Sunday, 30 October 2016

Happy Diwali


Saturday, 29 October 2016

In a first, Supreme Court imposes fines on army for denying officers promotion

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Oct 16

This week, the army has vociferously alleged discrimination by the defence ministry in the devaluation of military officers’ status vis-à-vis civil servants. But, on Friday, the Supreme Court delivered the army a stinging rebuke for discrimination in the army’s own ranks.

Unprecedentedly, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice JS Thakur ordered the army to pay financial compensation of Rs 20,000 to each of 141 officers from combat support arms, who continue being denied promotion despite a verdict from the apex court.

The case relates to a discriminatory promotion policy instituted by the army in 2009, which the Supreme Court found biased in favour of officers from two arms --- infantry and artillery --- whose officers dominated decision-making during that period.

More than a hundred aggrieved officers approached the Supreme Court. On February 15, a bench that included the Chief Justice partially ruled in their favour, and ordered that 141 slots at the rank of colonel be granted to three combat support arms --- engineers, signals and air defence. The army was given three months to implement these promotions.

On June 25, after the army announced its selection of 141 promotees, officers challenged the method of selection in a contempt petition. The Supreme Court agreed with them, and granted the army another three months to hold fresh promotion boards.

With the army having failed to hold promotion boards by October 13, when that period finished, the aggrieved officers filed another contempt petition last week. The army, once again, asked for additional time --- this time till November 28 --- to hold the boards.

Today the Supreme Court granted this additional period, but directed the army to start paying Rs 20,000 per month, for the last three months, to the concerned officers. This is the salary difference between lieutenant colonel (their current rank) and colonel (the rank to which they will be promoted).

It remains unclear who is liable to pay this amount, which, for all 141 officers, adds up to more than one crore rupees. The respondents in the contempt petition are --- the army chief, General Dalbir Singh; his Military Secretary, Lieutenant General Amarjit Singh; and the Additional Military Secretary, Major General Negi.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s February 15 decision will also face a fresh challenge. Officers from the logistic services (which include the Army Service Corps, ordnance and Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), which were denied additional promotion vacancies in that judgment, are planning to file a review petition.

While that judgment brought 82 per cent of the army at par for promotions, 18 per cent of the officer corps --- mainly in logistics services --- remains disgruntled.

In denying logistics services additional vacancies, the apex court apparently accepted the army’s argument that those services are staffed by officers who have opted to shy away from combat. In fact, except for a tiny sliver, most cadets have no choice in what arms and services they are allocated.

Further, even officers in logistics services serve long tenures in field --- including tough assignments like the Siachen Glacier and counter-insurgency situations like in J&K. In the army’s own comparative studies, logistics officers have performed as well as officers from combat arms, when placed in combat situations.

“Are we headed for a situation where officers refuse to serve in logistics services, because there are less promotions there? And is it okay to promote a less meritorious officer merely because he is from a combat arm? This discrimination is dangerous and is hollowing out the army”, admits a serving general from the infantry.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Defence ministry denies eroding military’s status, but GoM report contradicts MoD

The 1992 letter from tri-service chief, General SF Roderigues, complaining to the MoD about incorrectly enhancing civilian officials' status vis-a-vis military officers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Oct 16

The government faces growing criticism for slashing the military’s pay, status and disability pensions even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reaps political benefits in on-going election campaign from the “surgical strikes” the army launched on Lashkar-e-Toiba launch pads in September.

On Monday, The Telegraph reported that the ministry of defence (MoD) had summarily downgraded the status of military officers by a notch, relative to their civilian colleagues. Facing sharp public criticism, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar promised he would not allow the status of the armed forces to be eroded.

On Thursday, the MoD flatly denied any reduction in the military’s status, stating: “there has been no down-gradation or any change in the existing equivalence of the Service ranks whatsoever. The existing functional equivalence as clarified in 1991 and further reiterated in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2005 has only been re-affirmed.”

Essentially, the MoD cited multiple letters to argue that the “functional equivalence” between military officers and Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (AFHQCS) officials has always been: a joint director of AFHQCS is equated with a colonel, a director with a brigadier, and a principal director with a major general.

However, Business Standard learns that all the letters the MoD cites were superseded in 2009 by a Group of Ministers (GoM) report, prepared under the current president, Pranab Mukherjee. The GoM, which examining the military’s strong protests at the 6th Central Pay Commission recommendations, formally equated army colonels with AFHQCS directors. A new pay band was created for lieutenant colonels, placing them above deputy secretaries but slightly below directors.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the union cabinet accepted these GoM recommendations, and the MoD passed instructions for implementing these in January 2009. All the letters the MoD cited today were superseded by this authority.

It is unclear whether Parrikar is even aware of the selective interpretation of facts in his ministry’s press release, or whether --- as his apologists argue --- he is a well-intentioned defence minister being undermined by his bureaucrats, who stand to gain from the new parities.

There are other recent issues, where the government has backtracked after initial denials. After this newspaper reported that the government had slashed disability pensions the day after announcing the army’s successful strikes on Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist camps (October 10, “While ‘surgical strikes’ were under way, govt cut Army’s disability pensions”), the government first indicated it had actually increased pensions. Later, after checking the facts, the PMO referred the matter to a committee.

The question of inter-se parity with civilian officials has agitated the military for decades. A letter with Business Standard, written in 1992 by the army chief General SF Rodrigues, rails against the MoD’s attempts to change the status quo.

Rodrigues complained: “MoD, without consultations with Service HQ, had resorted to unauthorised and exaggerated designations of [civilians]… which has created aberrations and functional problems as [civilian] officers have refused to accept the authority of Service Officers under whom they had been working all these years.”

Nor is the military entirely blameless, since several service chiefs have acquiesced in granting higher “functional equivalence” to civilian officials, to promote smooth official functioning. However, Rodrigues writes: “[MoD has] taken undue advantage of this and unilaterally sought to upgrade the status of AFHQ cadre officials, to the detriment of the authority and status of the [military].”

That was in 1992. More than three decades later, the MoD’s jockeying over status still continues.

Diwali gloom in military

Disability pensions reduced, based on incorrect inputs by Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA)

Withdrawn toll tax exemption from servicemen, contravening a legislative act

Reduced status of military officers based on wrong inputs of civilian officials

Continuing delays in resolving 7th CPC anomalies, despite Chiefs’ requests

Pay issues referred to 7th CPC “anomalies committee”, even as the 6th CPC “anomalies committee” remains inconclusive

Continuing delays in resolving 7th CPC anomalies, despite service chiefs’ request

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

India-Russia ties flourish, despite Pakistan’s shadow

From anti-missile systems to stealth frigates, new defence deals are a win-win for both countries

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th October 16

There was an unaccustomed chill between “special and privileged strategic partners” Russia and India as the 17th Russia-India Annual Summit meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off in Goa on October 15. Just days earlier, Russia had held its first-ever joint military exercise with Pakistan, disregarding repeated Indian warnings.

New Delhi had twice conveyed its concerns to none less than Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister who also oversees the defence industry: first when he met Modi on August 20, and again in a meeting with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on September 13. Following that, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told his Russian counterpart, at a meeting of security chiefs of the BRICS countries, that going ahead with the exercise would offend India.

Inexplicably, Moscow concluded it was too late to call off the exercise, even as the pressure to cancel mounted after the Uri attack on September 18th. Russian officials ruefully ascribe it to flat-footed decision-making. A senior Russian diplomat accepts: “It was a stupid decision that ran counter to the spirit of the relationship. This (joint Russia-Pakistan military training) will never happen again”.

Russia’s ambassador to New Delhi, Alexander Kadakin, reportedly apprised Putin that Indo-Russian relations had been badly bruised.

Yet, so deep is the strategic cooperation between New Delhi and Moscow that the chill quickly evaporated in a rush of important agreements at Goa. Besides agreements on two more Russian nuclear reactors that will take the numbers at Kudankulam up to six, the two leaders spoke of six more Russian reactors over the next two decades.

As always, arms trade continues to be a pillar of the relationship. Agreements were signed for India’s acquisition of the S-400 Triumf air defence system; and four Grigorivich-class stealth frigates to supplement six Krivak-class vessels that India had bought earlier. A shareholders’ agreement was signed for a joint venture between Hindustan Aeronautics and Russian Helicopters to build Kamov-226T multi-purpose helicopters in India. A target date was announced for signing a contract for jointly developing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft for the Indian Air Force, an evolution of the T-50 fighter that Sukhoi is already test flying.

As always between Russia and India, nothing was publicly said about more sensitive areas of cooperation such as the negotiations for India to lease a second Akula-class nuclear submarine, which will join the Indian Navy by 2020-21 to replace its predecessor, INS Chakra, whose lease runs out in early 2022. Nor was there any mention of another key area of cooperation: Russian consultancy in the Indian programme to develop and build four to six nuclear-powered attack submarines. Russian assistance had earlier proved valuable in the development of INS Arihant, a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine that now constitutes the third (underwater) leg of India’s nuclear triad.

Cooperation in such strategic areas provides Moscow its remarkable leverage in New Delhi. But New Delhi is equally important for Russia. It is sometimes forgotten that Russia’s sprawling defence R&D establishment and industry only survived the collapse of the Soviet Union due to India's patronage.

In the 1990s, with Russia disintegrating, an opportunistic Beijing was poaching unemployed Russian weapon designers to build the Chinese defence industry. New Delhi, in contrast, placed orders for a range of weapons systems — the Sukhoi-30MKI and MiG-29K fighters, three Talwar-class frigates, and the upgrade of MiG-21 fighters — which provided the lifeline that kept these design bureaus alive.

The inter-governmental agreement for the S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence platform, called the SA-21 Growler in NATO terminology, can be regarded as the summit’s showpiece defence signing. India is looking to buy five systems, off-the-shelf, without any “Make in India” component, for a price that is still to be negotiated but is estimated at Rs 30,000 crore.

The S-400 detects and destroys incoming ballistic missiles, including those tipped with nuclear warheads, at ranges of up to 230 kilometres. With Pakistan’s “first use doctrine” threatening the use of nuclear weapons early in a war with India, the S-400 would shield vulnerable targets like Delhi and Mumbai, complicating Pakistan's targeting calculations. An indigenous anti-ballistic missile system that the Defence R&D Organisation is developing is still some years from deployment.

The S-400 too will take at least three years to join India’s military.

TASS reports that Sergey Chemezov, the chief of Rostec, which oversees Russian high-technology projects, said: “[We] are hopeful that, in the first half of 2017, we will finish and sign these contracts [with India] to start production. I think that supply will start in about 2020”.

Chemezov also revealed that Russia would supply India two ready-built Grigorivich-class frigates (also termed Project 1135.6), while an Indian shipyard would build the next two with Russian cooperation. Reliance Defence is the hot contender to build these at its Pipavav Shipyard, since the public sector Mazagon Dock and Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers are both already loaded with other orders for frigates and destroyers.

Both countries stand to benefit. Russia’s frigates, lying half-built at Yantar shipyard, are stalled by Ukraine’s refusal to supply the Zorya turbines they were designed for. After Russia annexed Crimea, its relations with Ukraine remain in deep freeze, but Kiev has confirmed it is willing to supply India the engines.

India benefits in turn by obtaining four frigates in half the time it would take to build them in India. With the navy fielding just 140 warships against a requirement of 198, it welcomes the quick delivery of four new frigates of a type already in service.

Chemezov, as well as Indian sources, say the “research & development contract" for creating the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft could be signed before the end of the year. “We have almost finished all negotiations and are ready to sign; only formalities remain”, he says.

Sukhoi and HAL will partner in developing Sukhoi’s current T-50 fighter into a more capable aircraft, built to IAF's specifications. IAF remains vague about how many it would eventually build. The decision would probably depend upon how the aircraft shapes up.

The Goa summit saw the signing of a tripartite “shareholders’ agreement” between HAL, Russian Helicopters, and defence export agency, Rosoboronexport to deliver 200 Kamov-226T helicopters to India. The JV will have a 50.5 per cent majority stake for HAL and a 49.5 per cent stake for Russian Helicopters.

An Inter-Governmental Agreement, signed in Moscow during the 16th Annual Summit last December, had specified that the helicopters would be delivered within nine years of the signature of the contract.

The delivery for the first 40 helicopters, which would be built in Russia, would start in 2017–2018. After that, production would be incrementally shifted to India.

Besides these arms deals, Russia is pushing for a planning body, along the lines of the US-India Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, which can bring together military planners and defence industry from both sides in collaborative ventures.

Land of lost chances

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Oct 16

Last week Kashmir completed 100 days of public protests that began on July 9, a day after the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Police killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter. The agitation leaders, including hard line separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, ensure the Kashmir Valley remains locked down, except for a two-hour period each day when the bazaars open and the streets thrum with life. Kashmiri agitators insist they will not relent until New Delhi meets conditions that no elected Indian government can. Meanwhile New Delhi, labelling all this as Pakistan-backed mischief, continues a tough line. Paralysed in this crossfire is J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, heading an ineffectual coalition between her People’s Democratic Alliance (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The PDP-BJP coalition was billed as a bridge between New Delhi and Srinagar, but that chasm remains as wide as ever.

Angry Kashmiris insist they will continue agitating indefinitely --- something they clearly cannot do. New Delhi, equally unbending, is focusing on isolating Pakistan. Yet, when New Delhi can reach out to Kashmiri separatist leaders without losing face, and after demonstrating the punitive cost of confronting the Government of India, there will inevitably be a truce, even if temporary.

Translating that temporary reprieve into an enduring peace would require New Delhi to recognise Kashmir as an issue that demands concerted political engagement, not just a security issue that requires the application of sufficient force --- as New Delhi has repeatedly done. The strong arm of the state can manage periods of instability. Yet, without political management, normalcy will prove short-lived.

As evident from the chart, the security situation in J&K is a fluctuating variable, which is linked to New Delhi’s political engagement with Srinagar and Islamabad. Security is gauged from four indicators --- the number of militants, security force personnel and civilians killed in each year, and the number of militancy-related incidents. The numbers are obtained from the J&K Police’s official records --- a painstaking and reliable compendium of every incident in each corner of the state.

From 1990, when the Valley went up in flames and thousands of young, gun-wielding Kashmiris took control of the streets, the army began relearning counter-militancy operations, which it had honed in the northeast. The difference was that the Kashmir uprising was openly sponsored by Pakistan and, after the Hizbul Mujahideen supplanted the J&K Liberation Front, was imbued with a strong religious fervour. By 1996, the army --- partly through a new counter-insurgency force, Rashtriya Rifles --- had reasserted control to the level that the 1996 general elections in Kashmir could be credibly held. This was the first moment of opportunity. However, New Delhi had a series of weak Union coalition governments that failed to follow up with a political outreach.

That lost opportunity was followed by five years of turmoil in J&K, including the Kargil conflict, stepped up militancy and an almost-war in 2001-02, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government deployed the army for war after a Jaish-e-Mohammad attack on Parliament House in New Delhi. This period saw the highest casualties of the J&K insurgency.

Yet, inevitably, peace kicked in at the end of 2003 with a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s memorable outreach to Kashmiris under the ambit of “insaaniyat”, or humanism. While representatives of President Pervez Musharraf and Mr Vajpayee hammered out a “Four-Point Formula” for permanent peace in J&K, and cross-LoC movement and trade began, the security forces exploited this peace through the construction of the LoC counter-infiltration fence. However, with no public political engagement with J&K, Musharraf’s political decline and eventual ousting brought this house of cards tumbling down. This was the second lost opportunity in Kashmir.

The period 2008-2010 saw three bitter years of turmoil in the Valley. In what some call the “first Kashmiri intifada”, a hitherto politically disengaged generation of Kashmiris was effectively radicalised, taking up the mantle of the Azaadi (freedom) struggle. With intense military operations continuing to take down militancy, that ceded primacy to stone-throwing street protests that (ironically) deploy the moral ascendancy of “non-violence”.

2011-13 saw another interregnum of peace, through a “winning hearts and minds” (WHAM) campaign fashioned by the army’s innovative commander in Srinagar, Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain. With initiatives like “Jan Sunwai” (public hearings), and the wildly popular Kashmir Premier League cricket tournament, this created a moment of political opportunity that, like the previous two occasions, was ignored by New Delhi.

In 2014, the inevitable downswing began. Although violence figures grew only slowly, there was palpable Kashmiri anger at the majoritarian politics in other states, evident in the beef ban, ghar wapasi and the love jihad bogey. With no political outreach to Kashmiri separatists, resentment began manifesting itself through unprecedented confrontations with armed military units, including attempts to break army cordons laid around villages where militants were holed up.

The mass uprising following Burhan Wani’s death had been brewing for two years. But, when Kashmiri resentment and anger have played out, a fourth moment of political opportunity will inevitably present itself. It is for the government to grasp it.