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Saturday, 10 May 2014

From Today's Papers - 10 May 2014

4 hurt in fire aboard INS Ganga

Mumbai, May 9
Four persons, including two sailors, were injured in a minor fire that broke out aboard naval frigate INS Ganga this morning. The fire was reportedly caused by accumulation of gas in a chamber of the vessel where some welding work was on around 11 am.
“The (welding) gun took time to ignite and when it did, thick flames erupted from the gun,” a source said.

The four victims, two of them civilians, suffered minor eye injuries and were taken to a hospital and later discharged. There was no report of any damage to the ship or its equipment.

INS Ganga has been involved in securing the sea waters from piracy in and around the Arabian Gulf region. There have been 11 accidents involving Indian Navy ships and submarines since last August. A total of 21 officers and sailors have died in three mishaps.

Submarine Sindhuratna met with an accident February 26, 2014 when a fire onboard resulted in the death of two sailors. — Agencies
 India calls for freedom of navigation in South China Sea

New Delhi, May 9
Concerned over escalating tension between China and its neighbours over the South China Sea, India today called for freedom of navigation in the disputed sea.

“We have been following the recent developments in the South China Sea. We believe that maintenance of peace, stability, growth and prosperity in the region is of vital interest to the international community,” MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

He said India would like to see resolution of the issue through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law. “In this context, we also maintain that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea should not be impeded and call for cooperation in ensuring security of sea-lanes and strengthening of maritime security,” he said. The comments came as strains between China and its neighbours burst to surface in two parts of the sea, taking the struggle for control over the waters to new levels of friction. — TNS
Indian Army - Politicised or Criminalised?
Delhi is agog with the news that the elevation of Lt. General Dalbir Singh Suhag, Eastern Army Commander as the next Chief of Army Staff is imminent. This is despite the fact that there are allegations of serious abuse of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) under the watch of Lt. General Suhag when he was earlier General Officer Commanding III Corps with Assam, Nagaland and Manipur as the Areas of Responsibility that are covered by AFSPA. The Army entity abusing AFSPA was the Dimapur based Intelligence Unit (IU) commanded by one Colonel Shreekumar reporting directly to Lt. General Suhag.

People like us are normally not concerned about these appointments and the persons selected for these top posts because though somewhat flawed, there is a reasonably well established process through which these high positions are filled. But when 'Line of Succession', an obnoxious feudal practice was brought into play in 2012 to appoint the present COAS (General Bikram Singh) and Eastern Army Commander (Lt. General Dalbir Singh Suhag) things changed and questions were raised.

I was one among those who raised questions when in 2012 General Bikram Singh was being appointed as COAS. Some of us 'senior citizens' had pointed out the fact that there were allegations of fake encounter against Bikram Singh (as Brigade Commander in J&K, an area covered under AFSPA c) pending in the J&K High Court seeking a Commission of Inquiry. Yet the appointment was rammed through and a plea in the Supreme Court fell on deaf years! What is worse, 'doctored' papers were presented to get the PIL in SC dismissed and despite efforts through RTI Act over the last two years Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Secretariat are keeping the 'fudged file' hermetically sealed! The mainline media, print and electronic, helped in this fraud by eminently twisting and spinning facts in an extremely distorted manner.
A similar game is being played out now with the UPA Government, which is virtually on its way out, us is making desperate moves to consummate the repulsive 'line of succession' by appointing the AFSPA tainted Suhag as the COAS before it demits office in about two weeks time. And Suhag is involved in AFSPA abuse of the worst kind as would be evident from the two events briefly narrated below:

Event One was in July 2011 when Col. Shreekumar's own Second-in-Command, Major Takula Ravi Kiran, wrote to the Brigadier General Staff of III Corps stating that on the 13th of March 2010, three Manipuri boys had been abducted and shot dead by Colonel Shreekumar's outfit. Two days later, their bodies had been exhumed from a temporary grave in Rangapahar and thrown into a river. These bodies had been subsequently recovered by the Assam police on 19 March at Lakhijan in Karbi Anglong, but at the time they had no idea about who the deceased were. Despite the evidence on record with the police both HQ III Corps and Eastern Command refused to act on this crime. Spin doctors say that in March 2010 Suhag was not commanding III Corps. It is irrelevant because when the gruesome crime committed by an unit under him was brought to his notice he was very much commanding III Corps and he should have acted swiftly.

Event Two was dacoity committed by the same IU in December 2011 when Suhag was very much the III Corps Commander. An armed party of fifteen soldiers dressed in battle fatigues under the command of Captain Rubina Kaur Keer, an officer of Col Shreekumar's IU, had raided the house of one Poona Gogoi, an army contractor in Jorhat, who was away in Guwahati. But all members of the family-wife (Renu Gogoi) and three children-were manhandled and tied up. On the orders of Captain Keer soldiers forcibly took the keys of the locked cupboards and took into possession a licensed pistol with thirteen cartridges, jewelry worth Rs. 6.5 lakhs and cash adding up to 1.5 lakhs. They also took away an assortment of items that included a laptop and four mobile phones. On Poona Gogoi registering an FIR with the police station listing all the items that had been stolen., III Corps handed back the stolen pistol, most items and the cash except the jewelry and cartridges. After that Suhag told the police that the matter would be dealt with by Army authorities and that they had no further jurisdiction in the matter.

Both these serious crimes have been committed in an AFSPA covered area by the IU under Colonel Shreekumar's command. Though the Colonel had denied being part of the raiding party, the police had accessed his mobile call records which clearly established that he was constantly in touch with Captain Keer before and after the raid. Shreekumar had a virtual free hand as he reported directly to Lt. General Suhag (Corps Commander) and Lt. General Bikram Singh (Army Commander) and was involved in various nefarious activities which included the flow of narcotics and a network involving vehicle thefts in Rangia district of Assam. Despite being posted in Dimapur, Col Shreekumar was mostly seen in Delhi doing hatchet work and assisting in the conspiracies and intrigues!

The Court of Inquiry ordered by the then Eastern Army Commaned, Lt. General Bikram Singh was an eyewash and deliberately meant to protect Suhag as would be evident from the fact that it was headed only by a Brigadier rank officer. This was premeditated because being directly responsible for the IU, Suhag should have been the first person to answer for its illegal actions. The CoI was obviously orchestrated which is evident from the fact that despite clinching FIR and evidence the accused could get away on some technical ground or the other. The murder charge was also hushed up despite the fact that Major Kiran wrote again to HQ III Corps giving lucid narrative as to how the tripple-murded took place.

Despite this shielding former COAS General VK Singh, besides directing stringent action against the culprits, issued a Show Cause Notice (SCN) on 19-05-2012 to Lt. General Suhag and simultaneously placed him under a Discipline and Vigilance (DV) Ban. The SCN brought out lapses noticed by the then COAS for not handling a Unit placed under the Corps Commander's direct command in a professional and appropriate manner and also for not following up on certain other complaints sent earlier through HQ Eastern Command.

Despite this and much against Rules, MoD appointed Suhag in the acting rank of Army Commander w.e.f. 01.06.2012 even before he replied to the SCN and its detailed processing on merit. What is worse, as soon as he took over as Army Chief Bikram Singh got the DV Ban on Suhag lifted in an illegal manner. This was done without proper investigation and due application of mind only to make Lt. General Suhag a regular Army Commander against the vacancy kept unfilled for over15 days.

Though the present Eastern Army Commander (Lt. General Suhag) and COAS (General Bikram Singh), both products of the obnoxious 'Line of Succession', tried their best to hush up the whole thing the Court of Inquiry led to Court Martial. In December 2013, the Court Martial concluded its deliberations and ordered the dismissal from Service for Havildar Sandeep Thapa. Colonel Shreekumar was given a severe displeasure while Captain Rubina was given a reprimand along with Havildar Bhupen Hatimuta and Havildar Jeevan Neog who got severe reprimands.

Despite the harrowing facts narrated above, a criminal petition pending in the Guwahati High Court and Civil Appeal in the Supreme Court, MoD is proceeding with the appointment of Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag as the next Chief of the Army Staff obviously due to extraneous considerations. The recommendation of the defence ministry though will have to be approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It appears that behind the push by the UPA Government in its dying days to install Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as the next COAS, is the powerful Arms Lobby which has billions of dollars at stake.This has been brought out by Dr Subramanian Swamy's on his letter to the President requesting him to stop the UPA from hastening next Army chiefs appointment for extraneous reasons. President has sent this letter to the Prime Minister, for consideration and action. But, obviously acting under the orders of their powerful masters. MOD and the UPA spin-doctors are at it again, blatantly suppressing heinous AFSPA abuse, trivialising facts and spreading lies and canards lies that cannot stand up to the most basic scrutiny.

Sometimes the truth is a bitter pill to swallow especially when we as a nation are betrayed by our own. All the moral grandstanding comes to naught when the Army's top two officers, under the UPA and PMO's protective shield, stand accused of being accessories to murder and dacoity in the AFSPA covered areas. This blatant alleged acts weaken the very purpose of AFSPA, which is meant to protect our soldiers from false cases, and not something to be used by the top brass in pursuing an agenda of their own. Will the former Army chief, General VK Singh and his band of supporters, ridiculed and attacked by the spin doctors of the UPA, be vindicated after all.

MOD and the government, are already lying through their teeth. Lt Gen Ravi Dastane's Civil Appeal hearing in Supreme Court has been curiously shifted from 2 May to September rendering his case meaningless. The Jorhat incident is being brushed aside as being a case of a junior NCO stealing a cell phone, while Major T Kiran, the whistleblower in the Manipur killings is under virtual arrest with the Army desperately trying to get him to retract his statement.

The question is whether Army is being politicised or criminalised. If so by whom? The jury is out.
Army chief in Maldives to push dockyard project
In its dying days, the UPA government has sent India’s senior-most military officer, Army chief Gen Bikram Singh, to Maldives to convince President Abdul Gayoom on New Delhi’s willingness to construct a Rs 3,000-crore naval dockyard, which China has offered to build.

During his three-day visit to the island nation, Gen Singh, who reached Maldives on Thursday, would meet the president, defence minister and chief of the defence forces, among others.

While a number of bilateral and military issues are on the table, the underlying purpose of Gen Singh’s visit is to tilt the balance in India’s favour while discussing the dockyard project. Looking for a toehold in the strategic Indian Ocean region, China has already offered to build the dockyard, much in the same way Beijing had constructed ports at Myanmar (Sittwe), Sri Lanka (Hambantota) and Pakistan (Gwadar).

Proposed to come up on the Uthuru-Thialafalhu island, the dockyard will have space for naval ships as well as berthing slots for commercial vessels.

With an inflow of 12 lakh tourists every year, Maldives' economy is heavily dependent on tourism. But the nation, made up of 1,192 islands, did not have a proper berthing space, compelling ocean liners to go to Singapore and other South-East nations.

Since the days of Operation Cactus in 1988, the tiny island remains one of India’s key strategic allies. Indian Navy regularly conducts surveillance and does hydro-graphic tasks for Maldives.
The country has also received two Dhruv advanced light weight helicopters, one Dornier patrol aircraft and surveillance radar from India.

Besides more Dhruv choppers, Dorniers and radars, Male has sought fast-attack craft, amphibious landing craft and small arms from New Delhi, which Gen Singh would discuss with the officials, said sources.

Another demand is to train 40-60 officers of the Maldivian National Defence Force in Indian training establishments. This was discussed between the two defence ministers twice last year.

The armies of both the countries will carry out an exercise in Indian Army’s commando training establishment at Belgaum later this year, focusing on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The two have conducted four joint exercises since 2007.
Defence Ministry not in favour of CBI probe into TSD row
The Defence Ministry is understood to have disfavoured a CBI probe into the functioning of a controversial top secret intelligence unit set up by former Army Chief Gen V K Singh.

The Army Headquarters had submitted its report into the functioning of the Technical Support Division (TSD) last year and recommended a CBI probe.

The TSD was mired in a major controversy two years back after allegations that the secret unit had carried out some unauthorised operations and even tried to topple the Jammu and Kashmir government.

The Ministry is learnt to have disfavoured a CBI probe, government sources said.

The Army Headquarters had ordered a Board of Officers under former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, who prepared a detailed report into the functioning and actions of the TSD.

The report had asked the Defence Ministry to take action against the unit saying that it was allegedly involved in carrying out unauthorised operations.

Army sources said the force did not carry out a Court of Inquiry (CoI) itself as it did not want to be seen as taking action against its former chief.

The report submitted by the Bhatia-led committee had alleged that TSD was allegedly involved in "unauthorised operations" which may have taken place even across the border without the proper clearance from the higher-ups in the government.

The TSD was formed during the tenure of Gen V K Singh and its existence came to light in March 2012 when it was alleged that the unit had tapped the phones of Defence Ministry officials at the height of the controversy over the then Army Chief's date of birth.
New Army recruits attain 'Combat Soldier' status
Around 134 recruits of the 94 Recruit Course of 'The Brigade of The Guards' attained status of "Combat Soldier" at a passing out and attestation parade at the Guards Regimental Centre, Kamptee, near here today.

Lt Gen P R Shankar, VSM General Officer Commanding, Maharashtra, Gujarat & Goa Area, reviewed the parade.

The colourful ceremonial parade was presented by the young guardsmen, who are the newest addition to armed forces fraternity, a Defence release said.

Earlier, the guardsmen had undergone a strenuous 34-week training.

The guardsmen were administered the oath of allegiance and devotion to duty by the Adjutant, the release said.

As they crossed the symbolic last step in slow march to the famous 'Auld Lang Syne' tune of the band, the recruits formally attained the status of 'Combat Soldiers', ready for front line duties.
Army chief appointment issue under examination: CEC
The Election Commission today made it clear that it is yet to take a decision on the issue of next Army Chief's appointment.

"The matter is under examination," Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath told reporters here on being asked whether the poll panel has decided on the issue.

Amid strong opposition by the BJP to the government going ahead with the process of appointing the next Army Chief, Centre had referred the matter to the Election Commission, saying any decision will be taken only after getting its nod.

The matter was sent to the EC by the Defence Ministry last week though the poll panel has already said that appointments, promotions, tenders and procurements are not covered under the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing elections as well as any other election in the future.

Sources in the Commission said the poll panel will consider the matter in the light of its March 27 order that appointments, promotions, tenders and procurements of defence forces are not covered under the Model Code as well as complaints from BJP that the government was rushing with the appointment of the next Army Chief.

The BJP has contended that the next Army Chief's appointment should be left to the new government that will asusme office after the May 16 results.

Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag is the front-runner for appointment to the top post which will fall vacant on July 31 after the retirement of present Army chief Gen Bikram Singh.
British Army may allow women in frontline combat roles
Women could assume frontline combat roles in the British Army after a policy review due in 2018 was brought forward by the UK government.

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the head of the army, Sir Peter Wall, would report back by the end of the year when a person's fitness, not their gender, will be the main reason of whether a soldier can fight in battle.

Currently women can serve on the frontline, but not where the primary aim is to "close with and kill the enemy".

"I think that at a time when the Americans, the Australians, the Canadians, even the French - the Israelis of course for years - have women in their combat arms, this is something we have to look at again," Hammond told a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch here today.

"Not because there are thousands of women desperate to join the combat arms, but because the message that the Army is not fully open to women who can meet the fitness and other requirements - the message that sends to women who might be looking to join other parts of our military," he added.

The last review, held in 2010, found women would be able to meet the physical and psychological standards required for close quarters combat.

The change in rules, if accepted, will apply to the infantry and the armoured divisions, where female soldiers are not allowed to bear arms.

This would also mean that it would apply to special forces - such as the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS).

Women soldiers serve in the Special Reconnaissance Regiment but not in the SAS and the SBS.

The Ministry of Defence is required under European law to review its policy every eight years.

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