Category Archives: an observation

To win against Maoists, repair the Home Ministry first. My piece.

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It was March of 2014 when in the jungles surrounding Koraput in Odisha, a police team spent a night in hiding, ready to attack Maoists who they knew were to cross a stream. By the morning, the team left empty-handed. “Later we realised the rebels did come short of crossing that stream when they spotted our footwear marks on the soil and quietly changed their path,” said the officer.

From field-level tactics to post-incident evaluation to carrying out studies on Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), impairing drones and helicopters, the Maoists, anyone with any experience of the trade will tell you, make an honest attempt of their job.

Thus, for India’s home minister Rajnath Singh to accuse them of “cold-blooded murder” is a case of being poorly informed.

Nevertheless, the establishment has been jolted with the loss of 25 more personnel. Only last month, in the same state, the same district, the same force was routed by the same adversary. The guerrillas then killed 12. About 60 security personnel have been killed by the Maoists within the four months of this year.

Nothing hereon will matter more than the rectification at the top, inside the North Block where the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is expected to hammer into shape the contours of this fight. Yet its absurdities have gone unchallenged and unrepaired:

1. In a Parliamentary Committee report tabled on March 15, the Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi has been quoted as saying the government had no money to provide mine resistant vehicles to protect troops from Maoist mines. The committee was “constrained to observe that lack of financial resources is becoming a reason for casualty of valuable lives being lost in the battle against Left Wing Extremism”.

2. To deal with Maoist mines, the MHA told the Parliament it is ensuring the availability of more than one mine proof vehicle (MPV) per battalion. But it never told that its own guidelines (authorisation) hold that every battalion must hold between seven to ten MPVs.

3. The MHA also indirectly made the Jabalpur-based Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) look responsible for not producing enough MPVs. Why did the MHA not float a global tender if the OFB was slow? Minister of State in-charge of the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) desk, Hansraj Ahir said his government hadn’t given the idea a thought yet.

4. On April 12, replying to a host of Members of Parliament (MPs), Ahir patted himself on the back for year on year reduction of casualties of troops as if this conflict was about numbers alone. In the same deliberation, Ahir when asked about the modernised combat support and technology his government had brought to the troops said the troops now had helicopters and drones!

5. The efficacy/availability of drones comes under doubt when it hasn’t helped the CRPF pick any signs of back-to-back, massive ambushes which the Maoists laid barely 2km outside its camps! It also points to a breakdown of communication with the local community – the very people the CRPF is there to normalise the situation for.

6. Problem of poor leadership by the MHA compounds when it comes to CRPF, a force with lethal disconnect between the top and the bottom. That the MHA has kept the CRPF headless for nearly two months says so much.

7. Unfortunately the MHA and the CRPF have made a habit out of ducking from questions. Having covered the issue, I know the approach has the green signal from powerful quarters

8. With little to show in terms of deftly handling the Kashmir situation, the MHA finds itself in a corner. It simply does not have the troops it needs to strengthen its presence in the LWE states where the deployment is as such thin.

While the top fumbles with hardly any accountability, those on ground will pay with their lives for one wrong step taken.

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A little-known success story that emerged for the US Marine Corps from Vietnam, documented in The Tunnels Of Cuchi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate, may hold relevance here.

A harassed young officer, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver, discovered how the native communist fighters were using underground tunnels to hit his troops and evade. Since the Americans had no experience in dealing with the tunnel menace, he took it upon himself to painstakingly learn and teach his battalion ways to identify bunkers, probe them and only upon completing this “course”, he sought the permission to launch an “operation”.

His troops seized the area, physically searched the ground for holes, any tell tale signs and kept up till 89 of the 92 guerillas operating there were killed, captured or had surrendered.

(THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED AT THE DAILYO PORTAL – http://www.dailyo.in/politics/26-crpf-maoists-die-sukma-bastar-home-ministry-failure/story/1/16839.html)

HAND IN HAND: When we shot India & China over guns, bombs & some chicken curry

YOUTUBE LINK TO THE TELECAST DATED DEC 3 & 4, 2016:

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WHEN WE SHOT THE ARMIES OF INDIA & CHINA OVER GUNS, BOMBS & SOME CHICKEN CURRY: 

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/indian-army-china-pla-international-security-military-operations/story/1/14361.html

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PLA in the kitchen!

VIDEO BLOG: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pla-peoples-liberation-army-indian-army-chicken-curry-rotis-training-exercise/1/829279.html

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De-briefing is underway
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Our troops stunned the visitors and audience with their skills
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The admin block inside Aundh military station which was home to the Armies
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At the end of  the practice session for the cultural display
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With the PLA in their barracks 
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A break!

AGUSTAWESTLAND: MoD’s quiet U-TURN in Italy that left even top law officers guessing. I write.

STORY ONE – May 30, 2016

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Attorney Gian Luca Grossi who was hired by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) inside his Milan office

In June 2013, it was a hard fought victory which came against a battery of Italy’s top defence lawyers. The court granted India the position of a civil party in the corruption proceedings against the top bosses of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland. By this, India got involved, got the right to seek damages and secured access which was unavailable till then. On April 28, this year, calling corruption as the ‘core issue’,  the Ministry of Defence (MoD) swore to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in pursuing the wrong doers.

In all of this, what the MoD did not announce or explain was its decision to quit the Italian judicial process altogether. This implies India neither remained a party nor qualified for damages.

In February 2015, India decided to not challenge a lower court order in Italy which in October 2014 declared there was no corruption in the case.

Speaking exclusively to India Today, Attorney Gian Luca Grossi, who represented the MoD at the lower court at Busto Arsizio where the trial went on from June 19 2013 to October 9 2014 said, “MoD was civil party in the trial, in the first stage in Busto Arsizio. It came in only at the end of the first trial there. Then India decided to not go ahead with the appeal. Lower court gave a clear verdict saying there was impossibility of bribery. MoD decided to quit the trial. I don’t know why, but they decided to quit. I respect that.”

When asked what did he advice the MoD, he said, “I think our advice was to stay on, stay inside also in the second degree at the Tribunale (Court of Appeal). I told them I was not confident (about their exit). It wasn’t a very easy decision but 51 per cent I would have stayed against 49 per cent to pull out. He added, “If I had the choice in my hands, I probably would’ve (stayed). When you make a choice, take a path, even if you find some problems in walking, you have to go ahead, you have to go ahead.”

In the sentence of the Milan Court of Appeals of April 7, 2016, MoD is shown as a ‘non appelante’ – a party which had not appealed. This fact was also confirmed by the prosecution there.

INDIA LOST CHANCE TO WIN ‘HUGE’ COMPENSATION

According to Attorney Grossi, who still is shown as the MoD’s attorney as per the April 7 sentence, India lost out on a chance to not just secure a moral victory by being a party when the recent order came out but also monetary compensation.

“If you want your money back, you go the civil court. If you want to secure reputation and restoration, then you go to the criminal one,” he said. In effect, India went to the criminal court and opted against going to the civil one.

What would have happened had India continued in the case?

“Our request in the trial stage was not allowed. We had asked damages but the court did not allow because the bribery angle was not proven then. So if the bribery is not proven then how can there be compensation? The tax authorities made the accused pay the difference and that was it. If we were in the case now, we would have had compensation. I do not know how much, I don’t think it was a huge one,” he replied.

Describing the hectic nature of consultations in the days prior to India’s opting out, he said, “We had a deadline to participate in the appeal. It was February 21 2015, the deadline. So we heard each other on some occasions but till the date, we did not get in.”

Former Defence Minister and senior Congress leader AK Antony had accused the present government of trying to aid Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland by allowing a backdoor entry into India markets, something the government has vehemently denied. In July 2014, the NDA had, its ministers claimed, put on hold all acquisition and procurement cases involving Finmeccanica and allied firms.

As per a statement in the Parliament by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, while the MoD had made an advance payment of Euro 250.32 million to AgustaWestland, only Euro 199.62 million was recovered after a deduction of Euro 50.70 million for the three helicopters India took the delivery of.

“In addition, the government also suffered an estimated loss and damages of Euro 398.21 million on account of cancellation of the contract with AgustaWestland International Limited (AWIL),” Parrikar had said.

Defence Ministry spokesperson while responding to the issue said, “We went by the advice of Solicitor General in this case and pulled out. Our goal in becoming a party in the lower court was to get access to evidence and documents. We did get that. Joining the appeal would not have yielded much. Government of India goes by Solicitor General’s advice and not by the lawyer on record.”

HERE’S WHAT ATTORNEY GROSSI SAID:

Can the MoD get into the appeal in Italy’s Supreme Court?

Till May 22, there is time to appeal and participate in the third stage of the trial. But we are not in it, the MoD is not anymore. We quit. We did not go to the second stage.

On middlemen Haschke, Gerosa and Christian Michel

Michel was slightly away from the scene when compared to Mr Haschke and Gerosa who were arrested and brought to the court. Using wiretapping technique, their roles were elaborated but not so for Michel. The public prosecutor said Haschke had applied for plea bargain. Haschke is approaching 70, he is old. When you are old and since there are multiple levels of appeals in courts, it is normal for many to admit their guilt. I can not talk more about his choice. He basically negotiated the penalty, his criminal responsibility, be it pecuniary or jail by replacing it with compensation, community work.

Did Finmeccanica and AgustsWestland also negotiate a plea bargain?

Within Italian rules, if the crime is committed in the interest of the company the company is punished. They prefer to pay the damages. They did like what Haschke did. A plea bargain is what AgustsWestland did though I do not remember how much.

It was said that India’s MoD did not cooperate with Italian judicial process. What was your experience like?

Italy has given many things to the CBI, however, the Letter Rogatory (LR) issued by the Italians was not specific. The request was vague and difficult. There are military secrets and matters of sensitive nature. If you do not know what exactly you are asking then confusion comes up. If you ask for tender documents, what all to give? When you don’t know, you ask for everything. My own experience was good. I do not know. MoD was there to defend its reputation. I have often heard this question being asked. If you have to safeguard you have to remain a party. We went to all the hearings together. Couple of people from the MoD and people from mission would sit through. Long hearings, somedays all through. I was there with people from MoD and those from the Consul General.

AS APPEARED ON INDIA TODAY:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/agustawestland-govts-u-turn-in-italy/1/680910.html

 

STORY TWO – June 10, 2016

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD), after fighting hard to become a party to the Italian legal proceedings in their case against Finmeccanica and its firm AgustaWestland, quietly quit the process in February 2015. In doing so, MoD chose to not appeal against the accused and lost out an opportunity to seek monetary compensation.

While justifying the actions of the MoD, the spokesperson said it was the Attorney General (AG) who advised them in February 2015 and the ministry ‘proceeded accordingly’. The ministry had earlier said the advice to quit was given by the Solicitor General (SG). Upon asking, both these authorities denied ever giving such an advice.

The question that emanates from this is what prompted the MoD’s move to pull out?

Speaking to this correspondent in his Milan office Attorney Gian Luca Grossi who represented the MoD at the lower court at Busto Arsizio where the trial went on from June 19, 2013 to October 9, 2014 said, “MoD was civil party in the trial, in the first stage in Busto Arsizio. It came in only at the end of the first trial there. Then India decided to not go ahead with the appeal. Lower court gave a clear verdict saying there was impossibility of bribery. MoD decided to quit the trial. I don’t know why, but they decided to quit. I respect that.” When asked what did he advice the MoD, he said, “I think our advice was to stay on, stay inside also in the second degree at the Tribunale (Court of Appeal). I told them I was not confident (about their exit). It wasn’t a very easy decision but 51 per cent I would have stayed against 49 per cent to pull out. He added, “If I had the choice in my hands, I probably would’ve (stayed). When you make a choice, take a path, even if you find some problems in walking, you have to go ahead.”

In the sentence of the Milan Court of Appeals of April 7, 2016, MoD is shown as a ‘non appelante’ – a party which had not appealed.

According to Grossi, India lost out on a chance to not just secure a moral victory by being a party when the recent order came out but also monetary compensation. “If you want your money back, you go the civil court. If you want to secure reputation and restoration, then you go to the criminal one,” he said. In effect, India went to the criminal court and opted against going to the civil one.

When INDIA TODAY approached AG Rohatgi, he initially sought time to respond. Reverting at a later date Rohatgi said, “I have advised the MoD on aspects pertaining to blacklisting of various companies under the Finmeccanica umbrella but in so far as the issue you are raising, I have no recollection of having done so.”

Since in one of the responses the MoD had named the SG as the one who advised them, he too was approached. SG Ranjit Kumar too distanced himself from the issue. He said, “The matter never came to me nor have I given any advice.”

Earlier, the Defence Ministry spokesperson had stated, “Our goal in becoming a party in the lower court was to get access to evidence and documents. We did get that. Joining the appeal would not have yielded much.”

THE BLAME GAME

Former Defence Minister and senior Congress leader AK Antony had accused the present government of trying to aid Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland by allowing a backdoor entry into India markets, something the government has vehemently denied. In July 2014, the NDA had, its ministers claimed, put on hold all acquisition and procurement cases involving Finmeccanica and allied firms.

As per the recent statement in the Parliament by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, the MoD had made an advance payment of Euro 250.32 million to AgustaWestland, only Euro 199.62 million was recovered after a deduction of Euro 50.70 million for the three helicopters India took the delivery of. “In addition, the government also suffered an estimated loss and damages of Euro 398.21 million on account of cancellation of the contract with AgustsWestland International Limited (AWIL),” Parrikar said.

AS APPEARED ON INDIA TODAY:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/exclusive-mod-quit-agusta-trial-in-italy-as-attorney-general-adviced-ag-rohatgi-differs-says-no-recollection/1/688945.html

US Defence Secy Carter in India: Key takeaways here

 

PIC5Defence Minister MANOHAR PARRIKAR’s speech on the eve of joint statement with Dr Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defence, USA

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to receive Dr Carter in India. This is his second visit in less than a year, reflecting his continued interest in expanding bilateral defence relations between our two countries.

As many of you are aware, Secretary Carter is the architect of the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative. DTTI has provided an unprecedented platform for our two countries to strengthen bilateral cooperation in cutting-edge technologies and to address procedural delays in decision-making. We have decided to take forward discussions under DTTI more aggressively on key areas such as Jet Engine technology. We will also continue our very useful and productive discussions on cooperation in the framework of the Joint Working Group on aircraft carriers. We also agreed to expand DTTI by introducing new and more ambitious projects for mutual collaboration. Both of us noted the strong complementarities between DTTI and the Make in India initiative. I hope to work together with Secretary Carter over the coming weeks and months to facilitate synergies between Indian and US companies in high technology areas, and in particular to promote participation of Indian companies in global supply chains.

It was entirely appropriate that we visited India’s western shores. Even as we work with the United States to realize the full potential of India’s Act East policy, we also seek a closer partnership with the United States to promote our shared interests in India’s West, especially in the context of the emerging situation in West Asia.

With a view to taking our cooperation forward, Secretary Carter and I have agreed to set up a new bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue between officials from our respective Defence and External Affairs Ministries. We have also decided to enhance our on-going Navy-to-Navy discussions to cover submarine-related issues. Both countries will also deepen cooperation in Maritime Domain Awareness by finalizing a ‘White Shipping’ Agreement.

The growing interaction between our armed forces is another significant aspect of our bilateral partnership. Today, India has more joint exercises with the United States than with any other country in the world. After a few years, we are taking part in multilateral exercises such as the Red Flag Air Force exercise and the RIMPAC Naval Exercise. As our engagement deepens, we need to develop practical mechanisms to facilitate such exchanges. In this context, Secretary Carter and I agreed in principle to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in the coming months.

We also discussed the regional security environment. I underlined India’s continuing concern at terrorism in the region directed against us. Secretary Carter emphasised that eliminating terrorism, and the ideology and infrastructure that supports it, is a common objective the United States shares with India. We look forward to even closer bilateral cooperation with the United States on counter-terrorism.

India and the United States are both strongly committed to a rule-based international order. We will continue to work together to maintain peace and stability and to maintain an enabling framework for progress and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

FULL TEXT: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=138813

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JOINT STATEMENT TEXT

Bilateral Defence cooperation is a key component of the strategic partnership between India and the United States.Secretary Carter’s visit marked the fourth meeting between him and Raksha Mantri Parrikar within a year, demonstrating the regular Ministerial-level oversight of the robust and deepening bilateral Defence relationship.

They discussed the priorities for the coming year in defence ties, as well as specific steps both sides will take to pursue those priorities. These included expanding collaboration under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI); Make in India efforts of Government of India; new opportunities to deepen cooperation in maritime security and Maritime Domain Awareness; military-to-military relations; the knowledge partnership in the field of defence; and regional and international security matters of mutual interest.

They welcomed plans across our Services for greater complexity in their military engagements and exercises, including developing plans for more advanced maritime exercises. Both sides acknowledged India’s participation in the Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC) multilateral naval exercise in 2016 as well as participation by the Indian Air Force in the multilateral Red Flag exercise in April-May 2016 in Alaska and U.S. participation in the International Fleet Review of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.They expressed their desire to explore agreements which would facilitate further expansion of bilateral defence cooperation in practical ways. In this regard, they announced their in principle agreement to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, and to continue working toward other facilitating agreements to enhance military cooperation and technology transfer.

In support of the India-U.S. Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region and the maritime security objectives therein, both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime security. In this context, they reaffirmed their desire to expeditiously conclude a “white shipping” technical arrangement to improve data sharing on commercial shipping traffic. They agreed to commence Navy-to-Navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare. They also agreed to launch a bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue, co-chaired by officials at the Joint Secretary/Assistant Secretary-level of the Indian Ministries of Defence and External Affairs and the U.S. Departments of Defense and State.

Secretary Carter and Raksha Mantri Parrikar reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea.

In this context, they agreed to initiate two new DTTI pathfinder projects on Digital Helmet Mounted Displays and the Joint Biological Tactical Detection System. They commended the on-going discussions at the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG)and the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC). They agreed to work towards greater cooperation in the field of cutting-edge defence technologies, including deepening consultations on aircraft carrier design and operations, and jet engine technology. They noted the understanding reached to conclude an information exchange annex (IEA) to enhance data and information sharing specific to aircraft carriers.

In support of Make in India, the United States shared two proposals to bolster India’s suite of fighter aircraft for consideration of the Government of India.

Secretary Carter and Raksha Mantri Parrikar welcomed the finalization of four government-to-government project agreements in the area of science and technology cooperation: Atmospheric Sciences for High Energy Lasers, Cognitive Tools for Target Detection, Small Intelligent Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Blast and Blunt Traumatic Brain Injury.

Before departing India, Secretary Carter will oversee a repatriation ceremony of U.S. World War II remains from India to the United States.

FULL TEXT: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=138813

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STATEMENT BY DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE, US AFTER CARTER’S MEET WITH PM MODI

They discussed the secretary’s trip to Goa, his visit to the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya  and Karwar Naval Base – a first for a secretary of defense – as well as a range of security issues.

Secretary Carter shared with the prime minister his views on the unprecedented military-to-military ties between the two countries right now..

The secretary reinforced his view that India, like the United States, seeks to be a net exporter of security, and the two countries will continue to work with other partners to shape a regional security architecture that will allow all to rise and prosper.

FULL TEXT: http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/719207/readout-of-secretary-carters-meeting-with-indian-prime-minister-narendra-modi

Self-made Light Combat Helo’s 1st rocket firing – All about it here

LCH Rocket firing

After successful completion of basic performance flight testing and outstation trials for cold weather, hot weather and hot & high altitude testing in the year 2015, the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) has achieved yet another milestone by satisfactory firing of Rockets (70 mm) from its prototype, TD-3 in weaponized configuration.

 

“The initial rocket firing trials have been carried out at Jaisalmer, establishing satisfactory integration of hardware and software, structural integrity and safe separation of rocket ammunition. Integration of weapons such as Rocket, Turret Gun (20 mm) and Air to Air Missile on LCH will further continue”, says Mr. T. Suvarna Raju, CMD, HAL. “These trials give us confidence for carrying out certification firing trials planned during Apr-May 2016”, he adds. LCH will participate in IAF’s `Iron Fist 2016’ exercise on March 18, 2016.

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The LCH TD-3 is integrated with Electo-Optical (EO) System, Solid State Digital Video Recording System (SSDVR) and 70mm Rocket system in conjunction with an updated Glass Cockpit software to cater for rocket firing.

 

Light Combat Helicopter (LCH)

 

LCH is a 5.5-ton class, combat helicopter designed and developed by HAL. It is powered by two Shakti engines and inherits many technical features of the Advanced Light Helicopter. The features that are unique to LCH are sleek and narrow fuselage, tri-cycle crashworthy landing gear, crashworthy and self sealing fuel tanks, armor protection, nuclear and low visibility features which makes the LCH lethal, agile and survivable.

 

The helicopter would have day/night targeting systems for the crew including the Helmet Pointed Sight and Electro-Optical Pod consisting of CCD camera/FLIR/Laser Range Finder (LRF)/Laser Designator (LD). The LCH is fitted with Self Protection Suite consisting of Radar/Laser Missile warning systems and Counter Measures Dispensing System (CMDS).

 

The first prototype helicopter had its inaugural flight on Mar 23, 2010. The second and third prototype had their first flight on June 28, 2011 and Nov 12, 2014. LCH TD4 completed its maiden flight on December 1, 2015.  LCH has completed performance trials paving way for certification of basic configuration and a letter to this effect was handed over to HAL by CEMILAC in the presence of Defence Minister on Oct 16, 2015.

 

(Text and images courtesy HAL, Bengaluru)

Ranthambore: India’s most famous tiger park is adrift, needs attention

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Travel is about discovering something. Should a ‘discovery’ always lead to joy and a desire for more? Not necessarily.

Located at a distance of about 400km from our place of residence in New Delhi is Rajasthan’s Sawai Madhopur district, famous for the Ranthambore national park which most know as a sure-shot tiger spotting avenue. I first heard about it when US President Bill Clinton chose to visit the place during his tour to India in March 2000.

Since we were to travel in a relatively shorter timeframe (Jan 1-Jan 4), we chose the train.

In the first hours of the first day of the new year, we found ourselves awaiting the 19806 Udhampur Kota Express at Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station. Since I was boarding a train after a long gap, I was keen to see how much had things improved (at this point, delivering a cleaner, passenger-friendly approach has been the focus of the railway minister Suresh Prabhu). The station area felt slightly cleaner but the basic bit about having proper announcements for the convenience of passengers was missing. Found no notification about the where bogies would arrive and the like. So a lot is still the same.

Since we were tracking the train, when it did arrive at 5am (initial time of arrival was 3:55am), we boarded and located our seats. The cold just shot up, once the train picked speed. The windows, though shut, did little to block the chilly wind from percolating. While the seating area felt cleaner, the toilets were all but that. By 10:30am, we were at Sawai Madhopur railway station. The train did good speed.

After boarding a rickshaw, driven by a gentle and patient Chawlaji, a local, we reached our hotel (my TripAdvisor review: https://goo.gl/n5PUqC).

Over the next two days, we did a few jungle safaris and came out a tad dejected since the big cat’s trail turned out cold.

My dismay with Ranthambore can hardly be because of that. After all, any such excursion is a chance and I was mentally prepared for what eventually happened.

Let me begin by informing you that the place is nothing but a dirty, dust bowl, all the way from Sawai Madhopur to Khilchipur.

The local administration, earning as it does from the oversubscribed park safaris and taxes has taken not a step to prevent the place from resembling an overflowing dust bin. Pigs scrounge overflowing, plastic-ridden garbage dumps on both sides of the only yet poorly maintained road which delivers an almost back-breaking ride. Dust pours into your lungs the minute you roll your windows down.

Nothing, just nothing, seems to have been done to beautify the place.

Coming to the park, the main attraction – to my horror I discovered a traffic jam on every occasion we entered. It was hardly the case that things settled down once inside. Thanks to an old temple, located deep inside the park, the authorities allow unrestricted traffic movement. The tranquillity, the rich quality of air you’d visit a forest for, we found blown into smithereens as car owners, jeep drivers, vehicles for tiger safaris honk, fight and speed on the way. As a private car owner you will travel free, deeper into the forest than a tourist who pays to get inside, on to a route or a zone! On our third excursion into the park, so disgusted we were that we cut it short mid-way and returned to our hotel.

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Spotting a tiger has been reduced to the luxury of ‘VIP routes’ as locals call them. These are routes on which those who ‘know someone’ get to go to. Our hotel owner advised us to ‘make calls to the park authorities’ if we wanted to spot the tiger.

In this trip, I also attempted at breaking out of the ‘agent-route’ and booking the safari on my own. Nearly died in the process.

For all the money people are willing to pour into visiting the place, the park authorities have constructed a typical, bureaucratic match-box where tourists and agents line up along the dusty highway and wait behind iron grills to purchase their pass. The lords of the safari who occupy the high table inside open the grill which ensures an avalanche of people troop in through a narrow opening (it was a stampede where I fell down and got up in time before being crushed) and yell to secure seats in the safari vehicles.

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Why there can’t be a less hazardous way of doing this, needs to be asked.

Before I end, I must also bring to you the tale of a most ridiculous ‘museum’ that I have come across. For the sake of brevity, I shall only that every minute I spent in there was the most under utilisation of my time. It, to my mind, is also the most wasteful utilisation of a building beautifully constructed, almost resembling a palace.

On our way back, we boarded 19019 Dehradun Express from Sawai Madhopur. A clean, on-time performance is what we got.

Thus ended our first trip in the New Year.

I wish I had spotted the big cat. Perhaps my words would be seen differently then however such are the ways of the wild.

With this piece, my only intention is to help unsuspecting animals and tourists get a better deal, moving forward.

Shorter portion of this appeared first on DAILYO

http://www.dailyo.in/lifestyle/ranthambore-sawai-madhopur-rajasthan-t24-ustad-jungle-safari-tourism-traffic-vips-rajiv-gandhi-regional-museum-of-natural-history/story/1/8383.html

JHARKHAND: No mine proof veh despite order, jawans took this truck, were blasted

VIDEO: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/ied-blast-kills-crpf-men/1/583379.html

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It was close to 5:30pm in the remote Kalapahadi area in Jharkhand’s Palamu district – one among 18 affected districts of the state. The long-drawn, anti-Maoist operation had ended and the five teams involved in the operation were returning to their bases. One of them was of police personnel from the Hussainabad.

Going against the agreed-upon decision to walk back to their respective bases, the contingent called for a vehicle. After all they had gone searching for trouble and returned unharmed. All was going the way it was envisaged.

Crater caused by the blast

And then, a deafening roar stunned everyone.

Members of the outlawed Communist Party  of India (Maoist) had managed to successfully detonate an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) under the chasis of a medium-sized truck carrying the policemen. Investigation has revealed it was a deadly concoction of gas cylinders, ammonium nitrate with splinters thrown in.

mpv
Article appeared in MAIL TODAY on January 30, 2016

By the end of the day, seven members had lost their lives and six had sustained injuries.

This is pretty much how most attacks in the conflict-ridden central and eastern parts of the country end.

However, this isn’t how it was to be.

In 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), had issued a guideline authorising every force fighting the Maoists to acquire a better mechanism to respond to the growing threat posed by IEDs – the Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs). The ‘authorisation’ stated that for a General Duty (GD) battalion (about 1000 troops) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – the force nominated as the lead counter insurgency in the country – there will be seven MPVs allowed and for a specialist battalion of COBRA, as many as ten such vehicles would be allowed. This, in other words, implied that budget-wise the MHA would have little objection if forces would desire these vehicles.

The Jharkhand Police which has as many as 250 of its police stations ‘affected’ by Maoist menace has not more than 80 such vehicles. By this count, when required, men from more than three police stations will have to jostle to get one such vehicle! The CRPF which reports to the MHA has fared even worse. When it fields 22 battalions (approximately 23000 troops) in Jharkhand, it only has 30 MPVs to offer them. As against one MPV per approximately 100-250 troops allowed, today’s ratio is one MPV for more than 750 troops, if all the vehicles are up and available.

“It is very easy for our bosses who use choppers or vehicles on fully sanitised roads to say we should avoid vehicles. We get so tired after long drawn operations that at the first sight of a road, it is difficult to control your men who all express their desire to be driven,” said a jawan.

MPV representative image

With specialised vehicles which offer a relatively better chance of survival for troops virtually absent, forces have no option but to rely on trucks, local vehicles like buses and jeeps and even ambulances, all of which the Maoists have successfully blasted killing most of those inside. On occasions when security forces have used these civilian vehicles, the insurgents have not shied away from blasting them as well notwithstanding collateral damage.

Indecision, multiple false-starts and indifference has contributed to this. In 2014, the then Director General of CRPF, Dilip Trivedi asked for a surrendering of all MPVs the force had. It was attributed to the lack of interest. However following an uproar, the force revised its stand.

Former Border Security Force (BSF) Director General Prakash Singh, “When long distances have to be covered, MPVs should be used. They can offer a better degree of protection. We need to see if the funds for MPVs were not allocated or not utilised or diverted. This should be looked into.”

Home Minister Rajnath Singh did not respond to the question asked on the matter.

Written story appeared first on INDIA

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