Tag Archives: Jugal R Purohit

WARGAME GAGANSHAKTI: What is the IAF saying?

By Jugal R Purohit

New Delhi

In the early hours of Saturday, April 14, a fully-armed Sukhoi 30 – the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) frontline fighter plane – roared as it took off from the Kalaikunda air force station in West Bengal.

The Russian-origin combat aircraft was soon above Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea before turning back to land at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Using mid-air refuelling, the Sukhoi, which can fly at a speed of 2500 kilometres per hour, demonstrated something any air force would give its right arm for – a reach of 4000km in a single flight.

But this did not happen in isolation.

Photo (3)
A Su30 undergoing mid-air refuelling during Gaganshakti 2018. Picture Courtesy: IAF

Consider this:

  • Between April 8 and 22, the IAF nearly shut all its training and pulled out nearly 1400 of its officers and 14,000 men for a wargame. Almost anyone fit to fly was directed to make themselves available.
  • In that period, nearly 1100 of its aircraft were specially deployed across the length and breadth of the country on ‘operational duty’.
  • So intense was the effort that fighter, transport aircraft, helicopters, Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) put together generated a staggering 11000 flights/sorties between them.

In conjunction with elements of the Indian Army and the Indian Navy, the IAF had mounted what many term as one of its biggest-ever exercise. They named it ‘Gaganshakti 2018’.

VIDEO: GAGANSHAKTI 2018 – IAF Presentation – http://indianairforce.nic.in/video-gallery/5

“If war were to happen tomorrow, we would like to be in a position where we can sustain a high tempo of operations. Gaganshakti 2018 was where we tested ourselves extensively and results were satisfying”, said an officer aware of the intricacies of the exercise.

While the exercise was initiated with a focus on India’s western borders, mid-way, the IAF re-positioned its forces on India’s eastern frontiers.

File Photo 1
IAF: In the mountainous terrain the movement of the troops from one valley to another is a challenging task. The redeployment of forces from one area of interest to another may at times take couple of days. Inter Valley Troop Transfer operations help to reposition the desired forces within a couple of hours. Picture Courtesy: IAF

The message was clear.

The IAF was publically practising for a two-front conflict.

Photo (2)
IAF: This assault included paradrop of 560 paratroopers, combat vehicles and GPS guided cargo platforms. The landing force was dropped behind the simulated enemy lines to soften up the likely resistance to our own armoured offensive. Picture Courtesy: IAF

But, there is more to the story.

World’s fourth largest air force, the IAF, is operating with 31 squadrons of fighter jets whereas it needs 45 squadrons.

Also, the IAF appears to be in deep financial trouble – from purchasing new equipment to maintaining the older one, the impact is pervasive.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, headed by veteran BJP leader Major General BC Khanduri (Retired) tabled its forty first report in Lok Sabha on March 13, 2018 (http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Defence/16_Defence_41.pdf):

  • (For 2018-19) Shortfall of Rs.6440 crore in the Revenue Budget is likely to impact the operational preparedness, ability to procure spares & fuel, apart from leaving gaps in training programs, serviceability of older systems and provision of basic amenities to the Air Force personnel.
  • …percentage share of Air Force budget has declined considerably during the last few years.
  • Allocations made under the capital head for the Air Force, which is largely accountable for modernization budget of the Service, has consistently plummeted. In the year 2007-08, it was to the tune of 17.51 per cent of the total defence budget and has gone down to 11.96 per cent in the year 2016-17.
  • …there appears to be a lack of sufficient sincerity towards capacity enhancement and modernization of the Air Force.
Khandu
Major General BC Khanduri (R) is a BJP MP and a former chief minister

The report also reveals how the IAF from 2016 onwards was made to pay over Rs 2500 crore in customs duty, an amount which was to be reimbursed to the service but never was. In fact, out of its meagre resources, the IAF is set to further shell out Rs 1726.98 crore towards custom duties in 2018-19 too!

Indeed in the coming years, some of the earlier inked deals like the one for French fighter Rafale and American helicopter Chinook are expected to fructify. However, these are fruits of what has been inked in the past.

Yet, by the end of the next decade, the IAF will be left with a paltry 19 squadrons says the same Parliamentary panel.

Xinhua
An undated file photo of the J-20 released by Chinese state media XINHUA with the claim that these stealth birds had been commissioned earlier this year

A decade is all that separates a rapidly-modernising Chinese air force from the IAF which, as of now enjoys the upper hand in a trans-Himalayan encounter of the type Gaganshakti 2018 envisaged says Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retired), a veteran helicopter pilot.

“Today, we have better equipment, better support fleet and much better aircrew training. However if we cannot generate a top class next generation fighter in house in the coming decade, then it is anyone’s guess where India’s advantage will be”, he added.

It took the IAF nearly nine months to plan out Gaganshakti 2018. A conflict, however limited, may not provide such a cushion. The IAF is also mindful that the day they square off with China, Pakistan may jump in too.

“We have a task at hand. What we don’t have are the best tools. When will they arrive, no one can tell”, explained an officer.

He added, “With Gaganshakti 2018, we exercised our Plan B”.

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CONFLICT REPORTING: What role do we have in conflict and peace-building? Frankly, none. Notes from a recent talk.

It’s been twenty seven years since the world saw the first televised conflict in the form of US-led Operation Desert Storm against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

With that began the phase when governments utilised the power of the visual medium to ‘shock and awe’ the opposing side.

desrty storm
POST OP DESERT STORM: U.S. Army Gen. Norman H. Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives by helicopter at a desert command to visit with U.S. and international troops during Operation Desert Shield, April 1, 1992. Courtesy: Department of Defense, US

Terrorists too picked up on it. 9/11 remains its biggest example.

What was common however was the fact that media houses remained the gatekeepers. Whether to air or not, how much to air and what not to – these were decisions journalists made.

Today, the gatekeeper is nearly jobless.

When not owning media, governments own social media feed.

Terrorists too drop a message on a chat app or upload a video on a video-sharing site. The job’s done. Who needs journalists any longer!

Good news or bad news?

Good, if you ask me.

We are no longer required to run after the authorities for bites, data, images and the like. Unless you prefer walking with your eyes closed, there are bigger issues to tackle, inconvenient truth to uncover, propaganda to defeat, fake news to bust and that old school reportage is always there for those who seek.

Next question – are we seeing this form of journalism around us, in India? In a hall full of aspiring media professionals and veterans, not a single person said yes.

These are some of the inconvenient truths I gathered from editors I’ve had the chance to work with:

  • Let us not take on/question our armed forces (it ostensibly lowers their morale)
  • Do not cover/talk to Maoist insurgents – they are terrorists
  • Stories of Maoist violence are not sexy enough there are massive casualties
  • Celebrate surgical strikes but don’t question why are matters slipping away so rapidly
maoist-guns
Maoist insurgents in central India have sustained their violent campaign against the state for over seven decades

Let me tell you something about the Maoists of India who’ve managed to create an insurgency that predates our independence. To recruit they rely on issues like mining, displacement, denuding of forests, police atrocities – how often and in what manner do we report on them?

Did anyone in the audience remember seeing an Indian news television report on the subjects mentioned above? No one was sure.

My next question to them was whether they’d seen a tribal affairs correspondent in any of the major news channels? Or if they’d seen reporters based out of conflict-ridden areas of Odisha, Chhattisgarh or north eastern states? Hardly anyone offered a word.

Conflicts are spells – sometimes long sometimes short. But if journalists look at covering them as an aberration then credibility is the price.

Last year, World Press Freedom ranked India 136th among 180 nations. To put things in perspective, between 2016 and 2017, India slipped three positions and moved closer to Pakistan (139). Our neighbours, Bhutan (84) and Nepal (100) are miles ahead.

By the way, this World Press Freedom report was prepared before the pre-meditated murder of Bengaluru-based journalist and proprietor Gauri Lankesh.

India has progressed when it comes to ease of obstructing journalists.

Any talk about doing journalism in these times in this country, of course, cannot be complete without reminding the reader what India’s premier anti-terror investigation agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) holds as the definition of journalism – covering developmental activity of any government department or inauguration of a hospital or a school or statement of any political party in power – this and more found its way into a charge sheet NIA filed before a court a few weeks ago (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/moral-duty-of-a-real-journalist-is-to-cover-govt-development-activity-nia-kamran-yusuf-arrest-5065841/)

Lastly, what role does the media have when it comes to reporting on conflict and peace-building?

Frankly, none.

So what should drive our coverage? Truth and public interest, to my mind.

Governments, parties in power and several institutions talk of media as their force multiplier. Is that justified?

Take for instance the case of American security contractor Edward Snowden. Championed world over for taking on the secretive National Security Agency which was collecting data on millions of innocent individuals, he is an offender when it comes to the USA. Syed Saleem Shehzad who exposed the grip that jihadists held on institutions of Pakistan military was hailed as a daring, investigative journalist. However, the intelligence agencies in Pakistan did not think so. They are accused of in fact having a hand in his killing.

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What Snowden did is seen differently, depending on which side of the divide you are

Media was seen as a force multiplier by those in the Bush administration who were trying to convince the American public about the merits of invading Iraq for Saddam’s connections with Al Qaida and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – both of which remain unproven to this day. Many journalists who did their bidding are even today busy apologizing for that.

Of course over 2,88,000 individuals who died a violent death in Iraq since the American invasion never got the chance.

(Notes from a lecture I delivered at GD Goenka University, Gurugram in March 2018)

CRPF SUKMA BLAST: Did not check the road for mines admits Chhattisgarh Police

Does the left hand know what the right is doing? Not always.

In a stunning revelation, it is now emerging that neither the local police nor the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – both tasked with countering the left-wing Maoist violence in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh – bothered checking the road for mines before allowing troops to ply on it leading to the carnage on March 13 where nine policemen were killed in an mine explosion.

Around noon on Tuesday, in the state’s Sukma district, men from 212 battalion of the CRPF were commuting from the Kistaram camp to the one at Palodi when their Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) was blasted by insurgents using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

Two more policemen who were in the same vehicle are currently being treated for the injuries they sustained.

While the CRPF maintained that the state police was tasked with clearing the road from all forms of threat on that ill-fated day, the state police said did not have the resources required for that task.

Sundarraj Patilingam, the Chhattisgarh Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) who looks at the violence-hit region said, “On that day, the state police undertook an area domination exercise (this involves occupying the dominating features along a route to secure a large area) between Kistaram and Palodi. It was a decision taken based on resources available before the officials on ground. In hindsight, we believe a more intensive de-mining and ROP (Road Opening Party is specifically tasked with minutely scanning the road to terminate threats like the IEDs) could have resulted in detection of the IED. Therefore the incident could have been averted”.

He added, “But ideal conditions don’t always exist and senior officials have to visit camps”.

For years now, Maoist rebels have used IEDs planted underneath the road surface to target security personnel. A thorough ROP is thus the only way to counter the threat.

Vehicular movements are generally avoided unless personnel actually conduct an ROP exercise and give the green light.

Warning was ignored 

Barely five hours before the mine blast, the Maoists fired upon personnel from the CRPF’s special unit, CoBRA (208th battalion) ahead of the Kistaram camp at about 7am.

“We’d hardly covered three kilometres on our way to Palodi, nearly 250 Maoist insurgents attacked us. We hit them back and they retreated,” said a policeman who was aware of the fight.

As a result of this, a pre-planned visit to the Kistaram and other camps by the Sukma Superintendent of Police and senior CRPF officer was cancelled.

Nevertheless, at around 9am, the SP, Abhishek Meena, landed in a helicopter at Kistaram, unaccompanied by the senior CRPF officer.

“Our 208 CoBRA had warned about the presence of large number of Maoists with sophisticated arms in the area. The Sukma Superintendent of Police (SP) went ahead with his pre-planned visit after assessing the situation. Our Commanding Officer sent the MPVs one of which got caught in the IED blast”, said the Director General of CRPF, RR Bhatnagar.

Asked if the SP Sukma should have paid heed to the caution advised by his force, Bhatnagar said, “There is no point in conducting these post mortems. We have to look ahead”.

When contacted, the Sukma SP Meena declined to comment.

ALSO READ – MY DEEP DIVE INTO MAOIST INSURGENCY AND WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018:

https://jugalthepurohit.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/maoist-menace-fewer-attacks-fewer-maoist-casualties-but-more-security-men-killed-this-and-more-that-the-govt-wont-tell-you/

What goes down need not necessarily come up. RIP San Juan: Vice Adm KN Sushil (R)

KN SUSHIL
Vice Admiral KN Sushil retired from the navy in May 2012, after nearly 40 years of service. The Admiral is a doyen submariner and was among the pioneers who inducted the modern Shishumar Class submarines in the Navy. The Admiral as the first Inspector General Nuclear Safety of Indian Navy, had laid the ground work for induction of advanced nuclear submarines like INS Chakra

BY VICE ADMIRAL KN SUSHIL (Retd)

The ARA San Juan disappeared a few hundred kilometers off Argentina’s coast on November 15, and despite an extensive air and sea search no sign of the sub has been found. Eight days after the sub vanished, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation said that it had detected hydro-acoustic anomaly” about 30 nautical miles (60km) north of the sub’s last-known position at 10:31 (13:31 GMT) few hours after the sub’s last contact. The analysis of the acoustic incident was reported as follows.

The acoustic signal associated with the loss of the Argentina Submarine ARA SANJUAN confirms the following:

That acoustic signal originated near 46-10S, 59-42W at 1358Z (GMT) on 15 November 2017. It was produced by the collapse (implosion) of the ARA SAN JUAN pressure-hull at a depth of 1275-feet. Sea pressure at the collapse depth was 570 PSI. The frequency of the collapse event signal (bubble-pulse) was about 4.4Hz. The energy released by the collapse was equal to the explosion of 12,500 pounds of TNT at the depth of 1275-feet. That energy was produced by the nearly instantaneous conversion of potential energy (sea-pressure) to kinetic energy, the motion of the intruding water-ram which entered the SAN JUAN pressure-hull at a speed of about 1800 mph.
The entire pressure-hull was completely destroyed (fragmented/compacted) in about 40 milliseconds (0.040s or 1/25th of a second), the duration of the compression phase of the collapse event which is half the minimum time required for cognitive recognition of an event. Although the crew may have known collapse was imminent, they never knew it was occurring. They did not drown or experience pain. Death was instantaneous.
The SAN JUAN wreckage sank vertically at an estimated speed between 10 and 13 knots. Bottom impact would not have produced an acoustic event detectable at long range
         

The ARA San Juan was an IKL(German) designed type 1700 submarine built by TKMS in their Essen yard in 1985 at about the same time the Indian type 1500 was being built at HDW(Kiel). Both the submarines have great deal of similarities. Therefore, having commanded two type 1500s I will venture to hazard a guess on what could have afflicted the submarine.

SAN JUAN1
The ARA San Juan was an IKL(German) designed type 1700 submarine built by TKMS in their Essen yard in 1985 at about the same time the Indian type 1500 was being built at HDW(Kiel). Both the submarines have great deal of similarities.

Facts as gleaned from various reports.

15 Nov 0030Hrs. Submarine surfaced to report Water ingress through snort system causing a short circuit in the forward battery group. The forward battery group was isolated. The submarine charged her batteries on surface

At 0600 The message is transmitted through normal communication channels.

At 0730 the Captain informs base that he intend to continue his passage dived (Presumably because the sea was rough) At 1031, according to the CTBT report the submarine imploded at a depth of 1275 ft.

From the above it would appear that the submarine was snorting before she surfaced at 0030hrs. If there was water ingress through the snort mast that caused a short in the forward battery group then the submarine was unable to maintain snorting depth, because the sea may have been too rough and the “head valve” (that prevents water from coming into the mast, when the mast dips even momentarily) was not functioning. As part of the SOP the snort induction drain, which drains into the bilges is kept open for the duration of the snort.  In any case during the snorting, the diesel engines are used to create the suction that draws all the foul air from all over the submarine. The fresh air coming from the snort mast merely spreads to fill the vacuum. Therefore flooding through the snort system would normally have no effect on the battery groups.

The submarine remained on surface for seven hours post an incident of fire and smoke, which was attributed to short circuiting of the forward battery group. The crew, it seems, did not see any fire but managed to clear the smoke after isolating the forward battery group.

A fire in a battery group is one of the most dreaded emergencies on board any submarine. Therefore the damage control actions and subsequent analysis would have been painstakingly thorough. If there was a fire in the battery pits the firefighting system would have been activated (manually or automatically). Once the system is activated the battery pits are to be kept in a sealed condition for at least one hour. Thereafter the pit is ventilated for at least an hour before inspecting it. In these types of submarines one has to lie down on a trolley and manoeuvre manually over the batteries. If the sea is rough it becomes extremely difficult and dangerous.  It may therefore be possible that they may have dispensed with the inspection whilst on surface.

In the seven hours on surface the crew must have thoroughly examined the power distribution network and come to the conclusion that the problem was contained, and the submarine was reasonably safe to continue dived with a single battery group. They may even have considered that it would be safer and easier to inspect the battery pit while the submarine is underwater.

SAN JUAN3
ARA SAN JUAN disappeared while on its way to the naval base in Mar Del Plata, in the early hours of November 15

The submarine dived at 0730 hrs. After 3 hours it appears to have imploded at a depth of 388 Meters. 388 Meters is of course below the normal operating depth but well above the crushing depth. If the submarine did indeed implode at that depth the inescapable inference is that there were severe structural problems that had weakened the pressure hull. The Argentinean Navy must have known if any structural limitations were reported or imposed.

If the structural problems were not severe enough then some event that occurred in the 3 hours she was submerged must have been responsible. That event was so catastrophic that the submarine was unable to prevent an uncontrolled descent. Given the background situation the captain would have ordered the submarine to dive to 50 Meters. As soon as he settled down to that depth, he would have ordered the inspection of the battery pit. Unless there are clear tell tale signs, it is possible to miss some things which may have the potential to cause damage. Anyhow the inference and action post this inspection is not known. Did they reconnect the forward group? We will never know. The inspection would have taken about 45 minutes to an hour. The fact that they did not surface immediately after the inspection indicates that they did not notice anything alarming.

In the three hours that the submarine was under water, if there had been a gradual flooding, the crew would have taken action to mitigate the effects, and would have ample reaction time to surface. Therefore loss of control must have been triggered by a sudden event. A pressure hull breech and flooding that must have cause to rapidly lose depth. The most immediate response is to use speed to create dynamic vectors to aid depth control. Since the submarine had only one battery group connected the speed of the submarine would be restricted to about 8 Knots ahead and about 4 Knots astern.  This would not be sufficient to delay the descent so that de-ballasting and pumping out capacities can effectively annul or reduce the rate of flooding. The rate of flooding keeps on increasing with depth.

Now we have a situation where the submarine with the forward (or all) ballast tank probably blown going down. At depths greater than 180 meters the effect of blowing ballast with High Pressure air (250Bar)is painstakingly slow. The next stage is when the submarine crosses 15 meters more than the operational depth the Hydrazine emergency de-ballasting system will be triggered. This system is designed to clear the forward and aft main ballast tanks in 12 seconds at any depth. The problem would be if the Ballast tanks already contain air the Hydrazine will cause an explosion in the ballast tanks. If that happens there is nothing left to create positive buoyancy.

The Next question is why did the submarine implode at 388 meters? As brought out earlier it clearly points to structural weakness in the pressure. If such a situation did not pre-exist then it may be possible that the battery pit event may have cause massive spillage of acid into the pit causing the pit to corrode in the almost 10 hours this corrosion may have weakened the hull sufficiently to cause a substantial breech in the pressure hull. The flooding of the pits could an explosion as the water level reaches to short the terminal connectors.  This is only a conjecture.

San Juan went down without a trace. The crew did not even have the time or opportunity to release the systems and tell tale indicators that were meant tell the outside world that the submarine is in distress.

It is said what goes up must come down. Submariners know that what goes down need not necessarily come up. San Juan RIP.

In the language of the submarine community San Juan is on eternal patrol.

#SANJUANSUBMARINE: Its disappearance should ring alarm bells in India. My explainer.

Argentina is in grief and the world is anxious. Days have passed and leads on the disappearance of submarine ARA San Juan and its 44-member crew have turned cold. The Argentine Navy said there was an explosion near the last known location of the submarine.

In brief, here is what happened:

Midway through its journey from the naval base in Ushuaia to the one in Mar del Plata, on November 15, the ARA San Juan surfaced and reported a short-circuit in the batteries of the submarine. That was resolved. At 7.30am, the submarine stated it would submerge and reach Mar del Plata. Nothing was heard from the boat thereafter.

Watching these developments is the small community of Indian submariners. As one of the largest navies operating 15 submarines most of which are nearing or past their shelf lives, the concern is genuine. There is one more reason.

“Our Shishumar-class of submarines (Type 1500) is similar to the missing Argentinean sub in design and equipment fit (ARA San Juan is a German-designed Type 1700 submarine built in 1983 in erstwhile West Germany),” said vice admiral KN Sushil, a veteran submariner, who retired as the head of the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command.

Subsurface, like space, is where nature did not envisage human presence. Thus submariners leave nothing to chance.

To start with, the underwater arm is a volunteers-only affair and “earning your Dolphins” is as challenging a task as it can get. While in other arms of the service as well as in other services, an individual is expected to be the master of his/her domain, the underwater arm requires an individual to master all domains.

The most important part of their training is how to escape, should the worst happen and the boat is rendered dysfunctional. Proof of how intense and treacherous the exercise is lies in the fact that the Indian Navy provides every trainee with a trainer.

WATCH: Short film on the Indian Navy’s Escape Training School in Vizag

Depending on the depth, personnel are imparted the skill to self-evacuate using tubes meant to fire torpedoes.

Caution goes beyond training.

WATCH: My comprehensive documentary on the INDIAN NAVY’s EKM-class submarine INS Sindhukirti shot in November 2015

Ingrained in the very design of a submarine is layer after layer of redundancy to ensure the worst does not take place. “In fact, our Shishumar-class submarines have a rescue sphere which allows the entire crew to escape when all efforts have failed and if the submarine continues to descend below operational depth,” said the admiral.

Those onboard ARA San Juan did not have the rescue sphere.

But they still had multiple mechanisms to guide rescuers. “All submarines have emergency indicator buoys which when released help locate the submarine and have a search and rescue beacon. In addition, there is an underwater pinger which can be picked by sonars and sonobuoys. If the submarine is sunk at depths from which escape using escape suits is possible, the crew can abandon the submarine and float on the surface.

These submarines also have life rafts which can be released from a depth of 150m,” added vice admiral KN Sushil (retd).

What if an Indian submarine suffered a similar fate?

Though the Indian Navy did lose INS Sindhurakshak in a tragic explosion inside the Mumbai Naval Dockyard in August 2013 where the crew on board was killed, it has never lost a submarine at sea.

“Operation centres keep a track of submarine positions. During peacetime a ‘check’ signal from the sub, sent over Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmission is received and anything to be conveyed is relayed. If there is no ‘check’ signal for 24 hours then in the 25th hour, the hunt with all available assets will begin,” explained a submariner who did not want to be quoted.

Within 48 hours of India requesting, based on a pre-existing arrangement with the United States, the US Navy would fly out its Deep Search and Rescue Vehicles (DSRVs) to aid the Indian efforts. “The entire logistics of flying out the DSRVs, bringing it and welding on to a ship which would take the material to the sea has been worked out,” revealed an officer aware of the matter.

By the end of 2018, India will operationalise two DSRVs of her own using which distressed submarines located as deep as 650m can access. It will help pull sailors to safety.

Since 2004-05, India has also been a participant to various international arrangements like NATO’s Submarine Escape and Rescue Working Group under which even non-NATO countries come together on a single platform to cooperate in case of submarine mishaps. “The best of what is available in the world can be pooled in. We’ve worked out these arrangements and practised the drill over the years,” said a source.

But all of this and more is at play in the waters of Argentina. Yet, the admiral said, “There are no happy stories of a lost submarine crew having been rescued alive using these techniques.”

In searching for an unresponsive submarine, ironically, its biggest strength becomes the biggest hurdle – stealth.

“A submarine’s build and shape prevents the ships from getting its picture. Bad weather can make a difficult job, more difficult,” said commander Ashok Bijalwan (retd), who has served onboard the Indian Navy’s Foxtrot and Kilo class submarines.

Another factor is crush depth – the depth at which the submarine will collapse inwards by the pressure exerted on it. Crush depth comes into the picture when the submarine is in a freefall, a downwards spiral.

“Generally the crush depth is two times the maximum depth to which a submarine can dive and operate. However, since the ARA San Juan is more than 30-years-old, the chances of it imploding even at lesser depths are possible”.

The takeaways for India are clear.

A group of relatives of the ARA San Juan crew left the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri speechless when they asked him why he couldn’t invest the state budget into buying newer and safer submarines.

With a submarine fleet whose average age is 25 years, India is only inching closer to an underwater disaster. If and when that happens, there will be no one to blame but ourselves.

ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED HERE:

https://www.dailyo.in/variety/argentina-submarine-ara-san-juan-ins-sindhurakshak-submarine-tragedy-mauricio-macri/story/1/20810.html

#StateOfPlay: Barely 12, the RTI is already sputtering, needs intervention.

The Right To Information (RTI) Act 2005 turned 12 this week.

It carries a different meaning for different people.

To the poor, it is a way to ensure the government delivers what is entitled to them. To the activist, it is a tool to unearth what is wrong. To the politician, it offers a chance to play the victim and strengthen his defence. To a cheat, it grants an opportunity for blackmail. To a journalist, it remains the easiest access to a scoop without putting one’s source in discomfort.

How popular the act is can be gauged by the fact that over 6 million (and counting) applications seeking information are filed annually with authorities at the centre, state and district level. As activist and former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi told me, “At least on three occasions, the government tried changing the Act and failed. It speaks of how strongly the citizenry and civil society upholds it”. Few are aware that RTI Rating which analyses the ‘quality of world’s access to information laws’ ranks our legislation as the fifth best in the world. Mexico tops the chart and our neighbour Sri Lanka is a close third.

Let me stop you right now if your chest is swelling with pride.

The RTI Act is choking. Or as Nikhil Dey, a senior activist from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information said, “The Act has been able to withstand a lot but will it not be injured?”

At play is a devious scheme, a quiet and cunning stifling of the act’s implementation. The players remain faceless, beneficiaries too obvious to state.

The ailment can be identified by reading the superbly documented report, ‘Tilting the Balance of Power: Adjudicating the RTI Act’ by RaaG and Satark Nagrik Sangathan. Some of its points:

  • Of the over 6 million applications filed every year only about 5 per cent reach the Information Commissions on appeal. Citizens either lack awareness or resources.
  • Not more than 45 per cent of the applications seeking information are successful. Less than 10 per cent of the unsuccessful 55 per cent end up file an appeal.
  • Collective backlog of unresolved application (where data was available) as of December 31, 2015 was 187974 cases. Pendency is rising implying the time taken in attending to your appeal is growing longer. In Assam, where no State Information Commissioner was appointed from January 1, 2012 to December 2014 and not a single Information Commissioner from March 2014 to December 2014, the waiting period for an appeal is 30 years! Not too long ago, even Madhya Pradesh had a waiting time of 60 years! It didn’t really reform – it stopped sharing data on its site.

VIDEO LINK:

How has it come to this?

“Unfortunately, Act gives the govt of the day a big say in who it wants to appoint as Information Commissioners,” stated Dey.

That is when the government wants to.

In the national capital, in 2015, the centre was shamed into appointing a Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners after activists knocked the doors of the Delhi High Court. By then, the Central Information Commission was headless for over ten months.

And what happens when the government, whether at the centre or in the states want to make appointments?

Section 12(5) of the Act says ‘persons of eminence in public life’ and belonging to a wide variety of fields can be appointed as Information Commissioners.

Here is what really happens.

The report cited earlier says, “A 2014 survey says 60 per cent of the Information Commissioners (ICs) across the country and 87 per cent of the CICs were former civil servants. 77 per cent of the CICs were from IAS cadre”.

The commissions have power to punish by penalising erring government servants and ordering the release of information. But, “Only in 1.3 per cent of the cases where penalty on erring civil servant was imposable did the Information Commissioners impose the same”, says the report.

Gandhi’s experience from the time he was a commissioner made him state, “Commissions use penalty very rarely as if it was death penalty. The total number of penalties levied by all the commissioners since beginning in 12 years is 1211. Out of these I alone had levied 520 penalties”.

Understood?

Dey said, “This govt at the centre came in reaping the benefits of RTI act yet a pro-disclosure approach is hardly seen”.

I’d like to end on a positive note but the story shared by the tireless retired naval officer, Commodore Lokesh Batra, who also is an RTI activist, is difficult to overlook. Worried over growing vacancies in the Central Information Commission, Batra wanted to examine how the issue was being dealt with. In a reply dated September 29, 2017, the CIC told him, “The said subject has not been dealt with in any file”.

Since President John F Kennedy told us ‘sincerity is always subject to proof’, I ask – what do you see?

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON DAILYO:

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/right-to-information-rti-narendra-modi-diluted-information-commissioners-rti-act/story/1/20080.html

 

World Lymphoma Day: I am a cancer survivor and this is my story

The year was 2017, the date, March the 15th.

I’d spent the day on-site, working on a documentary profiling the Garud commandos of the Indian Air Force (IAF) at their base in Chandinagar near Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat.

As dusk approached I had missed a call. It took me back to an unfinished agenda – a medical report that I was to receive.

When I called back, it was the hospital.

The lady at the other end wouldn’t tell. She’d rather email.

When she did, we finally had an explanation for a lump on the left hand side of my neck which ordinary medication couldn’t shake offr days. I’d read up and suggested to my doctor the worst-case scenario only to be chided for ‘over-enthusiasm’. Now, my guess turned out correct.

Mine was a case of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer, they ruled.

On my forehead was cold sweat. The mind was agitated. And my day still had work left in it.

After realising that this no longer was a nightmare from which I would open my eyes to a ‘normal day’, I wrote in my diary:

“We will deal with this and deal with this well. There is one thing I promise now – my zest, my love and my humanity are only going to grow stronger. And I swear to whomsoever it may concern that I am going to beat the shit out of this. Cheers”

Over the next few days we worked with doctors to understand the full picture.

Of everyone, I was most nervous about informing my mother. Living on her own in Mumbai, I did not want her alone and worried at the same time. But her courageous stand, when I did inform her in person, gave wind to my sails.

As television journalists, our acquaintances see us even if we don’t see them.

This ailment forced upon me a hiatus from which I did not know when I would emerge. Some who were concerned began asking why they weren’t seeing me. Every time someone asked about my health, I told them the truth.

People offered assistance, advice, personal stories or simply their best wishes. That so many felt so strongly was almost therapeutic.

I was also lucky in that I did not suffer a single symptom associated with my ailment. The disease was at an early stage of its existence the tests had revealed.

Yet a slower but testing experience was about to begin.

By the middle of April, I’d embarked on six cycles of chemotherapy under the soft-spoken and tireless Dr Dinesh Bhurani of the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre in the capital. Those undergoing chemotherapy are warned about multiple side effects which include but are not limited to pain, sleeplessness, mood swings and nausea.

For me, it was a period of observing the resilience of one’s body and mind. I was impressed how well my body faced up to regular doses of controlled and targeted toxicity. There was discomfort but it never got quite as bad.

With time on hand, I read, wrote, saw and learnt as much as I could. Sleeping without setting alarm and meditating daily helped restore my health.

During that period, I’d often come across news about fatalities caused by cancer. I must share – those stories broke my heart. They filled me with palpable fear. The words, ‘what if’ never really left my side.

In many ways, struggling with cancer is akin to climbing a difficult mountain. Sad as it may sound, not everyone who begins necessarily completes it.

I came across many whose situation wasn’t as comfortable as mine. Every time I did, I’d hope that a turnaround for them was around the corner.

Exactly a year ago and thereafter, scans could no longer find cancerous cells in my body. That was also the time my doctors granted me the permission to travel. It seems such an ordinary prospect yet after having lived in virtual house arrest for nearly six months, it meant the world to me.

All this would have been impossible without the person I, even before my cancer, referred to as my ‘Rock’, my wife Sapna.

If one moment she was my loving companion, the next she could be a cop knocking sense into me. She went to maddening lengths so that I ate right and stayed away from infections. All of it came at a price – her stress levels were peaking and it showed.

Now, I’ve promised to not make her worry about my health.

Also, being a far better writer than yours truly, I’d urge you to read her perceptive (and shorter) piece written last year. (https://goo.gl/Szzf7C).

Cancers associated with habits aside, the disease can affect anyone. After all, it is one among trillions of cells in our body that goes rogue and doesn’t know when to stop.

Having said that, I must add that cancer is weak in its early days.

What makes it weaker is a spirit that is both, happy and strong.

Why did it happen to me?

Science does not offer an explanation. But the fundamentals for a healthy and stable existence were not in place in my case.

Forget others, I used be extremely harsh on myself. No matter what I did or achieved, I’d always be unhappy, unsatisfied. In seeking more (not your healthy, motivated way, mind you), in punishing myself, I caused my mind and body immense and undue stress.

As someone who believed that life was all about work, I used to look down upon the very thought of sleeping beyond five hours a day. While I did find time to exercise but my eating habits and ‘work-life balance’ consistently left a lot to be desired.

Stress is underestimated and its impact on us, perhaps oversimplified.

A year after, I feel deeply connected to my mind and body and there is the desire to strengthen this bond.

I want to laugh more, love more, sing more and dance more.

Where I looked for distances, I today seek depth.

During my ailment, I would often look at people who were healthy and could go about their lives normally. Looking at them going to the restaurant, being able to walk in the park, go for a movie, have their loved ones over – things I could not do due to my treatment – made me appreciate the value of our health and the time we have on hand.

There was another set of people I would look at very often – patients and care-givers.

Step inside any hospital and there are so many! We often don’t realise how widespread suffering is, how widespread care-giving is. We can’t and don’t know the battles people around us are fighting.

There thousands of ‘unsung heroes’ among us at all times.

At the risk of sounding sagely, this realisation does fill me with compassion towards everyone.

I do not want to lend even an inch to emotions like anger and harshness, whether directed at myself or others.

My journey, for what it’s worth, has made me realise that our body and spirit have in them the keys to our wellness.

We only need to cultivate the right environment.

Cancer came to me as a pause. Thankfully in leaving, it gave me the opportunity to reset.