Year of many firsts for Defence Ministry, but not sans controversies (2016 In Retrospect)

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New Delhi, Dec 31 (IANS) In a year that saw surgical strikes, a new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) and strengthening relations with both Russia and the US, the Defence Ministry had many firsts, but also could not escape controversies, including those around the 7th Pay Commission recommendations and One Rank One Pension (OROP).

In two major achievements for the Make in India initiative and the forces, indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas was inducted with much fanfare, while India’s first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, was quietly inducted in the service — with no official word on this so far.

The year was marred by several attacks on defence establishments, starting with the Pathankot air base on January 2 that left seven security personnel and one civilian dead. There were many more attacks at Army convoys and units, the worst being the attack at the Uri army camp on September 18, in which 19 soldiers were killed.

India’s response to the attack came in the form of surgical strikes across the Line of Control in Kashmir. These were the first ones on the western front that the Indian Army has officially announced.

The strike, and the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani in Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, led to a spurt in infiltration and cease fire violations, according to the government. Minster of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre, in a written reply in Parliament, said there was an increase in infiltration attempts since Wani’s killing.

All together, there were over 400 ceasefire violations reported along the India-Pakistan frontier under the control of the army (216 violations) and the Border Security Force (221).

While situation at the border remained tense, the year was also marked by great achievements for the forces, specially for the women. The first batch of women fighter pilots — Flying Officers Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh — were inducted, breaking another glass ceiling.

An all-women’s team of the Indian Navy circumnavigating the globe is currently at Cape Town in South Africa to participate in the “Cape to Rio 2017” race.

In a big step towards Make in India, the Defence Ministry came out its new DPP. It came into effect on April 1 and aims to push Make in India by according the highest priority to buying Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured (IDDM) items.

It also allows “agents” for foreign vendors, but with a rider that they cannot be paid depending on the success or failure of the contract.

And, in a bid to push domestic defence production, the ministry is also on finalising “strategic partners” for specific sectors.

According to Defence Ministry, since 2014, 135 contracts worth Rs 1,91,018 crore have been signed with Indian and foreign vendors for procurement of defence equipment such as aircraft, helicopters, frigates, rockets, missiles, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rifles, ammunition and simulators.

In a major diplomatic and military achievement, the year also saw the magnificent International Fleet Review (IFR) being conducted in Visakhapatnam in February with the participation of 34 Indian Navy ships and 20 foreign warships from 14 countries, including the US, China, Japan and Russia.

There was speculation about the indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant joining the IFR. However, the then navy chief, Admiral R.K. Dhowan, denied the report. The vessel, constructed under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office, was within months quietly inducted into the Indian Navy.

The other major indigenous marvel — the Tejas LCA — entered squadron service with two aircraft being inducted on July 1.

The year also saw defence relations with both the US an Russia grow stronger. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar met for the seventh time in December 2016, and the third time this year.

The two countries signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement and also finalised India’s designation as a “Major Defense Partner” of the US.

India and Russia, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in October, signed deals for S-400 Triumf air defence systems, a joint venture to build Russian Kamov helicopters in India, and another deal for building four frigates for India.

The year was, however, not free of controversies.

While OROP was granted in 2015 and payments with arrears are already being given, the suicide of a veteran, Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal, in November, brought the issue to fore once again, as did the resumption of the protest at Jantar Mantar by the United Front of Indian Ex-Servicemen.

The veterans are demanding the removal of anomalies, with a major sticking point being the time period for revision of pensions. While the government says this will be done every five years, the veterans have demanded this be an annual exercise.

The recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission also did not go down well with the forces, and the three service chiefs have had meetings with the Defence Minister on the issue, being assured that the anomalies will be resolved.

Disability pension was one of the major contention points with the pay panel recommending that a soldier who is currently getting disability pension as a percentage of his salary, will get a fixed slab-based amount if the recommendation is implemented.

While a final call on it will be taken by the anomaly committee of the pay panel, the Defence Ministry issued an order in October stating that the disability pension component will be paid as per the old system till a solution is found.

Another issue that came up was that of rank parity, after a ministry circular dated October 18 on rank equivalence between defence officers and armed forces headquarters (AFHQ) civil service officers brought the ranks of armed forces officers a notch down compared to their earlier status. Parrikar has promised to resolve this issue as well.

(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was. Anjali Ojha can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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