The India-Pakistan war of 1971 ended on 16 December with the surrender of over 90,000 troops of the Pakistan Military at Dhaka, the largest surrender after the Second World War. This war, for the liberation of Bangladesh, was special in many ways. While the political and diplomatic apparatus worked in tandem towards a common terminal objective, our armed forces fought with great cohesion to achieve a decisive military victory. This war was even more crucial for the Indian Navy, as it was for the first time, since Independence, that the Indian Navy was deployed for large-scale combat in an offensive role. There were innumerable acts of courage and audacity displayed by all the three services and they are rightfully celebrated. The Navy’s catalogue of glory included several feats, many of which are remembered 50 years later—be it the attack on Karachi, the sinking of Ghazi, the achievements of Vikrant’s air wing in the Bay of Bengal or the poignant loss of Khukri. However, one of the lesser known facets of the war is the sterling achievements of a small unit called the Force Alpha and its ‘flagship’ INS Panvel.
‘Force Alpha’ was a strange makeshift arrangement, a maritime task force comprising two gunboats of the ‘flower class’, Padma and Palash, loaned from the West Bengal government, Chitrangada, a watercraft of the Border Security Force (BSF) and INS Panvel, a seaward defence boat, as its command ship. Commander Mohan Narayan Rao (MNR) Samant, an outstanding submariner (the description by Lt Gen JFR Jacob, the Chief of Staff of Army’s Eastern Command) who had earlier commanded a frontline submarine, was the Senior Officer of this force. Padma and Palash were retrofitted with L-60 Bofors guns, machine guns on their bridges and had their decks reinforced. They were manned mostly by Mukti Bahini men. Chitrangada was fitted only with machine guns.
Line drawing of Poluchat Class.INS Panvel.
Panvel, owing to her two 40 mm Bofors guns, seemed comparatively more ‘powerful’. However, Panvel was a very small ship of the Poluchat class, one of our smallest acquisitions from the erstwhile USSR. It weighed 90 tons and was merely 29 metres long. It had a single toilet, shower and kitchen shared among all personnel. From a small complement of 16, its crew grew to 30 when the Bofors guns were fitted. A latter day analyst may describe this as laughably Lilliputian, but to Lt Cdr Joseph Pius Alfred (JPA) Noronha, the Commanding Officer, this was no less than a Cruiser Command. In addition, the force carried limpet mines, explosives, small arms and other equipment necessary to undertake underwater sabotage, scuttling and boarding operations.
The task assigned to Force Alpha was to undertake a maritime attack on the port complex of Chalna and Mongla, thereby, achieving an offensive on the adversary from the sea and to dislocate its forces, as also to cripple the war waging potential which was being sustained through shipping at these crucial river harbours. Interestingly, the task force was operating directly under the orders of the Eastern Army Command at Kolkata and not the Eastern Naval Command.
In the book Transition to Triumph, Cdr (later Captain) MN Samant is quoted as saying, “After the war was declared, Lt General Arora and Major General Jacob ordered me to organize a maritime attack on Chalna and Mongla. This was because the Indian Army’s 41 Brigade was directly locked in combat with its Pakistani counterpart to take over the Chalna and Khulna area, which was not falling. So the next best alternative was to mount an attack from seaward to dislocate the Pakistan troops.” Attacks on Pakistani shipping in harbours and at the anchorages of Chalna-Mongla also formed part of the plan.
The Force departed on the morning of 07 Dec 71, from Hasnabad, a river port on the Indian side and travelled several miles in the Sunderbans delta. They braved numerous odds like Pakistani direction-finding teams trying to locate them, the lack of precise navigation charts (they had to use Indian Army Ordnance Maps instead) and the passages undertaken in the unfamiliar, narrow and complicated waterways of the Sunderbans, at times in pitch dark conditions. In fact, Palash ran aground on a sandbank soon after departure and had to be yanked out by Padma using her tow rope.
An hour past midnight of 8/9 December ‘71, when Force Alpha was at Akram Point at the mouth of Pussur River, Panvel detected two medium-sized ships fleeing the warzone. As the vessels had greater speeds than him and were out of the range of the force’s guns, Samant relayed information about them to the Eastern Fleet operating in the Bay of Bengal. This, thus, led to the Pakistani merchant ships MV Baqir and MV Anvar Baksh being apprehended by INS Rajput. These ships were carrying Pakistani military personnel and families and large quantities of weapons and ammunition. They were taken as prizes of war by the Indian Navy.
The ships of this task force now turned northwards into the Pussur. The river was the lifeline of Khulna and housed the largest inland port of East Pakistan, the Chalna-Mongla Port complex. These ports accounted for most of Pakistan’s waterborne trade, generated massive revenues for the government and, most importantly, provided the heavily guarded military garrisons at Khulna with critical supplies from West Pakistan through the maritime routes. To achieve maximum surprise, Force Alpha entered Mongla at first light on 10 December.
The enemy forces were nowhere to be found except for brief firing from isolated pockets which was quickly neutralized. The task force came alongside at Mongla and was greeted with joyous cheers by the local populace which had gathered on the jetty. Locals informed that the Pakistan forces had fled and Mukti Bahini was in control of the area. As a follow up, boarding parties were deployed by Samant to clear up small pockets of resistance and salvage whatever crucial information they could from the burning ships which included Pakistani flagged vessels. These boarding parties swiftly accomplished their tasks. Chitrangada was ordered to stay back at Mongla for overseeing salvage operations, rendering assistance to the local population and as a rearguard.
With no sign of the enemy at Mongla, Panvel, Palash and Padma began their journey towards Khulna which was 30 km upstream and arrived there around 1100 hours on 10 December 1971. East Pakistan’s industrial heartland, the Khulna area, was heavily guarded by Pakistani forces. The Indian Army’s 41 Brigade, which was advancing in this area from the west, was locked in fierce combat with Pakistan Army’s 107 Brigade. Force Alpha was ordered to launch a waterborne offensive on these Pakistani forces from their rear, from the Rupsha river (a tributary of Pussur), which lay east of Khulna, in order to dislocate the adversary’s spine.
Apart from being an important commercial hub, Khulna also housed PNS Titumir, an important naval base of East Pakistan. The siege of Titumir would have severely affected the morale of the Pakistani forces in the region. As the ships traversed the length of Rupsha, Pakistani soldiers and Razakars, the pro-Pakistan militiamen, emerged from bunkers on the western bank of the river and commenced firing at the ships with their rifles and machine guns.
Just when the ships had begun silencing the Razakars, Gnat fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) appeared on the scene. These, apparently, were not a cause for concern for Force Alpha as the ships were displaying large yellow flags, their pre-arranged signal for being identified by IAF aircraft as friendlies. Yet, the fog of war intervened. Despite the flags, the Gnats failed to identify the Indian ships and fired at them. Their rockets narrowly missed Panvel but Padma was hit. It burst into flames and was incapacitated instantly. Palash also took a massive rocket hit and was in flames. She managed to quickly head for the eastern bank while her crew abandoned the ship and leapt into the water. As the third Gnat again headed straight for Panvel, her Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Noronha carried out violent evasive manoeuvres to save his ship. He ordered the ship to be beached and abandoned, and within seconds, the crew took cover. Just two men — Sub Lieutenant Ashok Kumar and Raju, an electrical sailor — remained on board, keeping the engines running. Panvel had escaped the attack of the Gnats unscathed.
After the IAF fighters disappeared, Samant, Noronha and the other crew re-boarded Panvel. Using her engines effectively, Panvel unbeached herself and got underway. Samant decided to turn around and pick up the survivors of Padma and Palash, who were stranded in the river and were now facing heavy fire from the Pakistani Army and militia. As she approached to rescue the crew, she simultaneously engaged the enemy bunkers on both banks, thereby, suppressing their fire. At this time, the second wave of Gnats arrived. Panvel repeated the evasive manoeuvring and was saved again. After the Gnats peeled off, Panvel continued the rescue efforts and, by the end of the day’s action, picked up 14 crew members of Palash and Padma.
Thereafter, Panvel unleashed her firepower. She destroyed every single fortification of the adversary on either side of Rupsha. Her 40/60 Bofors gun rattled the town of Khulna for over an hour, annihilating the shipyard, many government offices and other significant infrastructure which stood on the western bank. As Samant recollects, “At about the time that the second wave of Gnats attacked, the Pakistanis opened fire on us, including on those survivors who were swimming in the water to save themselves. This was something which I could not tolerate, so I replied furiously, firing almost all Panvel’s ammunition to subdue the Pakistani attack. After that, I collected the wounded people on board and after hoisting the Bangladesh flag on Khulna Jail, we returned to attend to the wounded.”
Noronha had similar recollections. As he stated, “After rescue, we started the attack on the shore defences. Some Pakistani ships which were hit earlier had been brought to Khulna for repairs and were being used as fortresses. They were firing at us through the port holes and from whatever vantage point they could get. So I used gunfire to silence them”. Ashok Kumar, who was in-charge of the firing, remembers counting 600 shells. He says, “Not a single shell misfired, not a single shell got jammed. My crew was doing all this even though they were facing enemy fire and had no cover. That day, fortune favoured the brave as Panvel rained destruction on Khulna.”
Eleven members of Force Alpha had laid down their lives in this bloody action. They included seven Mukti Bahini personnel, a soldier of the BSF and three Indian Naval personnel. Apart from these, several others were missing in action and later reported as captured by the Pakistani forces at Khulna. These included four Indian Navy personnel who were released after the surrender. In custody, they were initially roughed up—Lt Mitter was almost shot and Petty Officer Chiman Singh’s finger nearly hacked—but, later, they were given good medical care. Further, many others were injured seriously— losing a limb or flesh or having deep searing wounds due to a combination of fire, explosion, shock, exhaustion due to swimming or other reasons. While Noronha narrowly missed getting injured, Samant had a grazing bullet wound and Kumar had a bullet injury through his ribs.
To summarize, Force Alpha’s story is of a disparate group assembled from limited resources scoring big in the war. They braved navigational and other challenges to penetrate deep into enemy heartland. They risked capture with attendant consequences. Be it the interception of Pakistani merchant ships or the destruction at Khulna, the naval task force proved its mettle. To face enemy fire and respond with fury while also taking hits in a ‘blue on blue’ situation and, at the same time, rescuing one’s injured comrades haplessly swimming in the waters, were acts of extreme courage under fire. INS Panvel’s actions in evading Gnats by evasive manoeuvres, beaching and un-beaching, raising smoke to appear as a stricken ship, abandoning ship and re-boarding it, keeping the flock together, rescuing many, protecting itself from enemy fire and then launching a mighty counter offensive, all in the matter of a few hours, is the stuff of legends, in which navigational savvy, bold leadership and cool temperament came to the fore.
Force Alpha was named after Lt Gen JS Aurora, the GOC in C Eastern Command. The exploits of the force led by INS Panvel would have pleased him undoubtedly. It is, therefore, no surprise that it was the Army that recommended Cdr Samant for a Maha Vir Chakra. This is testimony to the high mutual respect among soldiers. It is nobody’s case that without Force Alpha the eventual outcome of the war would have been different. Possibly, the Force Alpha raid would be classified as no more than a skirmish. However, the riverine action needs to be viewed in terms of the physical and psychological damage caused to Pakistan assets, the possibilities offered by the maritime vector in a theatre of war and ‘fairytale’ like bravado shown by the small team of Indian and Mukti Bahini naval personnel.
This is evident from the large number of gallantry awards which was awarded to this tiny force. Three Maha Vir Chakras (including Samant and Noronha), 5 Vir Chakras, 2 Nao Sena Medal Gallantry and 2 Mention in Dispatches made up the rich haul garnered by this small force of less than 100 people in all. Pro-rata wise, this would possibly be the highest among any unit and certainly highest in the Indian Navy. Force Alpha is, ultimately, the story of a spirited, intrepid bunch of people pulling off a daring act.
In 1971, when INS Panvel was blazing a trail of glory, the town it was named after was a small outpost near Mumbai. The town has an illustrious history as an ‘influential province in the Maratha Empire’. Due to its proximity to Bombay and the maritime connect with the Arabian Sea through the ‘Panvel Creek’, she continued to be important throughout the British Era. Today, Panvel is a bustling, densely populated city and part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. A new Panvel has sprung up on National Highway 4 that connects Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Capt MNR Samant passed away in his beloved Mumbai in March 2019, and Cdr JPA Noronha this year in July in Bengaluru. Apart from close relatives and the military and naval fraternity, their passing went largely unnoticed. We owe it to their memory that their deeds and that of INS Panvel are recounted for posterity. One of the Vir Chakra awardees, Sub Lt Ashok Kumar, retired as a Commander and is now settled in Mumbai. Let us recognize our heroes in their times and not after. Hopefully, the citizens of this nation and the denizens of Panvel will take note.
An interesting piece of trivia to end the story: Noronha perfected the difficult art of beaching his ship—remember it was not an amphibian—on the soft riverbanks of the Icchamati to take freshwater supplies while patrolling there in November for a fortnight. Later, this skill not only saved the ship but enabled the counter offensive.
Cmde Srikant B. Kesnur and Lt Abhijeet Patil are serving naval officers associated with the Naval History Project. Views are personal. References and first-person accounts have been taken from the books ‘Transition to Triumph’ by VAdm G.M. Hiranandani, ‘War in the Indian Ocean’ by VAdm M.K. Roy and ‘Operation X’ by Capt M.N.R. Samant and Sandeep Unnithan.
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CENTRE MAKES INTENT CLEAR, NO ROLL BACK OF AGNIPATH
The Union Home Ministry bans 35 WhatsApp group for spreading fake news. At least ten people have been arrested for organising protests.
The Central government on Sunday made it clear that Agnipath, the newly unveiled policy of recruitment to all three armed forces “will not be rolled back”. “Coming to the rollback of the scheme, no. Why should it be rolled back? It is the only progressive step to making the country young.” Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Defence announced here in a joint press conference. The announcement came after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with all three services chiefs for the second consecutive day.
Explaining the rationale behind the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, Lt Gen Puri told the media persons that there were many casualties in high-altitude battle fields owing to health reasons. “Do you know how many casualties are reported just for health purposes from high-altitude areas? Do read about it, then you would come to know why young is important,” Puri said. Officers from Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy were also present in the joint briefing.
With the announcement made in the briefing it is clear that the contractual recruitment policy for armed forces is here to say notwithstanding the widespread protests against it. In view of the mounting protests, which have left Railways property worth Rs. 200 crore damaged and led to the cancellation of 300 trains, the government has, though, reached out the protesting youth to mollify them. In a slew of measures, the Centre first announced 2-year relaxation in age for 2022 and then extended 10 per cent reservation in Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles to Agniveers whose contract would come to an end after a 4-year stint. The government also extended age relaxation of 5 years to Agniveers in government jobs.
Lt Gen Puri further told
the media persons that initially 46,000 Army aspirants would be recruited in order to ‘analyse’ the scheme “and to build up infra capacity”. Unveiling the numbers the government intends to hire, Puri said, “In the next 4–5 years, our intake (of recruits) will be 50,000–60,000 and will increase to 90,000–1 lakh subsequently.” The number of ‘Agniveers’ would go up to 1.25 lakh eventually, he added.
However, the recruitment to armed forces comes with a caveat. Every Agniveer aspirant would have to furnish a certificate, duly verified by the police, declaring that they were not part of the protests or vandalism. Emphasizing that Indian Army’s foundation was discipline and there was no space for arson or vandalism, Lt Gen Puri said, “Every individual will give a certificate that they were not part of the protest or vandalism. Police verification is 100 per cent, no one can join without that.” Individuals against whom FIRs have been lodged would not be allowed to join the forces.
The Centre also banned 35 WhatsApp groups for spreading fake news on Agnipath scheme and Agniveers, the ministry of home affairs said. At least ten people have been arrested on charges of rumour-mongering and organising protests.
Around 17,600 people take premature retirement from the armed forces, he told the reporters. “No one ever tried to ask them what they will do after retirement?” said Lt Gen Puri. Agniveers would get the same allowance in areas like Siachen and other areas which are applicable to the regular soldiers serving at present, he informed the reporters. The Additional Secretary also said that an Agniveer would get a compensation of Rs 1 crore if he sacrifices his life in service of the nation.
The centre had on June 14 announced the new recruitment policy which seeks to casualise jobs in the armed forces causing huge resentment among army aspirants. Barely two days after the ‘Agnipath’ scheme was unveiled, youth hit the streets across several states leading to violence, arson and vandalism.
In the meanwhile, opposition parties continued slam the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, demanding its withdrawal. Giving a call to the youth of the country to topple the BJP-led government at the Centre, “through democratic, peaceful and non-violent means”, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi on Sunday said, “I urge you to protest peacefully, but don’t stop. These are your rights, this is your country and it is your duty to protect it. Every leader and worker of the Congress is with you.” Priyanka was addressing a ‘Satyagrah’ protest against the schemed held by the Congress Party at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Among the top leaders, who took part in the protest, were Jairam Ramesh, Rajiv Shukla, Sachin Pilot, Salman Khurshid and Alka Lamba.
Her brother Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who turned 52 on Sunday, asked his party workers to refrain from organizing celebrations on his birthday. “We are concerned with the situation in the country. Crores of youths are anguished. We should share the pain of the youth and their families and stand with them,” Rahul said in a statement.
Slamming the Centre, BSP leader Mayawati on Sunday said that the scheme had left the country’s youth “disappointed and frustrated”.
In a related development, the Rajasthan Cabinet passed a resolution on Sunday demanding the Centre to withdraw the scheme keeping in mind the “larger public interest and the sentiments of the youths”.
‘Agnipath’ a trial by fire or an opportunity?
The scheme has possibly been launched with an aim to reduce the ballooning financial burden on the government and also to make the Armed Forces more competitive. However, the plan has its own pitfalls.
The Ministry of Defence finally announced Agnipath (Tour of Duty), the new scheme of recruitment to Armed Forces. Arguably a more suitable name may have been considered, because of the insinuation – is it a trial by fire or an opportunity? As expected, the scheme has been met with widespread criticism, especially from the veterans and armed forces aspirants. It is not surprising because the new scheme which has been in news since 2020 did not generate enough public debate at the time, which left people only with a vague idea about what it entails. Many did not take it seriously given that the armed forces already have a time-tested recruitment method. But now that the scheme details have been made clear, at least a part of it, it seems the criticism was justified.
The new recruitment scheme is not just radical, in that over a period it will change the composition of the Army, but that once in force it will release three-fourth of the recruits back to civilian life, albeit with some uncertainty about their future. In a country where government jobs are considered attractive, not just because of salary but also for hefty pension, a career in armed forces is preferred especially by youths from rural India. It is only likely that the recruits released after four years of service will knock the door of courts for better benefits.
This is not to say that there were no problems with the existing system. This scheme perhaps has envisaged by the government as a way of reducing the ballooning pay and pension bills. The nature of conflict is also changing, so the maintenance of a large standing army itself has been questioned. But despite expectation of stiff opposition to the new scheme, the government had not made adequate preparation for taking the youth – the primary stakeholder – into confidence. The resultant surprise announcement, after virtually no recruitments in two years, has backfired. Will it solve the problem for which it is being touted as the solution? Are the armed forces leadership completely on board? There are no clear answers as yet.
Therefore, before getting into the pros and cons of the scheme, it is important to understand why government has felt the need to bring this radical reform, when it is strongly being argued that the existing system is working fine. Specifically, it is pertinent to explore the issues government is attempting to resolve with this move.
The Problem – what is it trying to solve
It is argued, rhetorically, that no price is too high to be paid for the safety and security of the state. It may be true when the state is at war, but during peacetime it is a whole another issue. A developing country, like India, has limited resources and financial capacity. The government has to look after the needs of the humongous population and carry out the economic development through these limited resources. Excessive spending on any particular sector means diversion of funds from other sectors, even if it’s done for the state’s defence. The USSR eventually ended up getting disintegrated because, among other reasons, the government prioritised competing in arms race with the U.S., over providing basic needs to its population. Pakistan is another good example of this lopsided budgeting. The Army’s share in national budget is much more than what the state can afford. Pakistan’s defence budget accounts for 4 percent of GDP, compared to 2.9 percent of India’s. But since the Army is the ultimate authority in Pakistan, all governments are forced to keep the Army in good humour by approving their budgetary requisition. Result is that Pakistani economy is in doldrums and people are being asked to give up drinking tea.
Specific to India, the problem that the government is facing is meeting its obligations towards pay and pensions of soldiers and at the same time also undertaking the modernisation of the armed forces. Given the size of the armed forces, especially the Army, the pays and pensions take out a significant chunk out of the overall defence budget, leaving inadequate amount for force modernisation. Salaries and pensions account for nearly 60 percent of total defence budget, leaving a meagre 27 percent for capital acquisition. There is no separate budget for meeting payments obligations and acquiring weapons for modernization. The inflationary factors make capital acquisition (weapons & other materiel) more expensive every passing year. Similarly, the size of pays and pensions is also rising with more retirements every year. This is simply unsustainable and has been raised several times. The pensioners outnumber those in service by significant margin. That is why government has felt it necessary to reform the system that will bring down its commitments on pension.
However, it is easier said than done. Pension is an emotive issue in the country. It is seen as the guarantee of a secure retired life. Already several organisations are pressing for reinstatement of the old pension system which was replaced by the contributory National Pension System (NPS). For most, this is their only source of income in post-retirement civilian life. Only a few manage to obtain well-paying jobs.
The other issue is that of trimming the size of the Army. The Army leadership has time and again emphasised about the need to create a lean and mean fighting force which is more suitable for theatre battle groups. In fact, the proposal for reduction in size of the Army came from their leadership and studies. This means that the recruitment to the armed forces was set to be reduced regardless. However, it is the manner in which the new scheme of recruitment has been announced, as a complete surprise, to the aspirants that has created much discontent.
The Solution – how it is trying to solve it
As per the details released by the government, the old system of recruitment has been abolished. The new recruits will be selected solely through all-India merit Tour of Duty scheme. The scheme seems to be modelled closely to the recruitment system of the U.S. The hope is that since the system has worked well for the U.S., it should work fine for Indian security needs too. But the battle requirements of the U.S., primarily an expeditionary force, are much different than India.
Anyway, back to the solution offered. Only about 25 percent would be offered ranks and made permanent by the armed forces. The competition to be among the one-fourth being retained would be very stiff. Those retained would not only get the full salary and benefits but also the pension, the most lucrative part. Talking to people in rural parts of the country would make it clear that assured pension is what makes a government job most sought after. Other factors come later. The in-hand salary offered to the recruits in the new scheme is quite low. Perhaps government feels that school pass outs deserve only a meagre amount as their salary. Most these recruits have a family to support. Would the salary be enough to do that?
The released 75 percent, the numbers could vary depending upon how many are recruited in a year, would have 11 lakh rupees and a degree. That would get them a job is doubtful. Most logical step would be to go for further studies, which means they’ll end up spending their savings. It is not easy to go back into studies after being in a job.
The assurances provided by the Home Ministry and several state governments that these “retirees” would be prioritised in the state police force & central police force is not very exciting. Governments cannot shut the door for those to join police force who do not come out of the Tour of Duty scheme.
From the government’s perspective, the scheme is perhaps a solution to the challenges it is facing. However, it is clear that its announcement and implementation has not been thought through as well as it should have.
First and foremost, it is a decision by the government, so government has to own it completely and take the necessary steps to douse the fire of resentment as the top priority. The government perhaps blundered by announcing the new recruitment scheme as a complete surprise. No thought was spared about the candidates who had been working hard for past few years to qualify. Undoubtedly, the scheme could have been announced well in advance, thus giving future aspirants knowledge of what lays ahead and the time to prepare and adjust.
People may argue that it is not the job of the armed forces to cater to employment generation in the country. However, that is not how people perceive it. A career in armed forces is seen by those coming from rural parts as lifetime employment. Social status is one thing, the pay and perks ensure that their families lead a comfortable life with opportunities for upward mobility. It will not be easy for government to convince this aspirational population about the benefits of the new scheme.
Still, a middle ground must be found. The life for the Agniveers after release from armed forces is not going to be easy. For those unfortunates who get disabled during service, there’s no guarantee that they will be given the benefits government has announced. Ministry of Defence has the infamous track record of fighting almost every soldier’s disability pension claim in court. There’s no reason to believe this attitude will change for Agniveers.
Government needs to deal with the issue with required compassion. For many armed forces aspirants, joining army is their passion. It’s all they dream about. A better deal needs to offered to them. The aspirants must cease the arson and destruction of precious public property. There are ways to protests, arson and rioting is not among them. If anything, it reflects poorly on those seeking to be part of a highly disciplined organisation.
The author is a Research Scholar with the School of National Security Studies in Central University of Gujarat
SOLDIERS’ SUPREME SACRIFICE WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN: RAJNATH SINGH
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday paid homage to the Indian Army soldiers who lost their lives in the Galwan Valley clash two years ago in 2020.Taking to Twitter, Singh, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, posted, “Remembering the heroes of Galwan who fought valiantly for the honour of the country and laid down their lives on June 15-16, 2020. Their courage, bravery and supreme sacrifice will never be forgotten. I pay homage to those bravehearts.” For the first time in nearly 45 years, a violent skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops broke out in the Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020, resulting in losses on both sides and marking a new sour turn in China-India relations. The violent clashes, which mostly took place in and around Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake, claimed lives on both sides and strained the bilateral relationship.
Even though two years have passed since the deadliest clash in 45 years between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, the two countries are still engaged in talks for the disengagement process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). But an early resolution to the standoff is nowhere in sight.
So far, the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have held 14 rounds of talks since the Galwan clashes and one before June 15, 2020, to resolve the standoff but no concrete solution has been arrived at yet.Defence Minister Rajnath Singh today arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit to the Union Territory. He will be visiting forward areas and interacting with troops during his visit.
VIOLENCE OVER AGNIPATH, DEMANDS GROW OF SCRAPPING THE SCHEME
As thousands of youth are up in arms, the government finds itself in a tight spot.
Barely two days after the Central government unveiled its recruitment policy for all three arms of Indian armed forces, massive protests against contractual employment erupted across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, with thousands of youth hitting the streets and vandalising state property on Thursday. Eponymously called ‘Agnipath’, the new recruitment policy offers employment with armed forces for a period of 4 years on a contractual basis. Only 25 per cent of the recruited will be regularised in military service.
However, the policy has not gone down well with the youth who have erupted in protests demanding a roll back. Bihar has seen the largest number of protests across the state, with irate youth turning violent damaging public and private property. Violent protests have been reported from 17 districts of Bihar leaving half a dozen trains torched and several properties damaged in arson. Indian Railways has cancelled 34 trains, 5 Mail/Express and 29 Passenger in view of the ongoing violent protests. The protesting youth also damaged the BJP office in and attacked houses of 2 MLAs in the state.
Thousands of irate youth were seen protesting in Nawada, Siwan, Chhapra, Kaimur, Gopalganj, Ara and Rohtas in Bikramganj, torching trains, even looting shops in Ara. Protesters torched three passenger trains in Chhapra and Kaimur, vandalized around 12 trains at Chhapra Junction. A passenger train was set on fire in Gopalganj.
Demanding a roll back of the recruitment policy, which seeks to contractualize jobs in the military, the aspirants said they were unhappy over the changes introduced under the new recruitment scheme, particularly the length of service, no pension provisions for those released early, and the 17.5 to 21 age restriction that now makes many of them ineligible. “We demand that the recruitment be done as it used to be done earlier. Tour of Duty (ToD) be rolled back and exams be held as earlier. Nobody will go to Army just for four years,” a protestor in Munger was quoted as saying by ANI.
As the protests turned violent in Haryana, local authorities suspended Internet and SMS services for some time. It was withdrawn later. To keep the situation under control, Section 144 has been imposed in Palwal, where police vehicles were set ablaze and several roadways buses were damaged. National Highway 19 was also blocked was blocked by the protesters, while some policemen were injured due stone pelting.
Taken aback at the widespread violent protests, the Centre issued a statement clarifying that only 3% of the armed forces will be recruited as Agniveers in the first year and the scheme will no effect on the regimental system.
In-service training received by Agniveers to be recognised as credits for graduation
Education Ministry on Wednesday said that a special, three-year skill-based bachelor’s degree programme will be launched for serving defence personnel that will recognize the skill training received by Agniveers under the ‘Agnipath’ scheme during their tenure in the defence establishments.
The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved an attractive recruitment scheme for Indian youth to serve in the Armed Forces called ‘Agnipath’ and the youth selected under this scheme will be known as Agniveers. AGNIPATH allows patriotic and motivated youth to serve in the Armed Forces for a period of four years. The ‘Agnipath’ scheme has been designed to enable a youthful profile of the Armed Forces. Education Ministry in a statement said, “In order to enhance the future career prospects of our Agniveers, and equip them for various job roles in the civilian sector, the Ministry of Education is to launch a special, three-year skill-based bachelor degree programme for serving defence personnel that will recognize the skill training received by them during their tenure in the defence establishments.”
“Under this programme that has been designed by IGNOU and will also be executed by them, 50 per cent of the credits required for a graduate degree will come from the skill training – both technical and non-technical – received by the Agniveer, and the remaining 50 per cent will come from a basket of courses that cover a wide variety of subjects like languages, Economics, History, Political Science, Public Administration, Sociology, Mathematics, Education, Commerce, Tourism, Vocational Studies, Agriculture and Jyotish, as also Ability Enhancement Courses on Environmental Studies and Communication Skills in English,” the Ministry said.
Education Ministry further said, “This programme is aligned with UGC norms and with the National Credit Framework/National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) as mandated under the National Education Policy 2020.”It also has provision for multiple exit points – Undergraduate Certificate on successful completion of the first-year courses, Undergraduate Diploma on successful completion of the first and second-year courses, and Degree on completion of all the courses in the three-year time frame.
The framework of the programme has been duly recognized by the concerned regulatory bodies – All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) and UGC.The degree will be awarded by IGNOU as per UGC nomenclature (BA, B.Com, BA (vocational); BA (Tourism Management), and will be recognized both in India and abroad for employment and education. Army, Navy and Air Force will sign Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with IGNOU for implementation of the scheme.
REMINISCING GLORIOUS INNINGS OF INS AKSHAY AND INS NISHANK
The sunset of 3 June 2022 will mark an end to the glorious voyages of two Indian Naval Ships Nishank and Akshay, wherein both the ships will be decommissioned at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai after 32 years of being at the forefront of safeguarding the maritime interests of our nation. Commissioned in the freezing temperature of the Poti Shipyard of erstwhile Soviet Union which is presently in Georgia, the ships will be decommissioned in the tropical temperature of Mumbai wherein the atmosphere will be laden with the emotions and nostalgia of all the ex-crew of both the ships. All the seafarers bear the names of their ships as their own identity. Home to many sea warriors, these ships will always remain a source of honour and pride.
A ship in the Navy is treated as a living entity. Decommissioning is a very formal, yet very emotional ceremony for a ship, her crew and the Navy in general. During decommissioning ceremony, the ship’s decommissioning pennant, which is flown by ship on Sunday before decommissioning date is hauled down. The pennant is a mark of the ship being in commission. The hauling down of the pennant takes place during sunset, signifying the end of the commissioned service of the ship. The decommissioning pennant is equal to the ship’s length and post decommissioning, is preserved as a part of naval history. This is also the last time when bugle is piped on the ship. This signifies the transition of a living soul to a mere steel structure.
Nishank, the fourth of the Veer Class Missile Corvette, has been an integral part of the Killer Squadron renowned for its heroics in the 1971 War. Nishank holds the distinction of having operated on both the eastern as well as western seaboard. The ship, armed with a potent surface-to-surface missile, possessed the capability to strike fear in the heart of the enemy. The journey of Nishank is not yet over. The ship has been earmarked to be displayed as a war relic at a suitable historic location. The ship will continue to motivate our future generations to be part of our glorious past and bright future, showcasing the might of the Indian Navy.
Akshay is part of the 23rd Patrol Vessel Squadron whose primary role is anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrol. The ship has been operating under Naval Officer-in-Charge, Maharashtra. With her formidable armament of long-range torpedoes and anti-submarine rockets, the submarine hunter was perennially on petrol keeping the enemy submarines at bay.
As the Indian Navy/ nation prepares to bid adieu to these fine men of war, the guest of honour for the event would be VAdm R K Pattnaik (Retd) and VAdm SPS Cheema (Retd), the commissioning Commanding Officer of INS Akshay and the commissioning Commanding Officer of INS Nishank respectively, the very first men to take these war machines to sea. Adm R Hari Kumar PVSM AVSM, VSM, ADC, Chief of the Naval staff will be the Chief Guest. VAdm AB Singh, PVSM, AVSM, ADC Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command and VAdm Biswajit Dasgupta, AVSM, YSM, VSM Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Naval Command will be among the distinguished guests present for the ceremony. The event will also be attended by the veterans, who had the privilege to serve on these ships along with their families.
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