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Brothers In Arms: INDIA-RUSSIA STRATEGIC TIES, By B.K. Mathur, 23 Jan 07 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 29 January 2007

  Brothers In Arms


By B.K. Mathur

President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India last week has undoubtedly strengthened the long, dependable Indo-Russian strategic partnership. The continuing military cooperation between the two countries at once reminds one of the year 1959 when India began purchasing Soviet military hardware, the process for which was started four years earlier by Prime Minister Nehru’s visit to Moscow. Those were the years when highly sophisticated military machines had begun to be produced in developed countries. India needed them for strategic reasons and threats from the neighbours, but had difficulty in outrightly purchasing them in view of the country’s low foreign exchange levels.

 The Soviet Union, now disintegrated with Russia continuing to be the main producer of state-of-the-art military machines, came to India’s rescue by selling its equipment against deferred rupee payments. That helped India to procure supersonic aircraft of the MiG series, MiG-19, which the Indian Air Force needed desperately after the Chinese invasion in 1962. Significantly, the fighter jets were purchased not only on deferred rupee payment basis but also on transfer of technology basis that facilitated their licensed production in India.  The strategic partnership developed fast and the Soviet machines began to be inducted into the Indian Navy in a big way, which made the sea force a blue water Navy.  It showed its strength as the famous missile boat attack off Karachi proved in 1971.

That alarmed the Western powers, especially the Americans who also offered their military machines to India. These machines were definitely superior to those produced by the Soviet Union, but India stuck to its relationship with Moscow for three reasons. One, the Soviets were dependable suppliers. Two, the payments were made in rupees. Three, and most significantly, the machines were procured on transfer of technology basis and later produced in India. In fact, Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister initially spurred all offers of highly-sophisticated machines from the Western countries, mostly from America, Britain and France, without the transfer of technology. She relied on dependable friends in need and opted even for inferior machines.

 At present, things have drastically changed. The market scenario has changed, India is high on foreign exchange and, significantly, Western arms producers have started selling their military machines and weapon systems without any conditions and with transfer of technology. Each one of the military equipment producer is today hardselling his machines. An open commercial competition is the order of the day, both for the Western producers and the Russians. The latter may have advantage of being long and dependable brothers in arms. Nevertheless, where highly-expensive machines are to be bought, the defence planners have need to consider all things required for a good purchase in an open global market.

Today, the mighty producers of military equipment, the Russian and American defence industries are competing with each other globally.  Both have made a strong pitch for their latest state-of-the-art fighter planes to bag the Indian Air Force’s 6.5 billion dollar multirole combat aircraft. President Putin has tried to hardsell Russia’s latest MiG version, MiG-35 which has a stiff competition from the American F-16 and F/A 18, French Rafale, Swedes JAS-39 Gripen and the European Consortium’s Typhoon. India has to make its choice and while doing so the defence planners have only to keep in mind their friendship and cooperation with Russia in military technology, which the two countries reiterated at the sixth meeting of the bilateral Inter-Governmental Commission during Putin’s visit.


At the same time, however, the terms and conditions of all the offers need to be studied carefully and the selection of military machines be made on merit.  Whatever decision is taken must be done fast, especially for the Indian Air Force’s demands. Presently, the combat Squadron strength of the force is fast depleting and the IAF brass is worried over the need to maintain its strategic strike capability and fighting edge in the context of the threat posed from across the border. Pakistan’s plan to acquire 30 latest F-16 fighters from the USChina’s decision to make available to Pakistan the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) along with most advanced fighter aircraft is worrisome.  Added to this is the inordinate delay and uncertainties in the developmental schedule of India’s fourth generation Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). and


As it is, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is saddled in its task to make the LCA operational with the problem of qualifying the multi-mode radars (MMR) that hold the key to its weaponisation. Also, the delay in the development of indigenous Kaveri engine to replace the American-supplied GE-F404 engine has adversely affected the LCA programme. It is now proposed to rope in foreign agencies to complete both the weaponisation of the LCA and development and qualification of the Kaveri engine. The proposal would further delay the programme. Already, more time is expected to be taken in getting from Britain the Hawk advanced jet trainer for which a deal has already been finalized at a cost higher than the Price Negotiating Committee had fixed months ago.


Against such a bleak backdrop, Chief of the Air Staff S.P. Tyagi has recently made a case for the fast track procurement of 126 latest generation combat aircraft. He wrote to the Defence Minister recently: “Unless steps are taken to move ahead with the procurement, the IAF’s combat strength will deplete to a level that may entirely neutralise the forces’ conventional superiority over the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Pakistan has planned to increase its strength from the present 19 Squadrons to 26 Squadrons by 2011-12, while the IAF could reduce it to 26.5 by 2015.”  As a matter of fact, the IAF’s proposal to buy 126 fighter planes was intended to provide a stop gap arrangement until the availability of the LCA Tejas and indigenously-produced SU-30-MKI by 2002. 


All available indications are that the procurement of the IAF’s demand for the 126 fighters would be a painfully slow process.  Even if the final Request For Proposal (RPF) is issued now, it could take upto two years to sign a contract, given the time taken for extensive trial evaluation, laborious technical talks, prolonged contract bargain and ultimate approval. It may take another two-three years for the first lot of the aircraft finally selected and for the HAL to set up its assembly lines. By the time the aircraft is selected and procured for induction into the IAF, the technology of the aircraft would become old and obsolete, which has all along been the tragedy of the Defence Ministry’s procurement programmes for the armed forces.


Such a situation, fast developing not only in the IAF but also the Army and the Navy, requires urgent attention of the Defence planners. It is easy to welcome guests and even CEOs from the militarily developed countries. President Putin’s two-day visit may have strengthened the Indo-Russian strategic cooperation and the joint development programmes between the two of “hypersonic” BrahMos missiles and the fifth generation fighter aircraft may well be greatly encouraging. At the same time, however, the armed forces’ short-term needs must be looked into fast, so that the combat readiness of the forces does not suffer. Any delay on this front will be at the nation’s peril. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

The General’s Commandments: CONFUSING ARMY TRAINING PATTERN,By B.K. Mathur, 15 Jan 07 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 15 January 2007  


By B.K. Mathur

 Traditionally, the Indian Army celebrated its “Day” on Tuesday, January 15.  Its top brass was “on parade”, along with a large number of serving and retired personnel of the three Services, the land, sea and air forces.  The men in olive green displayed their military might at the usual annual show at the Parade Ground in New Delhi’s Cantonment, of its machines and its manpower. The parade and presentation of the Army medals for distinguished service to the force was followed by a well-spread Reception by the Chief, General J.J. Singh.  This repeatedly raised in one’s mind the question: How well placed is the force for its main job, to fight an enemy attack?  

The General spoke high of the force he commands, especially of his men historically known for their valour. That was an exercise to keep the morale of the force high.  But strategically an Army firepower even in a conventional war is dependent on its machines first and manpower later.  On this front, the Army is not fully-equipped for a modern warfare, given the progress made by developed countries which have been producing most sophisticated and state-of-the-art machines.  The Chief himself has publicly drawn the Government’s attention for early action in the procurement of equipment already agreed to or in the process of production indigenously to face India’s potential enemies, if they dare attack the country. The manpower of India’s armed forces is strong enough to defeat any force, however strong it may be. But again, it needs to be updated with sophisticated weaponry.


The Indian Army, as also the Navy and the Air Force, are slow in the procurement of the latest machinery, thanks to the policy planners and bureaucratic hassles. Take, for example, procurement of the 155 mm/52 calibre towed-gun for the artillery, which in the present-day warfare is a crucial arm. The process is slow. It is underway for the last several months and, it seems, it will continue for much more time, despite the fact that the final selection process will start only after the trials are completed. This immediately reminds one of the Bofors gun controversy and the slush money involved that caused the fall of a Government at the Centre.  For another example, the Army is yet to get the network-centric warfare concept for a digitized battlefield of the future, even though electronic surveillance devices and the like have been inducted, belatedly though.


These and other sophisticated devices are needed for the Army to operate in the prevailing Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) environment in the region. These capabilities are required to be regularly reviewed, keeping in view the fast research and development on this front in advanced countries which support India’s potential rivals.  In this context, former Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Ved Prakash’s vision for the Indian Army of the 21st century comes to mind.  In his Army Day message as the Chief in 1999, Malik called for a great balanced, lean and mean Army.  What he meant was, as he explained later, that the army should be “optimally equipped and weaponised force with capability to operate effectively in a joint services environment in all likely nature of conflicts in our regional context….It should be a “technologically advanced Army….”


Let us hope that Malik’s vision of a balanced force, optimally-equipped and weaponised force is achieved at long last. But such a force requires constant, upgraded training to the troops.  This may not happen, if the present thinking at the policy and planning level continues, that of deployment of the Army in aid of civil power at the slightest provocation. There is no denying the fact, as Mulayam Singh had once told a Press Conference as the Defence Minister, that the armed forces personnel are the servants of the Government and they should be used whenever required.  But there is need to understand at the political level that training to the forces in these days of induction of sophisticated and expensive machines is more important than their deployment for civil duties.  This does not at all mean to suggest that they should not be used to help the administration in the event of serious national situation.


Not many may remember that the Rashtriya Rifles, which is now a part of the Army, tackling militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and some other similar in the country, was initially thought of by V.P. Singh as the Defence Minister and later as the Prime Minister, to exclusively handle law and order and to relieve the Army of its assignments in aid of civil power. This force or another force with military training may again be considered for the purpose.  But, unfortunately, the present Chief, Gen. J.J. Singh has his own view on the subject. Singh has reportedly worked out a new doctrine for combating “sub-conventional warfare,” meaning insurgency, terrorism or proxy war.  The Chief has his “ten commandments”, supplemented by another ten, outlined in the new doctrine.


The Chief in his doctrine provides a list of “dos and don’ts” for soldiers acting under the contentious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or providing aid to civil authorities for restoring law and order. He has been quoted as stating by the Times of India: “the doctrine for sub-conventional operations lays down the essence of our experience in handling low intensity conflict. These operations are not like conventional wars, with a clear battlefront and well-defined enemy.  Terrorists can come from anywhere”.  This forms part of the General’s pet theory of “an iron fist in a velvet glove”, intended to win the hearts and minds in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East.  Fine, General, but at what cost? What about training to the force for a war with sophistical weapons?


The Army cannot be made a civil force, to observe human rights. Their training is different and let it remain so.  Too much involvement of the men in OG (olive green) has already done a lot of harm to the Indian Army.  Their character has changed, corruption has entered the forces in a way, disciplinary standards have deteriorated considerably and, like in civilian departments and organizations, there is no respect for the seniors. The present state of the Army at once reminds one of the words inscribed in the Indian Military Academy’s Chatwood Hall: “The country comes first, each and every time, and the men you command come next. Your own comfort and well being come last, each and every time.”  These words have now become totally irrelevant.


Worse. The intake into the armed forces leaves much to be desired. Not many with the required OLQ (officers-like qualities) are willing to opt for military career. There are various reasons for this, requiring examination at length another time. In today’s context, one of the important causes is the loss of “izzat” which the Armymen used to command in public long time ago. It is not only a question of quality but also of quantity. This has resulted in the Army facing a severe shortage of middle-rung officers like senior Captains, Majors and Lt-Colonels, the “cutting edge officers who actually lead the troops in a battle. The shortage at present is to the tune of 11,300 officers in the crucial ranks of Lt-Colonels below.


The result? The serving middle-rung officers in the rank of Lt-Col and below face a  tremendous work-load on them, leading to great stress at work and mental disorders. It is especially so when the Army is deployed to combat insurgency or for jobs other than that for which they are actually trained.  Either they have to constantly remain in training and kept in operational readiness to meet an external threat or trained for a “sub-conventional” war following J.J. Singh’s “ten commandments”.  The General’s commandments and his “new doctrine” with its “dos and don’ts” is not going to help the force. Let the Army remain an army in its true sense.---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Suicides In The Army: KILL ENEMY, NOT YOURSELF, By B.K. Mathur, 2 Jan 07 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 2 January 2007  

Suicides In The ArmyKILL ENEMY, NOT YOURSELFBy B.K. Mathur 

Cowards commit suicide, wisemen face the stress, a way of life, bravely. The old saying comes to mind as one repeatedly learns of increasing number of suicides in India’s armed forces.  A record number of military personnel have succumbed to fast emerging trend to which the defence policy planners have concernedly woken up at long last.  They have seriously started thinking about the causes of suicides, of continuing stress that leads the men in uniform to take the extreme step.  The latest worrisome incident is the pulling of the trigger on himself by Lt.-Col Pankaj Jha. Why did he take the extreme step?


For one who has been associated with India’s armed forces for nearly five decades, the reasons are not far to seek: Faulty selection at recruitment stage, lack of interest in military career and bad management of the forces.  According to Jha’s mother, Lalita Jha, “there were no tensions, no problems. I just can’t understand why he did it.” This sad incident is not the rare one of its kind. During the last three years, that is during 2004-06, more soldiers have taken their lives than those killed in militant attacks. As many as 408 soldiers have taken their lives, killed colleagues or died after colleagues ran amok. Of them, 333 killed themselves.


The increasing number of such incidents is rightly attributed to the fact the even though the Indian Army has not fought any full blown war after 1971 (Kargil in 1999 was not a war in the right sense), the million strong force is bogged down in deployment in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern area for fighting militancy, guarding the borders and duties in aid of civil power, a very bad trend which requires examination at greater length another time.  Several retired officers of the glorious days of the Indian Army attribute the trend to low morale, bad service conditions, inadequate home leave, better options available to the youth and communication gap between the Officer and his men.


This kind of a diagnosis of the problem is undoubtedly correct. But it does not take one to the root of the crisis, as stated earlier in this column: gradually deteriorating quality of personnel in the forces, especially the officer cadre whose responsibility is to look after the men (and now women also) under their command. That reminds me of a controversy in early 1950s between those who favoured the selection of boys for entry into the armed forces on the criteria prescribed by the psychiatrist and those opposed to it. In fact, the entire 13th course at the Indian Military Academy had undergone the same pre-selection exercise at the Services Selection Boards to ensure if the Gentleman Cadets were proving true to the psychiatrist’s assessment to which the GTOs (group testing officers) in the SSBs did not always agree.


The basis of selection is continuing since then.  And now the Director-General of Armed Forces Medical Service, Vice Admiral V.K. Singh has disclosed that the army has planned to recruit as many as 400 psychiatrists to cope with the stress within its ranks that has led to an increase in fratricidal killings and suicides. Although the Army has enough psychiatrists, including those who help in the selection of boys at the SSBs, the new plan has stipulated recruitment of post-graduate psychiatrist officers, who are good at counselling. The reason why such persons are proposed to be recruited in officer rank is  to ensure that other officers in the Army feel free to approach them.  However, the need for counselling should not arise if the rejection of a candidate for recruitment at the SSB itself is respected.


At the recruitment level, the psychiatrist plays a prominent role in selection.  He determines through the answers of questions he prepares for the candidates at the SSB whether or not he is fit temperamentally to join the armed forces. But it is unfortunate that in view of the fact that not enough young men with the required OLQ (officer-like qualities) are willing to join the forces, the guidelines for selection are being increasingly relaxed.  The result? Boys temperamentally unfit for military life get into the officer cadre of the forces. Even after years of services, they are unable to face the stress and take the extreme step of taking their lives themselves.


What creates stress while on duty?  The greatest thing, to my mind, is the deployment of the Army to handle insurgency and in aid of administration under the control of civil officers.  This kind of deployment keeps the Army personnel on duty at a stretch without home leave due to them. They are allowed leave for two months in a year, but only a few are permitted to go home for full entitled leave.  The situation is made worse by the shortage of officers in almost every Army unit.  Only the other day, I met a Lt.-Col. posted in Bhopal.  He was given leave for only 13 days, because there were only nine officers against the authorized strength of 19.  Being the 2 I/C (second-in-command) he could not be relieved for more time.


It needs to be clearly understood, as stated by the DGAFMS the other day, “if there is one weakness of the Indian soldier it is the family. Most have committed suicides in the recent past after returning from home and in most cases the cause has been found to be domestic rather than professional.” This reason seems to have been registered at the highest level. Defence Minister A.K. Antony has written personal letters to all the Chief Ministers, advising them to keep in touch with the families of military personnel doing duty away from home. Their problems should be resolved on priority basis. Looking at the present trends in the administration at the State level, there is little possibility for the implementation of Antony’s advice.


The reality is that the men in uniform do not get the “izzat” they used to receive during the earlier years of independence.  This, naturally, discourages the youth from joining the armed forces, which in our times was considered a prestigious career.  Any student in a college/university selected for training in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) was considered as a great pride for the institution he attended.  Today, things are different. When my son graduated from Delhi University I advised him to have a try for a military career. He and his mother ridiculed me. Good, intelligent young men today opt for other careers which offer them on entry higher salaries than what a General gets after going through the rigours for 35-40 years. And, unfortunately, there is no point in arguing with the youth in favour of a military career.


There is no denying the fact that the Government of India has taken several initiatives to improve the lot of the armed forces; two cadre reviews have been undertaken and more promotion avenues with higher salaries created. But certain serious shortcomings mentioned earlier need to be taken care of. Hoping the policy planners will seriously look into militarymen’s genuine problems soon, I wish the Army a very happy and prosperous new year. Today, they need to resolve: They should not kill themselves like cowards, they are trained to kill the enemy. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Defence Budget: 10 PER CENT HIKE NOT ENOUGH,By Col. (Rtd.) P. K. Vasudeva, 10 March 08 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 10 March 2008  

Defence Budget10 PER CENT HIKE NOT ENOUGHBy Col. (Rtd.) P. K. Vasudeva (Ph.D.)Prof. Icfai Business School  With the Indian Armed Forces embarking on an extensive modernisation drive, the Finance Minister Chidambaram hiked the defence expenditure by 10 per cent from Rs.96,000 crore in 2007 to Rs.1,05,600 crore for fiscal 2008-09. Further, he promised even more funds if these were required. Adding, “I have assured the Raksha Mantri that more money would also be provided if necessary, especially for capital expenditure.”  

The allocation actually accounts for 14 per cent of the Government's total spending of Rs.7,50,800 crore during the fiscal beginning 1 April 2008. But in actual terms, the hike is 14.16 per cent as the Defence Ministry could only spend Rs. 92,500 crore of last year’s allocation, leaving a sum of Rs 3,500 crore unspent as two major contracts for the Army (155 mm Howitzers gun and the Light Observation helicopters) were cancelled in the final stages.


The defence outlay has set the military experts worrying over the fact that it is for the first time that India’s defence outlay has fallen to less than two per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Produce (GDP). With both China and Pakistan spending close to 4.5 per cent of their GDP on military affairs, analysts are concerned that India, with a projected spending of 1.98 per cent of its GDP will lag behind in the larger strategic game.


Compared to the booming economic growth of 9 per cent, the country has been spending less and less on the military. The defence spending as a percentage of the GDP has been persistently declining from 3.8 per cent in 1997-88 to 1.98 percent in 2008-09. That too at a time when most nations have increased their budgetary allocation for defence.                        


On all fiscal indicators, China is ahead of India. In terms of expenditure, while New Delhi spent $24 billion on defence last year, Beijing spent $50 billion. In the emerging world order also, China comes next to the US in defence spending while India is stuck at 10. The reason why China is ahead in the vital area of trans-border capabilities like missiles, strategic weapons and space while India is lagging behind.


Needless to say, this will certainly create long-term political-security imbalances for the country with its neighbours resulting in a strategic disadvantage. New Delhi has still not been able to settle its border dispute with both China and Pakistan. Beijing still claims Arunachal Pradesh, notwithstanding that it is integral part of India since Independence.


However, no matter the Finance Minister promise to his counterpart in defence that there would not be shortage of funds for defence modernization and the Ministry could demand an additional outlay as and when military hardware is required to be purchased. The fact remains that the Finance Ministry has not increased the defence outlay to three per cent of the GDP which is a dire requirement. Add to this the problem of unspent funds by the MoD every year.


The conceptual contours of India’s grand defence strategy are still not clear to its decision makers, what to talk of the average citizens. The operational directive of the Defence Minister AK Antony, notwithstanding, a well articulated defense policy still remains a chimera in the public domain.

The Parliamentary Committee on Defence Planning recently criticised the MoD by stating that its laxity in defence planning and taking a long time to conclude defence deals was one of the main reasons for unspent funds. In successive years it could not finalise contracts before the end of the fiscal year and had to surrender the unspent allocation to the exchequer. Scandalously, this has been going on for many years.


Inaugurating the biennial Defexpo India 2008 in New Delhi last month, the Defence Minister said a revised Defence Procurement Policy would “in all probability” be unveiled by April 2008.  It will then be ensured that the allocated funds meant for the purchase of military hardware are completely utilized.


The MoD is taking a hard look at its offset policy applicable to all capital acquisitions valued above Rs 300 crore. Chances are that the revised defence procurement policy of the Government would also modify some provisions of the offset policy to make it less rigid.


The offset clause, in its present shape, makes it mandatory for foreign vendors to create commercial activity in the Indian defence industry equivalent to 30 to 50 per cent of the contract value. In addition, investments cannot be made in non-defence sectors, as ‘indirect’ offsets are not permitted. It is expected that at least $40 billion will flow into the country by the end of 11th Plan period (2007-2012) and $60 billion in the 12th Plan through offset agreements.


The Government appears keen to open wide the gates to the Defence industry and the private sector than it has done earlier. Remember, 30 per cent of the funds are earmarked for indigenous purchases from the industry. The International Land and Naval Defence Expo in Delhi is evidence of some dividends. More auspicious are tie-ups between Indian and foreign firms.


Not too long ago, the US’ Northrop Grumann Corp. teamed up with Satyam Computer Services to provide high-end engineering services to the global aerospace and Defence industry. Now, the Tatas have planned a joint venture set up with Israel Aerospace Industries to cater to the IAL’s Indian customers.


It is amply clear that the budget has focused on continuing upgradation of armaments with the allocation on capital outlay running into Rs 48,007 crore, a hike of almost 23.3 per cent over last year's outlay of Rs 37,705 crore. Capital estimates last year were Rs 41,922 crore of which the Defence Ministry only spent Rs 37,705 crore. This anomaly needs to be corrected.


Undoubtedly, the Defence Minister has welcomed the hike, by asserting that it would aid in the Armed Forces' modernisation drive. Of the total allocation, Rs.48,000 crore has been earmarked for the purchase of hardware and Rs.57,900 crore for the three services and for Research & Development. The Armed Forces are eyeing military hardware worth Rs.15,500 crore over the next five years in a series of big-ticket purchases of combat jets, helicopters, artillery guns and ships.


Of the three services, the 11 lakh-strong Indian Army will expectedly get the lion's share of Rs.36,200 crore, followed by the Indian Air Force (Rs.10,800 crore) and the Indian Navy (Rs.7,400 crore). The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have been allocated Rs.3,300 crore. In addition, Chidambaram has earmarked Rs.15,500 crore for pensions and Rs.44 crore for the 22 Sainik Schools in the country. This is to enable them improve their infrastructure and sports facilities so that the physically fit and mentally alert students are available for getting into the Armed Forces.


There are, of course, several big procurements in the pipeline, which range from the Rs 8,000-crore purchase of eight long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft for the Navy to the Army's Rs 12,000-crore artillery modernisation plan. Besides, India plans to spend a whopping $30 billion or almost Rs 120,000 crore on arms imports by 2012.


The Finance Minister also extended a huge helping hand to the millions of ex-servicemen across the country by opening up employment opportunities in the banking sector. 'I would urge all regional rural banks to open at least 250 new accounts every year. Ex-servicemen and retired bank employees can play a major role in this by serving as facilitators,' Chidambaram said.


Recall, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence had three years ago, recommended that the Government earmark three per cent of the GDP for defence for its continuous modernization and for suitable deterrence. It is therefore strongly recommended that the Government should provide three per cent of GDP for defence services every year in order to ensure defence modernization, capital acquisition and R&D programmes and fulfills the need-based requirements. --- INFA


(Copyright, India New & Feature Alliance)

Reason To Celebrate: FINALLY AN ARMED FORCES TRIBUNAL, by Col (Retd) P K Vasudeva, 4 Feb 08 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 4 February 2008

Reason To CelebrateFINALLY AN ARMED FORCES TRIBUNALBy Col (Retd) P K Vasudeva, PhDProf, ICFAI Business School Chandigarh 

The Centre has cleared a redrafted Bill for a separate tribunal for the Armed Forces that will deal with all cases of indiscipline in the ranks, service issues and court martial sentences. It has also decided to give the Armed Services personnel the right to appeal to a special tribunal against court martial and unfair decisions on promotions. This tribunal will not deal with routine matters of postings and transfers. It will also not interfere with the normal working of the Defence Forces.


Similar tribunals already exist in several developed countries, including the U.S, the U.K. EU and Australia. The reason why there are very few court martial and supersession cases in these countries. Moreover, the redressal is within three months resulting in a high morale. These tribunals deal with the war crimes as well as human rights cases which are on the increase in India due to the deployment of forces to tackle terrorism and insurgency in the urban areas.


It is unfortunate that the nod for the amended Armed Forces Tribunal Bill came nearly two years after it was presented in the Rajya Sabha and the Standing Committee on Defence recommended changes. The tribunal will lighten the Government’s burden as well as bring down the number of military cases that are pending with the higher judiciary.


As it stands, there were more than 9,300 cases concerning the Army and a lesser number regarding the Navy and Air Force that were pending in the Supreme Court and high courts till May 2007. The cases of moral turpitude and corruption were the highest in the Armed Forces followed by more than 10,000 complaints on supersession of promotions in various ranks and more than 7500 cases of court-martial since 2000. This forced the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to take a decision of establishing an Armed Forces Tribunal on the recommendations of the Apex Court and as demanded by the Armed Forces personnel who alleged that the justice was not being meted out to them.


The Bill is likely to be presented to Parliament during the forthcoming Budget session. According to Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources those who have been given death sentences or sentenced to life imprisonment by a court martial may also appeal to the tribunal. This is a special provision provided in the Bill as the sentence is of an extreme nature. Initially the tribunal would be hamstrung to deliver justice on time due to the large number of cases pending before the judiciary and might require to work over-time.


The decision to set up the Armed Forces Tribunal is also an effort to keep disputes in the military services from spilling over into the civil courts. Remember, the Air Force officer Anjali Gupta’s case who appealed to Delhi High Court against a court-martial verdict that recommended that she be cashiered.


The Armed Forces Tribunal Bill has laid down the mechanism for filing an appeal. “The purpose of the tribunal is to provide the Armed Forces personnel the right of appeal against court-martial verdicts and on service conditions and seniority matters but not in the matter of postings,” explained a source.


According to the Bill, the three-member tribunal will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a retired Chief justice of a High Court and have a judicial and an administrative member. The tribunal’s chairperson would be appointed by the President in consultation with the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and the other members by the Government in consultation with the chairperson, from a panel of the three services. The administrative member would be of a rank equivalent to Major General or above. Once a serving Major General was nominated to the tribunal, he would have to demit office.


Besides, an appellant would have to exhaust the existing system of redress (court martial) before approaching the tribunal. There would be no short cuts. However, where there were inordinate delays in the redressal of grievances, the personnel could be allowed to move the tribunal. Also, the principal bench of the tribunal would be in Delhi and subsidiary benches would be later set up in major cantonments like Ambala, Pune, Lucknow, Kolkata, Bangalore, Jammu/Srinagar, Assam etc.


The establishment of a tribunal was almost a foregone conclusion as the Supreme Court had criticized the Indian military justice system in the case of Lt. Col. P. P. Singh vs. Union of India in 1982. While pointing out the blatant deficiency in the military law of the right of appeal against the order of court-martial, the Court strongly recommended the need for a separate Armed Forces tribunal to meet the end of the justice for the defence personnel.


In another case, regarding supersession of two Air Marshals in December 2004, the Government, on behalf of the Indian Air Force, approached the Supreme Court against the order of the Delhi High Court that had given the decision of restoration of promotion to the Air Marshal. The Apex Court upheld the judgment of the Delhi High Court, passed strictures and criticised the IAF for its biased and arbitrary promotion policy. Thus, embarrassing the IAF and the Government.


The Armed Forces personnel have for a long time been demanding the formation of a constitutional body to redress their grievances, which have been growing thanks to various factors, including their increasing role in maintaining peace within the country and on the borders. True, the provisions of redressal of grievances exist under the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts but they are outdated and insufficient to provide speedy justice.


Under the existing laws, the Armed Forces personnel have to submit representations or complaints through prescribed channels. In cases where the redressal prayed for was not granted, the intermediate authority would then forward the complaint to the body for final disposal. However, given that the service conditions of the Armed Forces differed greatly from the civilians owing to the exigencies involved, a separate tribunal was necessary. Not only had the personnel to work in different geo-climatic conditions such as deserts in the west, glaciers in the north, rains in the east and the high seas in the south but were also separated periodically from their families. Further, at times of war, they were expected to sacrifice of life for the country.


The Bill also states that cases referred to the tribunal must be settled within 90 days as is laid down in the Consumer Protection Act 1986 otherwise these too would be no different from the civil courts. Thus, defeating the exercise of delivering timely justice. Any delay over 90 days would mean that the person would not be able to reap the benefit of justice as Armed Forces personnel retire at an early age. In sum, speedy redressal would result in raising the morale of the troops. ----- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)

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