Sanjha Morcha

4 militants gunned down in Rajouri

4 militants gunned down in Rajouri

Amir Karim Tantray & Shyam SoodTribune News Service

Jammu/Rajouri, March 28

Four terrorists, believed to be members of a suicide squad, were on Wednesday killed in a day-long encounter with the security forces in Sunderbani area of Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district. They had infiltrated into the Indian territory from across the Line of Control (LoC) four-five days ago, prompting the forces to launch a search operation.The militants were trapped inside a forest near Sutra village on Sunderbani outskirts after locals informed the police and the security forces about their presence in the area. “The search operation was on for a few days. But it was on Wednesday morning that the forces came in contact with the militants near Sunderbani. During the operation, four militants were gunned down,” Shesh Paul Vaid, the state DGP, told The Tribune. The operation was conducted jointly by the police, the Army, the BSF and the CRPF.  Sources said the militants, who infiltrated from Keri-Battal area, covered a distance of 10 km and hid themselves in a forest near Kalideh village. A search was conducted on March 24 in Peli, Phalli, Kuldabi and adjoining villages, but with no success.“On Sunday evening, the terrorists purchased food items from the market. An alert was sounded and a search conducted. The next day at about 9 pm, two terrorists entered a house in Lower Bhajwal village (near Jogi Nullah), collected food and vanished. Again a search was launched.”At about 10 am on Wednesday, the terrorists purchased food from a shop in the vicinity of Jogi Nullah and were traced by the security forces,” the sources said.“The contact with militants was established at 10 am after which the security forces zeroed-in on them. All of them have been killed, but the sanitisation operation will continue,” Col NN Joshi said, adding the identity of the militants was yet to be ascertained. As a precautionary measure, the district administration in Rajouri had ordered the closure of educational institutions in Sunderbani area.

India’s military base in Seychelles hits wall

India’s military base in Seychelles hits wall

Smita Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 28

India’s ambition of setting up a joint military base in the remote coral Assumption (Assomption) Islands has suffered a major jolt. Giving in to Opposition protests, Seychelles President Danny Faure has reportedly shelved plans to present an amended agreement for ratification in parliament in April.Faure, who was recently in India at the inaugural summit of the International Solar Alliance, was quoted by local media as saying: “It is not proper for me to send the agreement to the Speaker when the Leader of the Opposition, who is in majority in the Assembly, has signalled he will not ratify it.”Under the agreement struck in 2015 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, India is to invest $550 million in building the base to be shared by militaries of both countries for up to 30 years. New Delhi wants to ensure safety of its vessels in southern Indian Ocean and increase strategic presence in waters with an aggressive China expanding its maritime footprint. Seychelles government agreed the deal would help coastguards to patrol its 1.3 million square kilometres Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).Assumption has strategic importance for monitoring shipping of international vessels through Mozambique Channel. After consistent protests by locals, even some ruling party members and the political opposition on grounds of sovereignty and environmental concerns, the deal was revised this year to clarify issues such as prohibition of any nuclear use of the island as well as India not be allowed to use the base in war.Indian-origin leader of opposition Wavel Ramkalawan was invited in January to attend the Global PIO Parliamentary Conference in Delhi. Despite India’s attempts at engaging Ramkalawan, he was quoted as saying: “I hope I have made it clear that this is the end of the Assumption agreement and that I don’t expect to see it on any agenda between President Faure and the Opposition.”

Mosul tragedy & the lesson by KC Singh

Mosul tragedy & the lesson

KC Singh

Human life has transient value in huge nations like India as news gets swept away by new and juicier distractions. The death of 39 missing Indians, mostly from Punjab, raises questions about Indian power and effectiveness in rescuing its citizens caught in civil strife abroad. India has had successes in the past, but the Mosul tragedy needs investigation. Great powers fight for every citizen’s life and security. The US has been known to even negotiate despite stated policy of non-negotiation with abductors. Even Israel, with a similar stance, has compromised for the release of captured soldiers. The Mosul tragedy resulted from the sudden collapse of Iraqi forces in northern and western Iraq as the IS captured many cities, including Mosul, the second largest Iraqi city. It was known that the Shia-led Iraqi regime had been alienating Sunnis and letting this sectarian approach degrade the US trained Iraqi military and its command and control structure. President Barack Obama, unwilling to re-enter the Iraqi morass, watched from the sidelines as the security conditions deteriorated. But even the US could not anticipate its suddenness or extent. The geographical reason for this is that Iraqi cities are on the two great rivers of Tigris and Euphrates. The former runs south from the Turkish border and on it lies major northern cities like Mosul and Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. It flows through the Turcoman and Sunni parts of Iraqi population. The Euphrates comes from the west, from Syria. To the west of Mosul is sparsely populated land providing little density to resist a quick assault like that of the IS. Undoubtedly, the local Sunni population initially welcomed rather than resisted the IS ingress. Should India have foreseen this and urged its workers to move south or blocked them well before the tragedy unfolded in the region? In hindsight, the answer is in the affirmative, but in real time, it is impossible to monitor the flow of workers, who may initially go to one Gulf nation and then move where jobs beckon. It is also difficult to dissuade persons whose families have borrowed huge sums to send them abroad, chasing dreams of prosperity, to abandon jobs, particularly when their employers flee and wages remain unpaid. The Ministry of External Affairs needs to rejig its strategy and have its political divisions coordinate better with those monitoring consular issues to anticipate flashpoints well before crises. This century has seen more intra-state conflict than regular wars. Mosul abductions occurred in June 2014. Interestingly, 46 nurses, who were in Tikrit, south of Mosul, were caught in the same upsurge. It is unclear how they were extracted, but not the 39 held in Mosul. The argument that they were detained by a group to which Iraqis or Indians had access does not square with the route adopted for their release. They were taken north to Mosul for handing over near Kurdish-controlled Erbil, thus transiting the IS-controlled territory. Similarly, Turkish diplomats and truck drivers were released by Turks. Even Bangladeshi workers were released once their religion was known. Did ransom and influential Malayali Gulf contacts play a role in the release of nurses? Contrariwise, did the Akali-BJP government keep dilly-dallying while Delhi approached West Asian and Gulf capitals for help, rather than devising a direct strategy? The cold-blooded killing of 39 Indians — the 40th Masih having escaped and returned to India — needs thorough investigation to ensure no Indian Government ever dissimulates to conceal its helplessness. Knowing that the IS was ruthless in eliminating non-Muslims in its custody, particularly if they were not Christians, time was of the essence. Each day passed was a day too many to rescue the abductees. Some self-congratulatory stories appeared about the nurses getting released due to the efforts of an adviser in PM Narendra Modi’s office using his intelligence assets in West Asia. It seems those assets had less interest in poor workers from Punjab. The only players with some leverage with the IS at that stage were Turkey, Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Turkey was first going to get its own diplomats and citizens released before running errands for others, particularly India with which it had functional, but not outstanding relations. India must have asked the others. But the primary responsibility would have fallen on the Indian mission in Iraq as it needed to invoke relationships it should have built outside the Baghdad bureaucracy with non-Shia sources in northern Iraq. Some senior military advisers with the IS were former Saddam military brass. Did India bother to revive links to them or rested on its oars in Baghdad? That is the kind of parallel intelligence network that all nations maintain. Excessive dependence on the US or its surrogates in Baghdad, or other capitals, leads to the very geostrategic swamp where Obama and the Gulf nations found themselves once the Islamic caliphate was announced by Baghdadi in Mosul. The Modi government having failed to get any link to the IS that was reliable set about selling the “they are alive” story. Masih the escapee was dubbed unreliable and as it turns out now, when the bodies of the unfortunate have been found and identified, was speaking truth all along. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj altered the message as Mosul’s liberation approached and there was still no sign of the boys. “It is a sin,” she proclaimed to declare someone dead without proof. What do we call raising hopes of families unrealistically to only dash them after four years of assurances? A modified story was floated post-Mosul liberation that abductees are probably in Badush prison. An Indian television channel, within hours, showed the prison reduced to dust. The US, with its eyes in the skies and electronic intel, should have been able to provide answers about the missing Indians long before Mosul was reduced to rubble. These questions need answering and unless lessons are learnt, the deaths of these poor souls would have been in vain. At the very least, the government should compensate the families for their pain and material loss. The writer is a former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

Judiciary-govt bonhomie, death knell for democracy: Justice Chelameswar

Judiciary-govt bonhomie, death knell for democracy: Justice Chelameswar

New Delhi, March 29

Any “bonhomie” between the judiciary and the government would sound the “death knell” for democracy, senior-most Supreme Court judge Justice J Chelameswar has told the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and urged him to convene a full court to deal with the alleged executive interference in judiciary.In an unprecedent letter to the CJI, copies of which were also sent to 22 other apex court judges on March 21, Justice Chelameswar has questioned the probe initiated by Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari against District and Sessions Judge Krishna Bhat at the request of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, despite his name being recommended for elevation twice by the Collegium.Efforts to get a response on the letter from the office of CJI Dipak Misra did not fructify, while several legal luminaries, when contacted, chose not to comment on the matter.Justice Chelameswar, who had held the unprecedented January 12 press conference along with three other senior judges raising issues, including the allocation of cases by the CJI, expressed concern over the executive directly asking the Karnataka Chief Justice to conduct a probe against Bhat, saying this was done even after his name was recommended twice for judgeship by the apex court collegium.In 2016, then Chief Justice of India T S Thakur had asked then High Court chief justice S K Mukherjee to hold an inquiry against Bhat on certain allegations levelled by a subordinate woman judicial officer. After the probe had given him a clean chit, Bhat’s name was recommended by the collegium for elevation.”Someone from Bangalore has already beaten us in the race to the bottom. The Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court is more than willing to do the Executive bidding, behind our back,” Justice Chelameswar wrote in his six-page letter.Raising the issue of judicial independence, he said, “We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India, are being accused of ceding our independence and our institutional integrity to the Executive’s incremental encroachment.”The executive is always impatient, and brooks no disobedience even of the judiciary if it can. Attempts were always made to treat the Chief Justices as the Departmental Heads in the Secretariat. So much for our ‘independence and pre-eminence’ as a distinct State organ.” The letter said: “Let us also not forget that the bonhomie between the judiciary and the government in any State sounds the death knell to democracy. We both are mutual watchdogs, so to say, no mutual admirers, much less constitutional cohorts”.Justice Chelameswar referred to the “unhappy experience” where the Government sat tight over the files even after the Collegium recommends names for appointment in the higher judiciary.”For some time, our unhappy experience has been that the government’s accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. ‘Inconvenient’ but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route,” he alleged.The apex court judge, who demits office on June 22, took serious note of the communication between the Karnataka High Court chief justice and the executive saying, “the role of the High Court ceases with its recommendation”.He said that any correspondence, clarificatory or otherwise, has to be between the executive and the Supreme Court.The top court judge also said the day may not be “far off” when the executive would directly communicate with the High Court about pending cases and ask what orders are to be passed.While referring to Bhat’s case, he said, “To my mind, I could recollect no instance from the past, of the executive bypassing the Supreme Court, more particularly while its recommendations are pending, to look into the allegations already falsified and conclusively rejected by us.”Asking the High Court to re-evaluate our recommendation in this matter has to be deemed improper and contumacious.” Beseeching the CJI to take up the issue of executive interference in judiciary by convening a full court on the judicial side, he said this was necessary in order to ensure that the institution (Supreme Court) remained relevant under the scheme of the Constitution.He also referred to a past instance when the apex court had taken serious note of a direct communication of the then Law Minister to the High Courts on the issue of judges’ transfer which had finally led to the judgement in first judges case in 1981. Later, the Collegium had assumed power with regard to judges’ appointment in the higher judiciary. – PTI

TAKEOVER ISSUE Gen Rawat, CM visit college

Tribune News Service

Dehradun, March 25

Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat along with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat visited Veer Chandra Singh Garhwal Government Institute of Medical Science and Research, Srinagar Garhwal, at Pauri district of Uttarakhand today.The two spent time visiting various sections of the medical college and held a meeting with the management. The visit of the Army Chief to Veer Chandra Singh Garhwal Government Institute of Medical Science and Research holds significance as Army is preparing to take it over. The Army will develop it on the lines of Armed Forces Medical College, Pune.Since its inception some years ago, Srinagar Medical College has been facing manpower shortage. The hospital was set up to cater to the needs of patients from hill areas, who were forced to head to Dehradun or other cities in search of specialised treatment for serious ailments. But the medical college has failed to provide tertiary care to patients hailing from hill areas of the state.

Modernisation of Army under way: Sitharaman

Modernisation of Army under way: Sitharaman

Tribune News Service

Dehradun, March 25

Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said modernisation of Indian Army was under way. She credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the modernisation programme. The Defence Minister was here on Sunday to honour students of the state, who have been selected in Indian Military Academy and National Defence Academy in the recent years. “When you join the forces after competition of training at your respective academies, you will be proud to join a modernised Indian Army”, Sitharaman said addressing the gathering of successful students. She also asserted that the Army was fully prepared to deal with any situation. The minister recalled her visit to the Uttarakhand region during childhood days, pointing that the region was then known for Char Dham yatra. “But today Uttarakhand is also known as Veer Bhumi as a large number of youth from the state join defence forces these days”, she said. The minister also praised Col Ajay Kothiyal, Director, National Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, for his efforts towards motivating the state youth to join the armed forces.   Nirmala Sitharaman also handed over a cheque of Rs 50,000 each to the successful student of Uttarakhand, who have been selected in Indian Military Academy and National Defence Academy from 2014 to 2018. A total of 140 selected students were felicitated by the minister. She also honoured family members of Victoria Cross awardee Late Gabbar Singh Negi, Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali and other defence forces martyrs.Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said it was a matter of honour that Prime Minister had reposed faith in a daughter of the country by making Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister of the country.Chief of Army Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Uttarakhand Higher Education Minister Dhan Singh Rawat and Mussoorie BJP MLA Ganesh Joshi were among the prominent persons present on the occasion.

Making up with Pakistan by Sandeep Dikshit

Making up with Pakistan

Sandeep Dikshit

PAKISTAN High Commissioner Sohail Mehmood’s sulk over the harassment of his diplomatic colleagues in New Delhi lasted for just one short week. That is a surprisingly short period in the annals of Indo-Pak ties where estrangement lasts for years. The reason may lie in Pakistan Foreign Office’s desire not to be a spoilsport. Contrary signals would have gone out had Sohail Mehmood stayed put in Islamabad and missed his New Delhi mission’s observance of Pakistan Republic Day on March 23. India too seems to be playing ball. The Foreign Office was restrained, describing Mehmood’s departure as normal. But his return to New Delhi without a resolution of the issue of harassment of diplomats suggests that either South Block has given quiet assurances or was he carrying a message from South Block for the Pakistani leadership.At stake is India’s offer for an ice breaker. Pakistan’s initial response has gone beyond India’s offer of releasing each other’s prisoners on humanitarian grounds. While accepting India’s offer, Pakistan foreign minister Khwaja Mohammed Asif went on to hope that both countries would embark on the road to a comprehensive dialogue and make an effort to de-escalate the “extremely vitiated current environment and the situation on the border”. The significance of India and Pakistan agreeing to reactivate the Joint Judicial Committee of eight retired judges for releasing the prisoners should rank as a major effort in PM Modi’s record of limited breakthroughs in the immediate neighbourhood. The last visit of such a committee had taken place over four years ago; in other words, except for keeping alive the channel of NSAs, both sides have no formal or informal structure to understand each other.Pakistan’s more-than-hearty reciprocation to the Indian offer may not have come at a better time. The mantra of surgical strikes has stopped resonating among people who are now questioning the attrition rate of soldiers and Pakistan’s undiminished appetite for what passes off as Indian punishment for dispatching militants into the Kashmir Valley. The muscularity and tough speak by security forces in the Valley have also given way to implementation of the Kashmir Interlocutor’s recommendations to prepare the ground for a dialogue.  This may be the perfect opportunity for PM Modi to attempt an inspiring moon shot in foreign relations despite the failures of his earlier attempts with both nettlesome neighbours: Pakistan and China. For a person who lays claim for bold and iconic strokes on the foreign policy palette, he is yet to translate the effort into an engaging portrait. Headway on perennial irritants like terrorism, demilitarising Siachen or resolving the Sir Creek dispute will either be politically perilous in an election year or yield meager results because of the frigidity in their respective positions. As a person responsible for giving more momentum to the transport corridors being built by India in the region — Iran to Afghanistan and Assam to Vietnam via Myanmar and Thailand — PM Modi would be aware that this is one area where he could establish his stamp. The breakthrough could be a boon for North India that has found itself increasingly boxed-in because of escalation in Indo-Pak hostility. A community whose ingenuity and adventurous spirit had resonated as far off as the bazaars of Tehran and Astrakhan had the freedom of uninhibited trade and travel after Partition. The 1965 war turned the screws further by scrapping the joint India-Pakistan passport for frequent travellers. The final nail in flexible borders was struck by the Punjab militancy and Pakistan’s deep involvement in the J&K unrest. The subsequent PM braved public opprobrium because of bomb blasts in Indian cities to restore trade but incremental progress has been glacial.The elephant in the room is Pakistani military that has been a spoilsport to all civilian attempts to normalise trade with India. But the situation has changed from a decade back. The Pakistan army’s brains trust in Rawalpindi should feel inclined to loosen their veto on trade ties with India in view of the challenge to Pakistan’s exclusive control over land routes to Afghanistan by two rival transport corridors. There may come a day when the corridors from Pakistan may not find any outside takers and Rawalpindi will lose a bargaining chip with the US over Afghanistan. The time for a course correction may have come especially because despite the revolving door policy for critical advisers and ministers, US President Trump is firm on a closure to the war in Afghanistan. The Pakistan army may not just want to be on his right side but also needs India’s grudging acceptance for its proxies to share power in Kabul.The sticking point will be Pakistan army’s patronisation of militant outfits. Of great interest will be the way India reacts to the integration of the Haqqani network. The clan pulls considerable weight on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border. New Delhi holds the Haqqani network culpable for the considerable Indian blood spilt in Afghanistan, including the deaths of several Army officers and a diplomat. The US attempt at a makeover in Kabul should be salutary lesson for both India and Pakistan who hold on to tales rooted in old grudges.  The US is making the peace overture with Taliban that has accounted for a much greater toll of American lives than the militancy in JK. India’s other nemesis Hafiz Saeed’s dive into legitimate political activity may in fact be a blessing in disguise. Saeed and his cadres are bound to be sucked in by the intensity of political processes as well as be forced to drop their gun-wielding instincts to increase their acceptability base. They also would have realised that the battlefield has tilted because of the sharp step up in Indian surveillance and location finding abilities. Infiltrators from across the border have sometimes extracted a high body count of soldiers, but they have been unable to inflict high value damage for several years now.India and Pakistan’s overtures towards trade may also please the US. Its Permanent Ruling Class has tried to persuade Central Asian states to sell their oil to Asia and Europe instead of rivals Russia and China. They were unsuccessful for the last quarter of a century, in part because of Pakistan army’s obduracy. Now a project once mentored by Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig has come alive. This proposes to bring oil and gas from the derricks of Turkmenistan to the energy-hungry Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India ) pipeline may become the harbinger for a relook at the trade routes that have turned frigid because of hostility.Pakistan may also need to dilute the impression that China has complete ownership over the CPEC by involving India, Iran and Russia. China is Pakistan’s Santa Claus for its strategic and elite circles. But incidents of targeted killing of Chinese citizens in Pakistan suggest toxicity in domestic opinion about the unusual Chinese proximity. This has the potential to turn the political tide against the project. The safest course will be to make it an international project. Faith in the government declines when the economy falters and Trump is well on the way to spark a trade war. Economic realities dictate a change of course by both India and Pakistan. The core issues will still remain on the table. But instead of being the director of change, PM Modi will be able to settle for a middling report card.

Arjun Mark-2 tank set to see light of day Design of Tejas’ next version almost done, indicates DRDO Chairman

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 25

Arjun Mark-2 tank set to see light of day

In an important move, the ‘Made in India’ Arjun Mark-2 tank project is set to  see the light of the day. Chairman of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Dr S Christopher in an interview to The Tribune said,  “We have had a meeting with the Vice-Chief of the Indian Army where it was agreed on accepting Mark-2. Modalities are  being worked out”. Once done, the acceptance of necessity (AON) for 118 will be revived, he added. The AON is decided by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister. A total of 93 modifications have been done on the first version of Arjun —  124 were inducted — in 2010-2011. On being asked if the Army was okay with the weight of the tank, the DRDO boss said: “The weight (the tank is almost 58 tonnes) has been accepted; that is a major change”. Most modern European tanks are of the same weight, and tank-transporters   (specialised trucks) for Arjun are available. The DRDO has promised to set up a system to maintain the Arjun Mark-2 within India. It will be an annual maintenance contract with the Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) as a possible agency, Dr Christopher said. On the trials, he said,  “These have done 4,000 kms of run, the upgrades will be tested.” On artillery guns, Dr Christopher  said the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS), of which the Army has agreed to accept 40 pieces to start with, will get a more powerful engine to enable rapid movement. The guns designed by DRDO have been made by two private companies under the transfer of technology. The DRDO is keen to get a slice of the 1,580 towed guns the Army is looking to buy. “Both companies (Tata Power SED and Bharat Forge) are gearing up produce more. We need an order for 200-300 guns to tie up logistics,” he said.Talking about the next version of the Tejas, called ‘Mark1-A’, Dr Christopher said: “The design other than the AESA radar and the jammer pod is complete.”  Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is looking to import the AESA radar even as DRDO made a radar that will be tested next month. The IAF is looking at 83 ‘Mark1-A’, with 59 improvements over the existing Tejas.The Indian Air Force  has projected a need for 324 fighter jets over 15 years and has officially indicated that it needs the ‘Tejas Mark 2’ (medium combat aircraft). It will carry a more powerful engine and weigh almost 20 per cent heavier than Tejas.

Private Vendor May Have Fled With Data of 50 Lakh Ex-Servicemen, Reveals RTI

Private Vendor May Have Fled With Data of 50 Lakh Ex-Servicemen, Reveals RTI

New Delhi: In a shocking lapse, the Ministry of Defence has admitted that it was unsure whether or not a private vendor has fled with the personal data of about 50 lakh ex-servicemen and noted that it “cannot comment whether a copy of the same has been retained by the company or not”.

After maintaining a stony silence for over three months, the ministry finally responded to the issue raised by the Right to Information activist Commodore (retd) Lokesh K. Batra on March 22 and admitted that the data pertained to the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS).

Biometric data was contained in smart card

Responding to the questions raised by Batra about the maintenance of data on ex-servicemen at ECHS, its joint director (information technology) said that in the “system of Smart Card which was in vogue till May 2015, the biometric data (left & right thumb impression only) of the individual was stored in the Smart Card”.

The ECHS further stated that “the Smart Card was in the custody of the individual” and that “no biometric data was stored in the system”.

ECHS does not know if company retained copy of data

It was the remaining part of the reply, however, which ought to send alarm bells ringing as the data pertained to ex-servicemen of all ranks. The ECHS official admitted: “The other personal data as per the contract stipulation was handed over to the ECHS on termination of contract. ECHS cannot comment whether a copy of the same has been retained by the company or not.”

So, as Batra said, no one knows if a copy of the data has been made or was being misused. The matter, incidentally, moved at a sharp pace within the ministry only in the past week after the under secretary in the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare urged the commanding officer (CO), ECHS on March 16 to take “necessary action” within three days on the issues raised by Commodore Batra.

In the letter, the official, Jitender Kumar, had noted in the subject line that the matter pertained to “ECHS Smart Card/CSD Canteen Card made through ‘private vendor’ and issues related to personal information and data safety with ‘private vendor’.”

Further pursuing the matter, another under secretary in the Ministry of Defence, A.K. Karn, wrote a letter to the managing director of ECHS on March 21, after the three-day period had lapsed, pointing out that the CO of ECHS was earlier requested to take necessary action in the matter within three days on the issues raised by Batra and to apprise the ministry accordingly.

He further requested that the report or status on the matter related to biometric and personal information of ECHS Smart Card held with the private vendor be furnished to the ministry by the same evening and that the matter “be accorded top priority”.

Incidentally, even after this order of the defence ministry, Batra, who had been waiting for a response on his query for the last three months, was not too hopeful of an early reply. He had commented on social media that “cover-up will start now”.

‘Private vendors should be properly monitored’

The noted RTI activist said that the defence ministry should at least follow the same procedure as the Unique Identity Authority of India of taking affidavits from the private vendors. “If the vendor were to say that data has been destroyed …. how and who will ensure the truth?”

Stating that “50 lakh ESMs data is not a small number”, Batra had questioned if the private vendor had run away with the personal data of the nearly five million ex-servicemen

Cadre review in Indian Army

Indian Army is once again preparing to carry out comprehensive review of its officer cadre. It is presumed that it will be focussed on Officers as only recently in Sept 2017, Government approved Third Cadre Review for JCOs and Other Ranks, which will benefit 1.45 lakh personnel and will be implemented over next five years. Vacancies in lower ranks will be released in phased manner with 30% in 2018; 20% each in 2019, 2020 and 2021 and 10% in 2022 in each rank thereby distributing the benefit to more batches. The two previous comprehensive reviews were done in 1979 and 1984. This review would be expected to lay out a plan, which can remain relevant for at least a decade. Most importantly, it has to grapple with issues connected with parity of ranks and rising aspirations of younger generation of officers and all these in a milieu of turf battles, where other cadres are unlikely to yield even an inch.

In fact, it will be pragmatic to consider turf realities as a limiting term of reference as most previous studies have been based on ameliorating measures like ‘peel factor’ of AV Singh committee and lateral absorption, which have been non starters, thereby negating the entire exercise. The recent recommendation of Standing Committee of Parliament suggesting compulsory tenure of five years for all government servants in defence forces is an enhanced version of earlier recommendation. In 1996, Mr IK Gujral, PM had approved induction of all officers in CAPFs (loosely referred to as para military forces) through Army after an initial term of five years. However, one seasoned bureaucrat made an interesting remark in a follow-up meeting, “PMs at times get carried away, it is our job to insulate the system from such hasty measures”. The second direction of PM to immediately absorb retiring Generals in Public Sector Undertakings and Corporations had a marginally better response as one General was indeed inducted, however, he was known to have the right connections. This was despite PM’s clear sanction and very good power point presentation, a novelty those days.

The last structured and comprehensive cadre review for officers was done in 1984 yet it has been overtaken by the famous AV Singh Committee in 2001, consequent to Kargil Review Committee report with a mandate to reduce ages of Commanding Officers(COs). In its wake it has left a fractured officer cadre engaged in bitter litigation due to vitiated formulation of ‘Command Exit Model’, which has been seen by courts as twisting of simple mathematical formulation to generate additional vacancies for some Arms at cost of others. It is hoped that current exercise will endeavour to take care of dynamic realities like introduction of women service entry and also address the latent angst in logistics stream. It will also have to take into consideration large number of court directions and rulings, which have been mandated.

Before an agency and appropriate team is picked up for this onerous responsibility, it will be pertinent to consider a few in-house realities. The most important pre-requisite is to recognise that cadre management is indeed a ‘science’ and requires both comprehensive understanding and years of application. Unfortunately, senior officers take it as their natural perk to tinker with cadre to further parochial and regimental interests. Most cadre managers in ‘Olive Greens’, who accumulate experience with their multiple tenures in MS Branch (mandated for this function) are experts in handling only placement or postings, and have limited knowledge of nitty gritty of cadre management. Luckily, we have a Chief, who has done cadre planning in his MS Branch tenure and hopefully, he will put it to good use.

Even if correct agency and team is picked up, there has to be a commitment to accept the findings and apply its recommendations. One of the most important change in our officer cadre was two year enhancement in age of retirement yet we made a hash of this measure, basically because HDMC study for its implementation was junked as it had made some unpleasant recommendations specifically affecting decision makers. This was despite the fact that report was endorsed by IIM Ahmedabad and most importantly, it was a collegiate opinion reflecting aspirations of overwhelming majority of officer cadre as study had entailed extensive interaction, field visits and sample, whose composition and distribution was endorsed by IIM.

While such a study is a deliberate exercise and will take its own time, it is recommended that automation of cadre management functions like OMR based CR forms for appraisal, computerised placement system should be implemented to create a back bone for transparent and objective cadre management system. This can result in down sizing of MS Branch and relieve more than thirty very high profile officers from mundane clerical functions and gainfully employing them in field formations. In this, MS Branch should set an example for other HQs to emulate, like they say- charity begins at home. Another in-house measure recommended is to create a ‘win-win’ model to empower Jawans to become regimental officers as part of support cadre, which currently has no takers as Short Service entry remains unpopular. This requires a change in mind set and developing an ecosystem as part of HRD policies in Army.

Lt General K J Singh

Lt General KJ Singh superannuated in August 2016 after 39 years of distinguished service. He commanded the formidable Western Command, an operationally committed Corps in the North East having borders with four countries, an armoured division in the strike corps, a T-90 armoured brigade, and an elite armoured regiment, 63 Cavalry. He is currently holding the prestigious Ranjit Singh Chair of Excellence in the Panjab University, Chandigarh.