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Monday, 2 May 2016

From Today's Papers - 02 May 2016

Air Force steps in to douse Uttarakhand’s forest fires
Tribune News Service

Dehradun/New Delhi, May 1

As the raging forest fires continue to engulf vast swathes of land across Uttarakhand, the Indian Air Force today began operations to control the situation even as the Centre said it was taking the incident “very seriously” with all possible firefighting measures.

An Mi-17 chopper made several sorties in Nainital district sprinkling water lifted from a lake to douse the raging forest fires in Almakhan, Kilbari and Nalena areas. Low visibility, however, prevented a second chopper from being deployed in Pauri district for the operations in the hill state. The forest fires have so far killed seven persons, destroyed 2,269 hectares of forested land and spread to sparsely populated remote hill areas.

Teams of the specialised National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), meanwhile, have fanned out in 13 affected areas of three districts of Pauri Garhwal, Almora and Chamoli to tackle the massive blaze.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the situation and held discussions with the Uttarakhand Government officials. He also offered all assistance from the Centre.

“With choppers pressed into service and all security agencies, besides locals, involved in firefighting operations, the situation is likely to be brought under control in a couple of days, Principal Conservator of Forest (PCF) BP Gupta said.

With the MeT Department predicting a significant fall in day temperatures after May 2, forest fires may come under control after a couple of days, he said, but added that the administration will have to remain alert for the next 35 days to prevent fresh forest fire incidents. Since the beginning of the forest fire season in the state in February, 922 incidents have occurred so far.

Forest fires are natural during summer but this time they have occurred on a bigger scale as the fire season, which normally begins by February 15 and ends by June 15, started early on February 2. (with PTI inputs)
Dad died in Kargil, she wants to make peace
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh/Jalandhar, May 1
Jalandhar teenager Gurmehar Kaur was just two when she lost her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, who made the supreme sacrifice during the 1999 Kargil war. Now, she is telling her story through a four-minute video on YouTube, but without uttering a word.

She simply holds up a succession of placards revealing her experiences and conveying her powerful message for peace between India and Pakistan.

The video has been produced and shared by Ram Subramanian, the Mumbai-based founder of #ProfileForPeace, a hashtag campaign that has gone viral on social media.

In a style reminiscent of silent movies, Gurmehar recalls "how much I hated Pakistan and Pakistanis because they killed my dad. I used to hate Muslims too, because I thought that all Muslims are Pakistanis".

She remembers, "When I was six, I tried to stab a lady in a burqa because for some strange reason I thought she was responsible for my father's death. My mother (posted as an ETO) held me back and made me understand that Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him. It took me a while to know, but today I do, I have learnt to let go of my hate."

Gurmehar goes on to boldly question "the calibre of the leadership of both nations".

"We cannot dream of becoming a first-world country with a third-world leadership. Please pull your socks up, talk to each other and get the job done," she asserts in a no-nonsense way. The 19-year-old signs off with a wish to live in a world where there are no Gurmehar Kaurs who miss their dads. While Gurmehar, who is a tennis player, is pursuing Plus Two in Commerce, her sister Bani, who was just five months old at the time of Capt Mandeep's martyrdom, is 17.

Lovingly called Gulgul at home, Gurmehar, says her uncle Prof Davinderdeep Singh, who teaches English literature at Nakodar's DAV College, “is among the rare creed of children who are mature beyond years”.

As Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti put it, if Iran and the US can learn to live in peace, why not India and Pakistan? Gurmehar would agree.
BRO takes 15 years, border road still incomplete
BD Kasniyal

Pithoragarh, May 1
The 75-km road at the China border, being constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) from Ghatiabagar to Lipulekh Pass in Dharchula subdivision of Pithoragarh district, will take two more years to complete as a rocky portion of the 25-km stretch on the road is proving to be a challenge. BRO officers told Governor KK Paul’s advisers, who arrived in Munsiyari to review the road construction work at the border last week. The Governor’s advisers, Prakash Mishra and Ravindra Singh, had reached Munsiyari to take stock of the development works in the border region.

The construction work on this strategically significant road began in 2003 after a survey work on the aligned portion. The construction agency was given five years to complete the road but it took over 15 years till date and still the road was incomplete. “We have constructed 50 km of the road but the 25-km main hard rocky portion between Lakhanpur and Garvadhar is taking time for levelling. Our directorate has decided to take technical help from private companies in this regard,” a BRO officer told the advisers.

Pithoragarh District Magistrate Harish Chandra Semwal said the BRO had planned to four-lane this road for which it had sent a proposal to the Union Ministry of Surface Transport. “After the completion of construction work, this border road will not only be strategically significant for security forces but also benefit tourists. Kailas Mansarovar and Chota Kailas pilgrims will be able to reach Lipulekh Pass by buses, avoiding a steep trek to high mountains what they are doing at present,” said Semwal.

He added the construction of another road from Munsiyari to Milam at the China border in the district was also in progress. The 55-km road had been completed up to 31 km and the work on the remaining portion had slowed due to the hard rocky portion that had emerged between Rilkot and Lilam villages. “The BRO has also claimed that it will complete the road by 2018,” he said.
Still negotiating F-16 jet deal with US: Pakistan
Islamabad: Pakistan is still negotiating with the US to buy eight F-16 fighter jets despite difficulties in getting the $700 million deal partially financed by the American government, a top Pakistani official has said. The purchase hit snags after US Congress withheld 60 per cent of the aid earmarked for subsidising the deal, which has been opposed by some American lawmakers and India. Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to Pakistan PM on Foreign Affairs, responding to reports about the deadlock said the "negotiations aren't over yet". PTI

Six killed in US flash flooding

Houston: At least six persons, including a 64-year-old woman and her four great-grandchildren, were killed in the US state of Texas following flash flooding, the worst in the area in 59 years. The woman and her four great grandchildren were found dead after they were swept by fast-moving flood waters in the eastern Texas city of Palestine on Saturday. Officials announced a sixth fatality on Sunday. PTI

Nepal records first successful mountain summit

Kathmandu: Nepal on Sunday recorded the first successful summit to a mountain above 8,000 metres when 30 mountaineers climbed Mt Annapurna after the deadly avalanche of 2014 and last year's great earthquake. With this first summit in the spring season, Nepal is now hopeful of more successful expeditions on other mountains. Altogether 30 climbers, including 14 foreigners and their 16 Sherpa guides reached the summit of the Mt Annapurna. PTI

Three held for Hindu tailor’s murder in Bangladesh           

Dhaka: The Bangladesh police on Sunday arrested three men, including a member of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and a journalist, for the murder of a Hindu tailor by Islamic State militants in the latest attack on secular writers and minorities in the Muslim-majority nation. Two cases have also been filed over the killing of Nikhil Chandra Joarder, 50, who was hacked to death by three assailants on Saturday in central Bangladesh's Tangail district. pti
Armed Forces: New selection process for officers soon
The existing Services Selection Board (SSB), in vogue since 1948, is a five-day long process for officer selection which includes an interview, group testing and psychological testing of the aspirants.
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The Indian armed forces are trying out a new system of officer selection to bring the selection process in tune with the changing job requirement of a modern military officer, while allowing them to better assess the newer generation of aspirants. The new selection system, once approved, is likely to be implemented from 2019.

“It has been ensured that there is no compromise on the quality of candidates being selected and the new selection system, if approved by all three services, would help in screening more candidates. This will increase the capacity of SSBs, thereby reducing the deficiencies in the officer cadre and enhancing the satisfaction level,” said a senior Army official.

The existing Services Selection Board (SSB), in vogue since 1948, is a five-day long process for officer selection which includes an interview, group testing and psychological testing of the aspirants. Candidates who are called for the SSB without having passed a UPSC written exam are administered a screening test on the first day. Qualifying the screening test is mandatory for the candidates to take further tests.
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The new ‘De Novo Selection System’, which has been designed by DRDO’s Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) lab for over five years, will accomplish the SSB testing in three days. The new system is being tested at an SSB in Bangalore over two years, running parallel with the existing tests for the candidates. According to the DRDO, testing trials in the first year will focus on the sub-systems while integration checks will be run in the second year.

“The SSB testing is personality based and not intelligence based. Our aim with the new tests is to reduce the gap between technological development and human skill development. Formal education is not as important for a military officer of the future as the ability to adapt, learn and unlearn,” a senior DRDO official explained.

“We realise that the period of generational change has shrunk and the type of aspirants now changes dramatically within a decade, unlike earlier. The post-1990 generation is a post-globalisation generation, whose analytical and cognitive abilities have gone up,” he added.

Although the prototype tests for interview, group testing and psychological testing have been designed by DIPR, development of additional tests for different entries, training of assessors and creation of infrastructure for a parallel run is still taking place. Subject to the outcome of the trials, based on DIPR’s data of the parallel run, and its acceptability by the three defence services, the ‘De Novo Selection System’ is likely to be implemented at all SSBs in 2019.
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2 Terrorists Arrested In Army Operation In Manipur's Senapati
mphal:  Army personnel busted an improvised weapon making factory, recovered war like stores and various fatigues, in a major operation at Phaijang village in the hill district of Senapati, the April 27 operation led to the recovery of two 9mm pistols, two partially complete pistols, one drill machine, one vice (furnace marking machine), two magazine frames, an official release said today.

Three files, two Hacksaw blade, 23 alphabet punching tools, two weapon bodies, two Barrels, three Recoil spring, one weapon alignment machine, two 9mm magazine and scellaneous tools used for making such improvised weapons were seized during the raid.

The factory was used solely for forging weapons to militant outfits operating in Sadar Hills, the Press Information Bureau release said.

Meanwhile, an active cadre of Kuki National Front (P) was arrested on the same day by another team of the Indian army, the release said.

The terrorist, identified as Paominthang Singson, 35, of Keithelmanbi of the same district, was responsible for firing related injury to a person that occurred at Shantipur in Imphal West district on April 22 last month.

One 9mm Pistol and three live rounds were recovered from the cadre who has been handed over to Imphal Police Station, it said.

In another raid, an activist of the newly floated Thadou People's Liberation Army (TPLA) was arrested on April 28.

He was identified as 44-year-old Chungminlun Khongsai, who has already confessed to being a member of the outfit and involved in extortion at Kangpokpi, Motbung and Saparmeina areas of Senapati district.

The terrorist has been handed over to Imphal Police Station for further investigations, said the statement.
India, We Are Fighting Our Own Disabled Soldiers
On 24 April 2016, three soldiers of the Indian Army lost their lives during a high-profile military exercise in Rajasthan. The deaths were attributed to the excessive heat, injuries sustained while para dropping from helicopters and snake bites. In this context, we delve into the life expectancy of soldiers and non-combat related injuries or health issues of soldiers.

Most nations recognise the inherent stress and strain of military service and its detrimental effect on the health and daily lives of soldiers. India does too. But only in theory, not in practice.

Lip service galore, zilch on-ground support.

Contrary to popular perception, the life expectancy of soldiers is lower than their civilian counterparts. The reason is not difficult to understand. Soldiers live in a regimented lifestyle, away from their families and at times under the shadow of the gun for most of the year. Covered by a tough disciplinary law for twenty-four hours, they face unique stressful conditions which aggravate even regular diseases and ailments.

There is little doubt that soldiers face higher stress levels than ordinary citizens living with their families. This is because soldiers are away from commune living and so, cannot adequately cope up with domestic commitments and stresses.

But in a strange and ironic kind of incorrigibility, it is the defence establishment which is not ready to accept this proposition – a statement which is not rocket science but just common sense.
Click here to collapse

    Soldiers disabled by high stress levels and other ailments are released from service without regular pension or disability benefits.
    Despite Supreme Court orders, Army headquarters has filed appeals against tribunals which have granted disability pension to soldiers.
    According to the rules, for a soldier recruited in fit medical condition, any disability is considered to be influenced by service conditions.
    Still, benefits are refused on excuses such as ‘disability was incurred in a peace area’ or ‘disability was due to domestic stressors’.
    Contrary to popular perception, the life expectancy of soldiers is lower than their civilian counterparts.

Denying Basic Human Dignity to Soldiers

Medical specialists all over the world recognise higher stress and strain in uniformed forces. All democracies endorse this. Disability rules in India also state the same. The Prime Minister feels this to be true. And so does the Defence Minister. The apex military medical body is in agreement. Even the courts, including the Supreme Court, have issued directions along these lines.

But still, many of our disabled soldiers are released and sometimes even thrown out of service on medical grounds, without regular pension or disability pension. This denies them a life of basic dignity – on the pretext that their disabilities were declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by military service.’

This declaration by military medical boards is a blatant disregard of practical realities, to say the least.

Also Read: Shashi Tharoor on the Declining Status of the Indian Armed Forces

When such soldiers fight long legal battles for their dues, the official establishment is quick to file appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court. And why? In order to deny these soldiers and their families a few thousand, and at times a few hundred rupees. The officialdom is comfortable wasting money and resources on expensive lawyers and litigation. But not with releasing lesser amounts to those who have served us.

Nothing could be more shameful for us as a nation.

Hostage to File Notings?

The Supreme Court, in a series of decisions, has directed the Ministry of Defence to grant benefits to disabled soldiers. The Defence Minister constituted a Committee of Experts to look into rising litigation against soldiers, of which incidentally I was a Member. The Committee also recommended the withdrawal of such litigation as well as appeals by the Ministry of Defence against its own soldiers.

Despite all this, recently, elements in the Ministry of Defence had asked the Army Headquarters to file appeals in the Supreme Court against tribunals and court orders wherein disability pension had been granted to disabled soldiers.

And it seems, the Army Headquarters has readily complied.

Having worked for disabled soldiers for close to two decades now, what pains me greatly in writing this, is the fact that even though all stakeholders, including the political executive, are on board and there are all encompassing directions of the highest court of the land, the system is held hostage to contemptuous file notings of lower level officials.

These notings are purportedly based on some legal advice egging on the establishment to file appeals against verdicts rendered in favour of disabled soldiers. The Headquarters of the Defence Services are also meekly accepting this bloodbath, without taking a strong stand on file by pointing out this malaise to the powers that be.

But, What Do The Rules Say?

Our rules, paradoxically, are liberal and sensitive.

The rules provide that in case a soldier is recruited in a fit medical condition, then any disability arising during service, except when caused due to his or her own illegality such as substance abuse, is deemed as having been affected by service conditions.

This presumption is not unique to India but is followed in almost all democracies. This is because the harmful effects of insidious and invisible pressures of military life are known to manifest themselves negatively on the health of soldiers.

Still, benefits are refused on unforgivable excuses such as ‘disability was incurred in a peace area’ or ‘disability was due to domestic stressors’ without realising that the inability to attend to personal requirements has a direct link with the military – since it is due to service in the defence services that a person is not there all the time to take care of his or her domestic needs. This is a fact even recognised by successive defence ministers, who themselves have underlined the rise in stress levels faced by soldiers.

Additionally, soldiers living in barracks need permission, even to go to the washroom, are required to sign registers and take an out-pass for a visit to buy a toothbrush from the market. They are denied basic needs such as physical proximity, emotional warmth or even sexual fulfilment for months together.

In such circumstances, it hardly matters whether they are serving in a ‘peace’ area or ‘field’ area. And to top it all, the rules anyway progressively provide that service in ‘peace’ or ‘field’ makes no difference for disability benefits.

In the ultimate analysis, it seems that it is not the directions of the apex court or the will of the political executive that would be allowed to prevail in our homeland but the sadistic urge of a few stray voices that are holding the morale of our nation to ransom. The courts are clogged with mundane disputes and unwanted litigation thereby burdening the judiciary to unprecedented levels. And here we are, in this great nation of ours, wasting taxpayers’ money in fighting cases against our own disabled soldiers, the ones who silently sacrificed their health to protect us.

Shame on all of us.

(Major Navdeep Singh is a practising Advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. He is also the author of “Maimed by the System”, a collection of real life accounts of military veterans and their families who had to fight to claim their rights.)

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