, particularly in the Indian army.

While some modern frequency-hopping radio sets with integral encryption devices have been introduced into service in recent years, networked communications, which form the backbone of an effective command and control system, need substantial upgradation. The existing Plan AREN system that is designed to roll forward and keep pace with offensive operations in the plains has been in service for almost three decades and is based on outdated and bulky technologies like second generation radio relay hubs.

Requests for Information (RFI) were floated for a Tactical Communication System (TCS) for offensive operations and a Battlefield Management System (BMS) for communication at the tactical level in defensive operations a few years ago, but since then the acquisition process has meandered continuously and this has resulted in prolonged delays in introducing both these systems into service.

The new optical fibre network being laid as an alternative to the 3G spectrum surrendered by the armed forces will go a long way in providing modern land-line communications in peace stations and to limited extent up to the war-time locations of higher formation HQ. However, future communication systems will need to provide wide-band data capabilities to facilitate the real time transmission of images and battlefield video while on the move all the way down to armoured and artillery regiments and infantry battalions.

This will be done by the BMS, which will be integrated with the Army Static Communications (ASCON) system. ASCON is the backbone communication network of the army. ASCON provides voice and data links between static headquarters and those in peace-time locations. It is expected to be of modular design so that it can be upgraded as better technology becomes available. The BMS is meant for communications from the battalion headquarters forward to the companies and platoons. It will enable the Commanding Officer to enhance his situational awareness and command his battalion through a secure communications network with built-in redundancy.

The BMS system will integrate all surveillance resources available at the battalion or regiment level, including from locally launched UAVs and ground sensors. It will also provide the accurate location of all the troops and key weapons platforms as well as the location of enemy troops and terrain analysis. The BMS will also automatically receive and trans¬mit data, voice and images from mul¬tiple sources above the regiment and battalion level, including radars, cameras and laser range finders, simul¬taneously providing junior commanders on the battlefield all relevant information that has been received from the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS). The system will be based on net radio-cum-hand-held computers.

The TCS is a system that is meant for offensive operations – a mobile system that can ‘leapfrog’ forward as offensive operations progress into enemy territory. The offensive operations echelons of the ‘pivot’ or ‘holding’ Corps deployed on the international boundary and the three Strike Corps will be equipped with TCS. TCS will replace the obsolescent Plan AREN system.

It was reported on July 23, 2013, that BMS has been categorised as a ‘make India’ system by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister. This implies that the system must be designed and developed in India by domestic companies. According to the US-based Defense News, “In the months ahead, expressions of interest (EOIs) will be sent to more than a dozen Indian defence compa¬nies, private and state-owned, inviting them to participate in the program. The EOIs are likely to be sent to Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Elec¬tronics Corporation of India, Comput¬er Maintenance Corporation, ITI, domestic private-sector major Tata Power SED, Rolta India, Wipro, Larsen & Toubro, HCL, Punj Lloyd, Bharat Forge, Tata Consultancy, Info Systems and Tech Mahindra.” This will ensure that Indian companies invest in developing the required communications technology and acquire the ability to design and implement robust tactical communications systems.

MNCs with suitable technologies and the right experience to help the Indian companies should be considered for forming either a joint venture or for buying technology and assistance as system integrators. According to Defense news, “The overseas defence companies ex¬pected to compete include Israel Aero¬space Industries, Rafael and Elbit of Israel; Thales and Nexter of France; Rhode & Schwartz of Germany; BAE Systems of the UK; Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics of the US; and, Selex of Italy.” Indian companies planning to bid for these contracts must carefully evaluate the technological capabilities of these MNCs and how their systems have fared during recent combat operations, the type of experience they have in integrating tactical communications systems and whether they are likely to bring a long-term commitment to the Indian projects.

Defense News has reported further that “The government expects to select two vendors after four months of eval¬uation of the EOIs. Each of those two companies will be asked to develop four BMS prototypes for mountain, jungle, plains and desert operations. The development of the prototypes is projected to cost about $67 million with the MoD covering 80 per cent of the expense and the shortlisted domes¬tic company 20 per cent. The prototypes will be put through extensive field trials and the selected defence company will be asked to pro¬duce more than 500 systems in India for an estimated $5 billion. It will take up to three years for the final bidder to be selected before pro¬duction begins.”

Meanwhile, the acquisition process for the TCS system is also underway. Both TCS and BMS will need to be mutually compatible systems and the MNC that can supply state-of-the-art technology for both the systems at competitive prices will have a clear edge. In fact, it may be cost-effective for the MoD to award both the contracts to the same Indian company so that communications compatibility can be ensured.
India must skilfully leverage its buyer’s clout to ensure that each defence acquisition contract results in the transfer of cutting edge defence technology to Indian companies. This is necessary not only for communication systems but also for all other weapons and equipment so that the country’s technological threshold is raised by an order of magnitude.

Future defence acquisitions must be firmly rooted in joint research and development with leading MNCs, joint trials and testing and joint manufacture and marketing. The patron-client, buyer-seller relationship in arms procurement in which India had been involved in the past, with first the Soviet Union and then Russia, must be consigned to history as a sorry chapter that is best forgotten.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.
MoS Defence Visits Siachen Glacier

Amid calls for demilitarisation, Union Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh on Tuesday visited the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, to review the preparedness of the troops deployed there.

“MoS Defence Jitendra Singh visited the troops at Siachen Glacier. He was accompanied by General Officer Commanding (Fire and Fury Corps),” said a spokesperson of the Army’s Northern command based in Udhampur, Jammu.

Siachen Glacier is experiencing harsh winters and temperatures are dipping fifty degrees below the freezing point. Sources said Singh carried out an aerial survey of the entire glacier area. They said he also landed at two forward posts on the glacier and interacted with the troops. “He reviewed the operational preparedness of the troops in the hostile weather conditions in the world’s highest battlefield.”

At the Siachen base camp, Singh paid homage to the soldiers who lost their lives and laid a floral wreath at the Siachen War Memorial.

“The best of equipment, clothing and rations will continue to be provided to ensure high degree of operational preparedness of soldiers,” the minister said, while hailing the Army’s efforts in rising up to the challenges presented by the peculiar terrain and harsh weather conditions.

The minister later held a review meeting during which he was informed that although there had been no ceasefire violation in the sector in the recent past, the troops continued sensitisation and patrolling.

After over 130 of its soldiers died in an avalanche in Siachen in 2012, Pakistan’s then Army chief General Parvez Kayani had called for demilitarisation in the sector. However, India has been opposing demilitarisation of Siachen. “Any vacation of troops from Siachen is likely to make the position of Indian troops deployed further vulnerable. Besides, our claim up to the Karakoram pass, which we stopped patrolling long back, would stand weakened. Thirdly and most importantly, vacation of Siachen enhances the possibility of collusive action by Pakistan and China. It has to be kept in mind that Pakistan didn’t hesitate to share a part of Kashmir under its occupation with China as a gift for its anti-India support,” Ex-army chief General Deepak Kapoor said.

Defence spend lowest since 1962 war

The Air Force will see its funding slashed, endangering its plan to buy 126 French Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft

Beneath the bland 10 per cent rise in defence allocations in the interim Budget presented in Parliament on February 17 is the uncomfortable reality that Indian defence spending will touch a 52-year low in 2014-15, in terms of percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) -1.74 per cent of GDP this year, and 12.7 per cent of government spending. The last time defence allocation was lower was 1962, when the military got 1.5 per cent of the GDP, in keeping with the trend through the 1950s. The Chinese attack in October 1962 led to emergency imports, raising defence expenditure to 2.32 per cent that year. Since then, this year's allocation is the lowest.

Meanwhile, the US and Russia spend around four per cent of GDP on their militaries, the UK and France spend 2.3 to 2.5 per cent, Pakistan spends close to three per cent, and China declares an expenditure of slightly over two per cent, but is believed to actually spend three per cent if hidden funding is included. (BUDGET AND DEFENCE)

Ironically, India's spending cut coincides with an effort to boost capability on the China border. But while the army's modernisation budget has almost doubled, the Indian Air Force (IAF), traditionally the biggest spender on modernisation, has seen funding slashed, endangering its multi-billion-dollar plan to purchase 126 French Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

The army, raising a mountain strike corps for the Himalayan border, has received enhanced revenue funding for recruiting and salaries for some 80,000 additional soldiers. Simultaneously its capital budget will rise, from Rs 10,749 crore this year to Rs 20,661 crore in 2014-15, for buying weaponry to equip the new corps, including rifles, machine guns, artillery, helicopters and communications equipment. The cabinet had cleared Rs 64,000 crore for this, which will be required over the coming eight years.

The army has gained at the cost of the equipment-intensive IAF. While the IAF has again been given the lion's share of the capital budget, its allocation has been trimmed to Rs 31,818 crore, Rs 4,199 crore less than the current year's modernisation budget.

This will pose serious problems for the IAF's drive to seal the Rafale contract with Dassault. With the contract value is estimated at $16-20 billion, the IAF would have to pay Rs 10,000-15,000 crore as advance while signing the contract. Given the IAF's pre-committed capital expenditure, that is, instalments on equipment bought during preceding years, this year's reduced budget will make it difficult to fund such a massive payout.

Meanwhile, the IAF's burden of pre-committed payments has reduced somewhat after the ministry of defence (MoD)'s termination of the Rs 4,650-crore contract with AgustaWestland for VVIP helicopters, following corruption allegations. But heavy instalments will continue for several years from the Rs 26,000-crore purchase of ten C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft; the Rs 6,000-crore purchase of six C-130J Super Hercules transports. The IAF also faces difficult choices between a host of impending purchases; besides the Rafale, contracts are also impending for 22 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and 12 CH-47F Chinook multi-mission helicopters, together worth some Rs 12,000 crore; a Rs 15,000-18,000-crore deal for new Honeywell engines for the IAF's Jaguar strike aircraft; and the ongoing purchase of Sukhoi-30MKI and Tejas Mark I fighters that are being built and supplied by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Of the overall defence budget, the army will get about half (see chart); the IAF will get a little short of a quarter, while the navy's share reduces marginally to 15.6 per cent.

The two smaller services remain far better modernisers than the army. Both spend about two-thirds of their money on new equipment (capital expenditure). The army, which remains a manpower-intensive, low technology force, uses less than a fifth of its budget for modernisation.

Defence Minister A K Antony has not backed his frequent public exhortations for indigenisation with money. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which has long argued for at least seven per cent of the budget to boost indigenisation, will get its customary five per cent. About half of that will be used for actual research and development.

The defence allocations starkly highlight the marginal role of tri-service jointmanship. A token Rs 2,418 crore, one per cent of the defence budget, is allocated for tri-service organisations like the headquarters of the integrated defence staff (IDS) and the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC). India's only tri-service operational command, based in Port Blair, remains an outpost that is noticed more by southeast Asian countries than by New Delhi.
Mukherjee lays foundation stone of Berhampore military station
Nabagram (West Bengal), Feb 20 (ANI): President Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation stone of Berhampore Military Station at Nabagram in West Bengal today.

Speaking on the occasion, Mukherjee said that the Indian Army has a very long history of commitment and dedication in the service of the nation.

He hoped that the Berhampore Military Station will carry on this glorious tradition. He saluted the soldiers who have laid down their lives in the line of duty.

He also deeply appreciated the contribution made by the Ministry of Defence, Indian Army and the Government of West Bengal in connection with the Berhampore Military Station.

In addition, he appreciated the contribution of the local people in providing land for the Military Station. (ANI)
Pension deal for veterans

 As a parting gift that would presumably fetch some electoral returns from families of ex-servicemen and serving defence personnel, who represent a vocal vote bank in themselves, the UPA-II government has announced the acceptance of the long-pending demand for ‘one rank, one pension’ (OROP) for defence veterans. The removal of anomalies in the pension regime, caused following the Fifth and Sixth Pay Commission awards, is only fair and just. Soldiers of the same rank and same length of service should thus receive a similar quantum of pension, regardless of when they retire. Currently, those who retired before 2006 receive less than their counterparts, even their juniors, retiring later. The scheme will cost an estimated Rs.2,000 crore a year, although the interim budget has made a provision only for Rs.500 crore for the current year. While the details emerge, some scepticism over whether it truly meets the OROP concept or will only provide modified parity in pension, seems to be doing the rounds. But by and large, the decision appears set to benefit some three million defence pensioners from 2014-15. There are 2.4 million retired military personnel in India, besides widow-pensioners and others. In pitching the demand, defence personnel have long argued that they work in a sharply pyramidal system, with retirements coming early on in service unlike their civil service counterparts who serve until the age of 60. While just a few men in uniform make the cut and rise to higher positions in the services, almost every civil servant attains superannuation while at the top of the ladder. This leads to a marked difference in their pensions as well. While other grievances relating to medical and disability benefits and so on remain, OROP is a well-deserved deal for retired defence personnel.

While the concerns of veterans’ welfare are addressed, issues that India’s armed forces are confronted with on the personnel front should not be lost sight of. Just this week, the Standing Committee on Defence in a report tabled in Parliament expressed “dismay” at the shortage of personnel in the armed forces. It noted that the Army has a “record shortage” of 9,384 officers: while the authorised strength is 52,859, it is making do with 43,475 officers. Shortages face the Navy and Air Force as well. In the other ranks, the Army is short of 20,561 personnel, while the Navy is short of 1,561 officers and 11,825 sailors. The Air Force is short of 659 officers and 3,674 Airmen. Shortfalls and gaps in force levels need to be realistically assessed and addressed to meet India’s defence needs. It should also be ensured that armed forces personnel continue to get a morale boost in terms of pay, perquisites, working conditions and career prospects.

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