A journey starting from the picturesque East Sri-Lankan coast and culminating in the blue mountains of South India traversing through the exotic Malabar Coast might be the perfect getaway for an intrepid traveller. But this piece is not a travelogue; it is, instead, the trajectory of Indian Navy towards the goal of self-reliance, of making in India and of being a pioneer in Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
It’s a journey in which 12 Oct is a most significant date in Indian Maritime History. It was on this day more than 200 years ago, in 1817, that HMS Trincomalee – a Leda class 46 gun fifth rate frigate displacing 1447 tons – was launched. Notwithstanding the fact that she was named after a Sri Lankan port and served under a British flag, she was built in our own Naval Dockyard at Mumbai and is afloat even today, berthed in Hartlepool, UK, as a museum ship. In short, the second oldest ship in the world was made in India. And despite many changes over all these years, almost two thirds of her hull is still Indian teak. The mind boggles that a Frigate of the Napoleonic era is still in mint condition. Maritime historian Capt Ramesh Babu (Retd), the author of a book on Trincomalee (published by the Navy), who visited the ship few years ago, after her restoration, writes “stepping on board the ship is an exhilarating experience, especially if you have served in Bombay dockyard”.
Trincomalee’s bicentenary plus story is shining testimony of India’s maritime prowess and shipbuilding skills, alas unknown to many in our country. It is true that from about the 13th century onwards India declined as a maritime power and as a seafaring nation. This was to lead to the denouement of colonization with its attendant collateral damages. Loss of supremacy at sea led to loss of sovereignty on land. All this is well known, even if not completely understood, by Indians at large.
However, even in this bleak period there were some bright patches or rays of hope. The heroism and maritime savvy exhibited by the Admiral Queen Rani Abbakka of Ullal, the Kunjali Marrakars of Malabar and, later, by the Marathas is stuff of legend. Our coastal and riverine navigation and commerce continued. And the performance of our ships and naval personnel in both world wars earned kudos. Indian shipbuilding too survived and thrived in the colonial and precolonial period with several parts of India such as Bengal, Kashmir, Lahore, Surat, Bassein, Dabhol, Goa Calicut and, even, possibly, Bombay being among the important ship building centres. As naval historian Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh says of the Mughal period “there is evidence available to establish the high standard of technology in the construction of these ships and craft”. Ramesh Babu adds “Building of seagoing vessels would have existed in and around Bombay right from antiquity”. Here, it is necessary to emphasise that building a ship is the very acme of engineering, design, ergonomics, architecture and several other disciplines. Building warships is even more complicated business given the huge interplay of several complex factors.
In this light, therefore, one of the most illustrious maritime achievements of the colonial times would be that of the Wadia shipbuilders and the Bombay docks. The British, some years after moving their Headquarter from Surat to Bombay, built the Dock in 1735 and persuaded the Master Shipbuilder Lowejee Nusserwanjee Wadia to shift base in 1736. The rest, as they say, is history. Interestingly, renowned maritime historian Cdr Mohan Narayan (Retd) believes that the dock, in some form, and ship building happened even before 1735 but that would be another area of research.
The Wadia (carpenter or shipbuilder) family was known for their high standards of workmanship. With the backing of their masters and an enabling environment in Bombay, the Wadia clan rolled out ships of different types – Pattimar, Grab, Galbat, Snow, Brigantine, Sloop, Schooner, Clipper, Frigate, Ships of the Line – as though in an assembly line. Between 1735 and 1899, seven generations of the Wadias built a staggering 363 ships of the finest quality and class. That is a stupendous average of more than 2 ships per year. Over a century and half, these ships built in India, by Indians, for the British and others, sailed all over the world, earning their spurs in war and peace.
They also made history. Apart from the aforementioned Trincomalee – often described as the ship that sailed through time – built under the supervision of Jamsetjee Bomanjee, it also included ships like HMS Minden (on which Francis Key wrote the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, the American national anthem), HMS Cornwallis (on which the Treaty of Nanking was signed, which, among other things, ceded Hong Kong to the British), HMS Asia (which took part in the Battle of Novarino, the last battle totally under sail) and HMS Ganges (the last Flagship of Royal Navy under sails). Ramesh Babu brings out that “Jamsetjee built world class battleships, frigates, grabs and other vessels for the Royal Navy using local carpenters and traditional skills at these new facilities”. This is true of other Wadias too.
Incidentally, the above mentioned Bombay Dock, the oldest in Asia, is functioning even today as the Naval Dockyard and is the principal yard that maintains and refits navy ships. The northern part of the erstwhile Bombay dock is today’s Mazagon Dock, India’s premier ship building centre. Together, these two are a splendid account of history, technology, human spirit and their link with the city but that needs a separate telling.
Many thinkers and historians opine that there is not much to celebrate these achievements since they were essentially in the service of the British crown, a foreign ruler. They make a fair point. But I believe that we must acknowledge the technical prowess, the skills and the overall ecosystem that enabled such world class ships to be built barely two to three centuries ago. More importantly, they underscore our maritime and shipbuilding skills honed over centuries and the inherent DNA, which ‘like the soul long suppressed found utterance’, to quote Pandit Nehru in another context, in this endeavour. Maritime historian and author Cmde Sanjay Kris Tewari (Retd) emphasises this aspect when he says that ‘we must not forget the contribution of one of the most important components in maintaining and sustaining a Navy viz. the dockyard. The Yard at Bombay was a pivotal institution in the sustenance of the British Empire, manned and operated almost entirely by our people. The Yard has also played a central role in the growth of our Navy. We still operate the dry docks that were built during the time of Lowjee Nusserwanjee”.
It was the combination of many circumstances that led to the decline of this flourishing industry. The steamships that replaced sail changed the whole paradigm of seafaring, for one. The opening of Suez Canal which was difficult for sail ships to navigate made their existence more difficult. And, above all, a concerted effort by the British to keep India at a low industrial and military (especially naval) threshold left us in the cold as new and powerful ships came to be built in the new steam and industrial age.
In an article written for this newspaper on 02 Oct, (https://thedailyguardian.com/on-mahatmas-birthday-remembering-indian-navys-pre-independence-journey/), I brought out how the establishment of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and the World War 2 brought back some urgency in building and refitting ships in India as the war effort needed many more ships. By Jun 1941 as many as 263 merchant and naval ships were fitted with degaussing equipment made in India, to counter the mine threat. July 1941 marks another landmark moment in Indian ship building when the first Basset class trawler HMIS Travancore, built at Kolkota, was commissioned. In the next two years 11 more ships were commissioned. Bangor class minesweepers also built in India joined RIN 1943 onwards. Several smaller craft and harbour defence boats were also locally built.
Thus, after independence, it was the above mentioned shipbuilding DNA that came to the fore as our Navy set out to create a self-reliant force. The Navy’s founding fathers realised that we could not build a great Fleet by being a buyer’s Navy – it could be done only by building our own ships. As Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh in his book ‘Under Two Ensigns’ brings out, “As far back as 1949, it was realised by Vice Admiral Sir Edward Parry, the then Commander-in-Chief of the RIN, that any Service that depended entirely on imported ships, equipment and expertise would rue the day the umbilical cord of vital supplies from abroad was severed. It was he who during the late forties, had decided to set up a naval research and development organisation in India so that it could help the Navy to progressively indigenise the production of naval hardware and develop the necessary expertise within the country”.
Accordingly, a 1948 plan document of the Indian Navy envisioned aircraft carriers and submarines when we had less than half a dozen sloops. Many may have described such dreams as fantasy or whimsy. There were other factors disadvantageous to the fledgling Indian Navy – from low technology base to funding constraints, from the landward orientation of our leadership to an Army and Air Force that threatened to grab the lion’s share of resources. Hence, we adopted a two pronged approach. While initially buying from abroad, we set up our own design bureau to design ships suited to us. Our shipyards and dockyards slowly played ball.
We began with a small patrol craft INS Ajay built at the Garden reach Shipyard, Kolkota, moved on to a survey ship INS Darshak in 1964, the Bhatkal class minesweepers in 1968, started work on the first Leander, the Nilgiri class, in 1965 which were commissioned 1972 onwards, and worked our way up through the Godavari class frigates, the Khukri class corvettes, the Brahmaputra class frigates, the Delhi class destroyers, the Shivalik class stealth frigates, the Kolkota class destroyers besides other lines such as Landing Ships, Offshore Patrol Vessels, Missile boats, Survey ships, ASW corvettes, Auxiliary vessels, Coastal and Harbour defence craft and so on Thus, to cut a long story short, today, 70 years after independence, we are building our own ships and submarines, including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. And our entire team of designers, builders, integrators, overseers and users are forming a virtuous circle each reinforcing the other.
To be sure, we still have some way to go. We need to have nearly 100 percent indigenisation; we need weapons and many systems to be sourced from within. But every ship that gets constructed has more indigenous content than her predecessor, every ship an improvement over the previous one. So much so that today a navy ship constructed in India is no longer news. And we also need to look at the context. Let’s not forget that India designed her first indigenous car, the ‘Indica’ in 1997 much after we had built our first ship. Incidentally, in 1997, India had built the most advanced destroyer, the INS Delhi, which was the 75th warship built in India and catapulted Navy into a new era.
Today, India builds world class warships designed by Indian Navy engineers and scientists. Even as I write this, the Indian Navy has quietly added to its amphibious Fleet this year, the Visakhapatnam class of destroyers are nearing completion, the Aircraft carrier at Kochi is conducting harbour trials and, illustrating the spin offs and virtuous circle, the private sector firm Larsen and Toubro (L and T) has delivered 7 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) to the Indian Coast Guard, five of them ahead of schedule.
It has been a monumental journey and nothing symbolises this more than the happenings of 28 Sep 19, when three interrelated events took place in Mumbai. These were the commissioning of INS Khanderi, the second of the new Kalvari class submarines, the launch of the new Nilgiri class stealth frigates, the next generation multipurpose platforms that would enter the service from 2022 onwards (the 75th year of our independence) and inauguration of the Aircraft Carrier dock.
There are multiple significances to the three events – all with the Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh as the Chief Guest – when viewed holistically. They talk of our prowess in indigenisation, they attest to our three dimensional virtuosity and to our long legacy of aviation and submarining proficiency, The Aircraft carrier dock is an engineering marvel (do google for details) steered by Navy’s technical professionals. Fittingly, this dock was built by HCCL (Hindustan Construction Company Limited) one of India’s leading Engineering companies. HCCL was founded by the great visionary and freedom fighter Walchand Hirachand, who is also a maritime hero.
INS Khanderi along with its sister ship INS Kalvari heralded a new dawn for us as they entered naval service. Unlike their earlier avataars, the Foxtrot class submarines which were bought from erstwhile Soviet Union, these have been built in India, at the Mazagon Dock. It is true that this is a French Scorpene design and most of its components are French, but the mere fact of building a boat (as submarines are called) in India is bound to unleash several energies that would aid our manufacturing and entrepreneurship. Interestingly, they are the first Indian Naval vessel to be built using a modular approach, whereby five separate sections were welded into one or booted together.
Building submarines will be the final frontier to conquer in our indigenous programme. Ironically, we had started building conventional submarines thirty years ago, in the eighties with the SSK programme. Built to German HDW design, the last two boats were constructed, also at Mazagon Dock, with the fond hope that this would ultimately lead to our own fully indigenous submarine building line. Alas, it was not to be and the lost decade of nineties dissipated our entrepreneurial energies. All the technical competence that we had built withered away and the envisioned assembly line vanished. Hopefully, we have learnt our lessons and will make sure that this does not happen again.
The rebirth of the Nilgiri class will strike a chord with most navy persons. A previous article of this author on 15 Aug on Adm AK Chatterji (https://thedailyguardian.com/remembering-the-admiral-who-shed-his-vice-and-built-the-navy/) brought out how events in 1968 culminating with the launch of the Nilgiri class frigates, our first major warship programme marked a watershed moment in our ship building history. After the last of this class were decommissioned in the early years of this decade, there was a fond hope that they would be reborn. The Navy’s decision to christen the latest new generation guided missile stealth destroyers as the Nilgiri class could not have come at a more opportune time emphasising Navy’s tryst with transformation while being rooted in tradition.
These events happened in Naval Dockyard and Mazagon dock, the very places in Mumbai where maritime history has been repeatedly made. As maritime historian and corporate trainer Cdr Ninad Phatarphekar (Retd) emphasizes “Hidden away in the history books is the fact that from 1736 to 1932 over 400 ships and vessels of various descriptions were built at Bombay Dockyard. Added to that are some 220 odd ships and vessels built by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd. from 1960 onwards taking the total to well over 600 ships and vessels which is a singular achievement for any city or shipyard. Shipbuilding and Ship repair is an industry that has flourished in the city of Mumbai for close to three centuries”.
The Indian Navy has been a pioneer in ‘Make in India’. Our naval planners and thinkers and designers and scientists and overseers have never wavered in our quest for blue water multi domain capability through self-reliance. The Navy’s technology ecosystem needs another article in itself to bring out the magnitude, depth, scope and the vast array of its achievements. (Do watch this space for more in the forthcoming weeks). For the moment though, we can proudly say that we have a legacy of 200 years of Making in India – though it is actually much more than that depending on your historical outlook. The commemoration of Trincomalee, recollection of Tranavancore and rebirth of the Nilgiri class gives us much cause to be proud of our past, celebrate our present and be optimistic about the future. Hopefully the rest of India will relish and cherish these maritime milestones. To borrow a phrase of a respected senior “Samudra Bharat hi Samrudhha Bharat hai” or “Only a Maritime India can make a Prosperous India’.
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Major push to Make in India in defence sector
To give a major push to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atamanirbhar Bharat mission, the Indian Army has joined hands with various technology firms to cater to the demands of the present security scenario.
The Army says if it has to remain operational all around, it cannot rely on obsolete technology hence latest advancement in the sector have to be adopted.
“The Northern Command is always combat ready in the times to come, the challenges will continue to increase so we have to rely on advance technology and keep on innovating,” Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi told The Daily Guardian on the sidelines of the Northern Technology Symposium held in Udhampur on Sunday.
North Tech Symposium was organized under the aegis of HQ Northern Command at Udhampur. Technology symposium, exhibition was organised wherein 162 companies from Indian defence industry including MSMEs, DRDO, DPSU, participated and exhibited their products.
In addition, 42 innovative solutions by Army establishments towards enhancement of combat potential of the Army were also on display. Lt Gen BS Raju, Vice Chief of Army Staff inaugurated the first of its kind technology symposium in Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing the event, vice-chief of Army staff Lt Gen V S Raju said that he would have appreciated if the investors, capital ventures would have also shown interest in the event to boost the new start-up.
“To cope up with the ever-evolving and ever-changing security scenario, we also need to adopt changes and keep on innovating. I am happy that so many companies have shown interest to showcase their products at the North Tech Symposium. I am hopeful that in near future, many of the products would be put in use by the armed forces,” General Raju said.
In the wake of recent incidence of drone dropping in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab from across the Indo-Pak border, various companies have displayed their products including anti- drone system, drone jammer which can strengthen the forces and border guarding forces to thwart Pakistan’s plan of disturbing peace.
Other than drone dropping threats, detection of tunnels on Jammu and Kashmir border is also a major threat for the security forces these days as 11 tunnels have been detected on Indian-Pakistan border in the past few years. There was number of companies which showcased their products to detect underground tunnels by using artificial intelligence and special radar.
The symposium saw active participation from of senior officers from different forces including IDS, Army HQ, HQ ARTRAC, other Commands, HQ Northern Command, and its subordinate formations. This interactive platform for knowledge diffusion through Joint Army-Industry participation was an important step in the direction of the government’s initiative of “Make in India”.
On the first day of the seminar, the participants from Army and industry discussed the policy and procedures for expeditious procurement, Raksha Atmanirbharta initiatives by Indian Army, DRDO and Defence Public Sector Undertakings, how can private sector contribute towards surveillance system, weapon sights, drones and counter drone system and miscellaneous technologies like 3D printing.
The symposium served to showcase cutting edge technologies and innovative products providing solutions to some of the complex challenges faced by the security forces in Northern Command and also acted as an ideal platform for mutual exchange of ideas between the domestic defence industry and the Army. The technologies and products on display covered a wide canvas, the prominent ones being surveillance and situational awareness, tactical mobility, firepower, force protection, communications, combat medical facility, robotics and simulators.
The symposium was a huge success and Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, AVSM lauded the initiative and innovations of all the vendors. The General Officer expressed his conviction that the plethora of technologies available indigenously can further boost the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” project of the nation. The spirit of Atmanirbharta demands that research and development, the domestic defence industry and Army have work in a synchronized manner to realise the nation’s vision.
ARMY MAJOR SUCCUMBS TO INJURIES DURING OPERATION IN KASHMIR
An Indian Army Major lost his life after slipping into a ravine during a counter-infiltration operation in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.
Late Major Raghunath Ahlawat, 34 was leading his team on a counter-infiltration operation based on reliable intelligence input. “To identify a safe approach for the team he led from the front while carrying out reconnaissance on a route through a steep cliff. “Unfortunately, he slipped due to bad weather and slippery conditions and fell 60 meters into a ravine. Critically injured, he succumbed to his injuries enroute while being evacuated to the nearest Army Hospital,” Indian Army officials said in a statement.
The Army paid tribute to the officer in a ceremony held in the Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar led by Chinar Corps Commander Lieutenant General DP Pandey.
Major Ahlawat was commissioned into the Army in 2012 and hails from Dwarka, New Delhi and is survived by his wife and his parents.
The mortal remains of Late Maj Raghunath Ahlawat were taken for last rites to his native place, where he would be laid to rest with full military honours.
FOR 114 FIGHTER JETS, IAF FAVOURS ‘BUY GLOBAL MAKE IN INDIA’ ROUTE
For over USD 20 billion tender for manufacturing 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA) the Indian Air Force (IAF) would prefer to take the ‘Buy Global Make in India’ route over the strategic partnership policy model to produce the planes within the country.
‘Buy Global Make in India’ is a category of procurement process provided in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 under Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to smoothen the acquisition of foreign weapon systems and their production within the country under the ‘Make in India’ in the defence programme. Along with the indigenous LCA Tejas and the 5th Generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project, the 114 MRFA project would also be required by the IAF to maintain an edge over both the Northern and Western adversaries. We would prefer to go in for the Buy Global Make in India route which is preferred by the vendors also who are expected to take part in the programme, government sources said. Three American aircraft including the F-18, F-15 and F-21 (modified version of the F-16), Russian Mig-35 and Su-35 along with the French Rafale, Swedish Saab Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft are expected to participate in the programme. The Indian Air Force had also sought the views of these companies on the acquisition procedure that they would like to opt for in the programme and most of them have shown a preference for the Buy Global Make in India route only, they said.
The sources said that the force has also sought directions from the government on the project.
INDIA GETS DEFENCE SUPPLIES FROM RUSSIA, BUT PAYMENT MAY BECOME AN ISSUE
Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, defence supplies from Moscow are continuing as the Indian defence forces have received a shipment of overhauled aircraft engines and spares. However, there is concern about whether this would continue in the near future as a solution for making payment to Russia has not yet been found.
“The defence forces have received shipments from the Russians very recently and it is still on. So far, there has not been any glitch in supplies for our forces,” a government source told ANI.
“However, there are concerns on whether these supplies can continue in the same manner as the Indian side cannot make payments to these Russian firms in view of the sanctions related to their banks,” he added.
The sources said the Indian and Russian sides are working to find a way this issue can be overcome and many options are being explored.
The latest supplies from Russia included overhauled fighter aircraft engines and spares for an aircraft fleet and they arrived through the sea route, the sources said.
India also received the final parts of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia whose first squadron is operational with its elements deployed to take care of threats from both Pakistan and China.
India is one of the largest users of Russian weaponry including major platforms like fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters, warships, tanks, infantry combat vehicles and submarines.
Over the last couple of decades, it has broadened its source base by including equipment from countries like the US, France and Israel in a big way but the dependence on Russia still remains very high.
The Air Force is dependent majorly on the Russian supplies as its mainstay Su30 aircraft fleet is Russian along with its Mi-17 helicopter fleet.
The Army is also dependent on the Russian-origin T-90 and T-72 tank fleet for the armoured regiments.
IAF, ARMY BRASS WILL ASSESS LAC SITUATION
The top brass of the Indian Army and Air Force would be assessing the preparedness of their forces and infrastructure requirements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the militaries of both India and China continue to remain in a standoff position in eastern Ladakh.
The Indian Air Force brass would be meeting this week from 6 April to discuss the security situation including air operations along the northern borders. The Indian Army commanders led by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane would be assessing the present deployments along eastern Ladakh and the northeastern sectors from 18 April onwards in the bi-annual commanders’ conference.
The top brass of the Indian Army had jointly discussed the infrastructure requirements and developments required by the Indian side from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh during a conference in Lucknow recently.
India has made several changes in its deployments post aggression shown by Chinese troops in April-May 2020.
India and China have been talking to each other at both military and diplomatic levels to address the issues but so far they have not been able to do so mainly because of Chinese reluctance. In recent talks to address the Patrolling Point 15 friction, they proposed a solution that was not acceptable to the Indian side.
Indian security establishment led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has been of the view that the issue would be resolved only if the Chinese completely disengaged and went back to pre April 2020 positions.The Indian side has strengthened its deployments manifold all along the LAC. The Indian Air Force has also started building advanced bases in the forward areas including infrastructure to operate fighter jets and attack helicopters from the forward fields such as Nyoma.
Sharp fall in infiltration of foreign terrorists, stone pelting: CRPF DG
There has been a sharp decline in the infiltration of foreign terrorists as well as in stone-pelting incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 from the erstwhile state, Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Kuldiep Singh said on Thursday.
However, noting the targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir, the officer said, “Some time there is a spurt in terrorist incidents” and the recent killing in “periodic series” are among those, and “it occurs”. Replying to queries during a press briefing here at the CRPF Headquarters, Singh said, “CRPF immediately try to control terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir soon after it gets inputs. These incidents are not totally controlled by internal terrorist people who are there. On many occasions, it is controlled by those sitting across the border and it is directed whom to be targeted or not.”
The CRPF DG reiterated that “some directions comes from foreign lands too”, and thus, “terrorist incidents some times increase and sometimes decrease” “It does not mean that things are out of hand…You can see that the incidents of stone-pelting are almost nil. There has been a sharp decline in the number of infiltration of foreign terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. Sometimes, there is a spurt in terrorist incidents but it happens,” he said.
The officer informed that the CRPF has neutralized 175 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and apprehended 183 from March 1, 2021, to March 16, 2022.
Meanwhile, the CRPF has recovered 253 arms from Jammu and Kashmir and seized 7,541 ammunition as well as 96.38 kg explosives, 23 Improvised Explosive Device (IED), 232 grenades, and 36 detonators from the Union Territory, Singh said. Further, he informed that as many as 91 encounters have taken place from March 1, 2021, to March 16 this year. CRPF is the premier Central Armed Police Force (CRPF) entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the internal security of the country. It is deployed across the length and breadth of the country, assisting various state police in the discharge of their duties. CRPF is providing security cover to 117 protectees of various categories, he said adding that 32 women personnel have been inducted into the VIP Security Wing.
A total of 41 VIPs were provided security cover by the CRPF during recently concluded Assembly elections in five states, the DG said adding that the security of 27 protectees has been withdrawn post-elections. The CRPF chief also said that under financial assistance from the risk fund, ex-gratia for personnel martyred in action has been increased to Rs 30 lakhs from Rs 20 lakhs, and for all other cases, the ex-gratia has been increased to Rs 20 lakhs from Rs 15 lakhs.
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