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MYTHICAL DRAGON, REAL PLA

It’s time to bust the myth of the Dragon and show the world its real face: That China’s People’s
Liberation Army isn’t as invincible as it is being projected worldwide.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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I n any battle, contest or competition, it is important to know your adversary. In a previous article I tried to deconstruct the real China lurking behind the mythical dragon. Time to deconstruct PLA. Xi Jinping is building the strongest military on earth. He is spending a huge part of China’s GDP to equip the PLA. However, battles are fought by men. Good equipment gives capability not ability. Ability comes from understanding  equipment, owning, training and fighting with it over a period of time. Character and culture have a part to play. The emergent sum is experience. When all these things are contextually examined in different environment and time settings, real capabilities emerge. I will examine this anecdotally (in part) across timelines. It will then emerge where PLA fits in the icy cold climes of Ladakh and beyond. 

As per a  report, Colonel Bhupinder Shahi (retd), who served on the LAC long back, recounts “I discovered this once while standing at Nathu La when there were a lot of celebrations on their side. I called their company commander and asked him why his men were celebrating. He told me that they were celebrating their ‘freedom’ as they were being ‘released’ that day to pursue their studies. At that point, I wondered how many of them would die for their country voluntarily”. In the same report another officer recalls an incident of August 2003 when posted in Ladakh Scouts and deployed near the DBO post. He describes a confrontation with a Chinese patrol and their initial arrogant behaviour. He also describes the deflation of ‘arrogance’ of the PLA officer when the tables turned and the Chinese troops were confronted with an adverse situation.

 In 2007, a company from one of our battalions from the Division was sent to participate in the ‘Hand in Hand’ exercise with PLA in Chengdu, China. A young, tough and intelligent OP officer from the affiliated field regiment was sent. When he got back, I had a chat with him. He told me about the training, competitions and other activities which they did jointly with PLA. I asked them how did they fare in the competitions. He said it went 50:50. I asked him about PLA. He said they were OK, but PLA selected the best men from all over to form a company to train with the Indian company. He also said that they could not believe the Indian company was from one Battalion only. He further added, with tremendous confidence that we could take on the PLA any day. That conversation never left my mind.

 In 2014, I was the GOC Mumbai Area. A large delegation led by a Vice Chief of PLA and two Maj Generals came to Mumbai. We hosted them at our airconditioned Mess for lunch. After the meal, I took them outside to appreciate the military band as is our custom. Mumbai was hot and humid. By the time the band finished their first tune we were sweating. By the time the VIP’s choice tune was playing, sweat started pouring down the General’s neck. Lo and behold, the two Maj Gens came forth and were wiping the sweat of the General’s neck with their hankies very reverently and the VIP was preening and enjoying this gesture! I was stunned. No one in the Indian Army would do that. No general will allow it! Even in dreams. The first thought which came to my mind was that these fellows cannot be fighters. Fighting demands shedding blood. Shedding sweat was being dithered at. However, the story does not end there. The delegation was to leave  Mumbai by a flight early in the morning. I tasked my BGS to be with the delegation in Taj, Colaba and ensure they leave in good order and military discipline from the airport. When it was past time for them to leave the hotel, I checked with my BGS. He said the General was still sleeping. I told him to get him woken up by his staff or the consular staff so that he does not miss the flight. Then came the stunner. “ Sir, none of the Chinese here dare  to wake him up. They say that the carrier is a Chinese one and it dare not leave Mumbai without the Vice Chief of PLA!”  That is PLA leadership. The rest you conclude. The Chinese media call it as ‘Peace Disease’. I call it ‘Character’. 

In 2016, two international newspapers – The Guardian and Wall Street Journal – reported  that Chinese UN peacekeepers in Juba (Capital of South Sudan) “abandoned their posts entirely”. In fact Wall Street Journal reported that the U.N. investigation also found that Chinese troops abandoned defensive positions at least twice and refused to intervene to stop Western aid workers being raped. China’s foreign ministry called that finding “irresponsible criticism” and urged better protection for peacekeepers. Well. Well. Well. Protection for peace keepers indeed! Why did they go there? To get protected? In fact, in the firefights two Chinese peace keepers died. It is reported that prior to proceeding on the mission, one of the peacekeepers’ mother asked him if the work would be dangerous. She was probably quite worried about her son (only?). He replied “China is so powerful, who can bully us Chinese people?” That set her mind at ease. Contrast this with Indian mothers will send their sons to war as a matter of IZZAT and Desh ka Raksha irrespective of caste, creed, Arm or unit. Phillip Mason called it a ‘Matter of Honour’. I recounted this aspect earlier. Unfortunate that the young Chinese peacekeeper died.  The public fallout was of shock. Outpouring in China was huge. As per Wall Street Journal the Juba casualties had major repercussions — in government, in the military and in society. Many were stunned. It triggered soul-searching in China.

 Fast forward to Galwan where an outnumbered Indian Army, walloped the PLA despite suffering causalities. It explains as to why the PLA and Chinese authorities never had the guts to make their actual causalities public. The public reaction would have probably been tumultuous and uncontrollable.  The “China is so powerful, who can bully us Chinese people?” mentality which was broken irrevocably that day in Galwan would have been on public domain.  Galwan was the turning point.  The CCP and PLA would have become vulnerable before their public who would demand all those promised victories at least cost which could not be delivered. I had then written — ‘Which nation or Army hides its casualties? One that does not have honour or one that is outdone or one that fears the outcome of the casualties it has suffered. I find shades of all three in the PLA’. I was right. What India has shown is how to nail a Chinese coffin. It will take a long time for China to live this campaign down. They might hide it internally through censorship, the reality is now known internationally.

 China’s White Paper on Defense of 2019 mentions the following … notable achievements have been made in the fight against corruption in China’s armed forces, and a healthy political atmosphere of integrity has formed… worked to implement fullspectrum audit, intensify the audit of major fields, projects and funds, and perform strict audits over the economic liabilities of officers in positions of leadership… Points-of-contact for discipline supervision have been designated at the smallunit level to investigate and combat “micro corruption” and misconduct in all its forms among service members… They are strengthening oversight and supervision in military training and combat readiness to uproot peacetime ills… China’s armed forces are striving to manage the troops more strictly in all respects. Very clearly, there are problems of corruption at higher levels, question marks on military leadership, problems of discipline, peacetime ills, misconduct and micro corruption at small unit level (battalion/ brigade level?). The White Paper seems to be for internal political purposes. Internationally it is a self-expose. Most analysis and commentary of the document has concentrated on geopolitical outlook and capability development. The ability part has not been focused upon. Also, the Western commentary is done by academics, think tanks and analysts who have not dealt with PLA face to face on a daily basis along a long LAC.  That is why the PLA has been built into something which it is not. 

I was discussing some of these issues with an officer who had commanded a Corps on the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. He recounted an experience where there was an area on the LAC where PLA and our troops used to have regular face offs. A quality sensed by our troops over a period of time was that the PLA always looked back for orders. Initiative was lacking. Whatever the frontline troops do is based on orders from the top. Nothing is impromptu. It is planned. The other sense garnered was that PLA was always apprehensive of a firefight breaking. The overall sense one gets is that under fire, PLA is suspect. This fragility could be due to lack of training, lack of leadership, lack of cohesiveness, lack of regimentation, fear of death or injury, or any other factor. I cannot place my finger on it. Those in eyeball to eyeball contact would know better.  However, from what one sees in the media and all open source inputs, I might not be far off the mark. In any case the professionalism with which we occupied the Kailash heights and PLA’s inability to counter it tells a tale. It gels with their  macro strategy of ‘Belligerent War Avoidance’ which has been evident from the start and I have written in all my articles — China’s Strategic Myopia,   Sino-Indian Logjam: A Review, No Go for China in the Logjam, and Mythical Dragon, Real China. Break the belligerent halo and things will be far different. I also recently learnt from a knowledgeable person that PLA is on a drive to conscript more Mongols. The Mongols ask why the majority Hans are not being sent to the front. The  Hans are unwilling to send their single children into PLA. The conscripted feed into PLA is forced and involuntary. So, what will be the morale of PLA and its will to fight? There are reports of re-recruiting veterans of 40+  to pump some experience into the PLA. Desperate times indeed. What will the efficacy of these veterans be at 14000 – 16000 feet above MSL? NIL. Most of them will only burden their medical system. 

For those who do not comprehend the issue. In high altitude, 1st  Stage (2700m to 3600m height) acclimatisation is six days. 2nd  Stage (3600m to 4500m)and 3rd Stage (> 4500m)  acclimatisation is four days each. I have always felt that the moment a soldier enters high altitude, the treacherous devil of apprehension enters his brain. The moment you deviate from precaution, the devil preys and undermines confidence. It kills you psychologically and physically. It can be shooed out with due process, discipline, determination, leadership and camaraderie after spending time there and gaining confidence. The areas of Depsang Plains, Fingers, Chushul and Spangur Gap; now commonly known to most, are at about 4000-4500m (2nd  Stage). However, the strategic heights occupied by Indian Army are all well above 4500m. To operate there, one has to be 3rd  Stage acclimatised

. To evict our well dug in and acclimatised troops, the Chinese who are largely in 2nd Stage areas have to attack uphill into 3rd  Stage areas without acclimatisation. Considering the reports coming in of PLA casevac from Fingers area, the high-altitude devil is active. It will adversely affect PLA psyches. One heard of PLA commanders refusing to attack to retake the heights initially. The high-altitude devil has probably caught their brains. At 40+ the adverse effect of high altitude is in geometric proportion. The ‘Global Times’ influence machinery has also been mocking at our highaltitude medical facilities. Earlier it used to boast how their casualties received better treatment due to superior medical facilities. I saw a clip in social media about the new Ngari Mil Base having oxygen facilities. Oxygen facilities indeed!  The stress is on survival. I am sure PLA is fully utilising those ‘Superior’ facilities and oxygen chambers. The high-altitude devil is active. I hope they realise that PLA is deployed in Aksai Chin for battle and not for a medical evacuation contest. Of course, they will run out of those facilities if they attack our heights without acclimatisation. That is why, these days there is very little chatter about ‘eviction’ or ‘throwing out’ Indian Army. The bluster is gone. China might have the best equipment, infrastructure, communications, logistics, organisational structure and command and control. Very stable at the top. PLA keeps projecting its ‘machine’ and never the ‘man’. Why? That is because it has poor leadership, micro corruption, inexperience and lack of cohesiveness. Instability at the bottom. The stability — instability paradox has pushed PLA’s centre of gravity higher. 

In my opinion, PLA is out of balance. If this is the state of the ground forces, what would be the state of its Navy, Air Force and other forces which are still evolving and expanding? To reiterate, Western analysts  focus far too much on the ‘stability’ part and gloss over the ‘instability’ part. That is why the mythical Dragon has been built. The real PLA has huge issues at the bottom. That is where we should aim to defeat it. 

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

CADETS OF NCC DIRECTORATE GUJARAT TO BE DEPLOYED AT SURAT IN SUPPORT OF THE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION FOR COMBATING COVID-19 AS PART OF EXERCISE NCC YOGDAN

Ashish Singh

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As the nation is going through the second surge in Covid-19, NCC Cadets of Gujarat Directorate have volunteered to support Civil administration in various activities as part of the Exercise Yogdan II. In response to the requisition from DM Surat, 56 highly motivated Cadets (both boy Cadets and girl Cadets) have volunteered to provide relief efforts and assist in functioning of agencies employed in Covid-19 at Surat. More Cadets of Gujarat Directorate are likely to volunteer as the Exercise Yogdan II commences. Only Senior Division Boys and Senior Wing Girl Cadets of Gujarat Directorate above the age of 18, are being deployed to support the administration as part of NCC Exercise Yogdan II. All the Gujarat Directorate Cadets deployed would be Senior Volunteer Cadets and with proper Covid safety precautions and adequate care. The Cadets have undergone a thorough training on DOs and Dont’s on Covid Protocols before being deployed.

In addition, on announcement of Tika Utsav by the PM , the Cadets of Gujarat Directorate actively participated in spreading awareness about the necessity of getting Vaccinated and following Covid appropriate behaviour, through door to door interaction and circulating a large number of videos and messages on social media. The Directorate General NCC at Delhi has also made provisions to insure the volunteer Cadets adequately. DG NCC at Delhi has been actively involved and focussed in giving the necessary permission for the employment of cadets. Major General Arvind Kapoor ADG, NCC Directorate Gujarat, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu informed that last year during Exercise NCC Yogdan I, Cadets of NCC Directorate Gujarat were deployed in maximum numbers which was highly appreciated by the dignitaries and the people of Gujarat. He further assured that all safety precautions related to Covid -19 will be ensured for the Cadets and staff of Gujarat Directorate employed in Exercise NCC Yogdan II. He also complimented the parents to have come forward and given their consent for the Cadets to be deployed.

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Defence

AUSTRALIA ANNOUNCES THE INDO-PACIFIC OCEANS INITIATIVE PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIA

Ashish Singh

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Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell AO, launched the Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) grant program to help support a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific underpinned by the rule of law and respect for sovereignty. “This AUD 1.4 million (INR 8.12 crore) grant program is a practical initiative to advance Australia and India’s shared vision for the Indo-Pacific”, High Commission O’Farrell said. “Through this program, we are seeking new proposals on how Australia, India and other regional partners can advance our shared maritime objectives”, he added.

 

The AIIPOIP grants program will help deliver practical outcomes under the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 14th East Asia Summit in November 2019. “Australia is proud to be co-leading with India the marine ecology pillar of the IPOI”, High Commissioner O’Farrell said. The first phase of this multi-year grant program will encourage proposals from Australian and Indian stakeholders to share expertise and resources, complementing the work under existing regional mechanisms such as ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Pacific Islands Forum. AIIPOIP is an outcome of the Australia-India Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, signed by Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne and India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar in June 2020, as part of the Australia-India Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership Agreement.

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Defence

PROTESTS BY TEHREEK-E-LABBAIK & ONGOING SITUATION IN PAKISTAN

Ashish Singh

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Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Pakistan (TLP) which draws its ideology from the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam is a far-right Islamist political party in Pakistan, founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi on 1 August 2015. TLP is known for its countrywide street power and massive protests in opposition to any perceived change to Pakistan’s blasphemy law or disrespect to Allah/Prophet Muhammad. Its first demonstration of street power came to light following the execution of Mumtaz Qadri the bodyguard of Salman Taser, the Governor of Punjab, who killed the Governor for publicly voicing his support for Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen). Qadri was hung on 29 February 2016, after which TLP supporters took to the streets across Pakistan, proclaimed him a martyr, chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with the police. A TLP patron, Pir Abdul Qadri, also called for the killing of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on the case and the Army Chief.

TLP, among other extremist religious outfits, was manoeuvred into mainstream politics by the country’s Army brass as one of its tools of political engineering. It was thought that carving out the far-right fringe from the conservative voter base of the PML-N, would damage it in the 2018 general elections, which proved correct & many PML-N candidates lost to PTI, as the voter base of PML-N gravitated towards PTI. Pak Army’s support for TLP was evident during their protest which took place from 8th November 2017, at Faizabad contesting changes in the Elections Bill 2017, demanding resignation of Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid. DG of Punjab Rangers, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen distributing envelopes containing Rs 1,000 notes to the protesters. The ISI then ‘brokered’ a deal between the TLP and the government. Wrapping up the suo-moto case of Faizabad protests, the two bench judge which included Justice Qazi Faez, directed DG ISPR & ISI amongst others to operate within their mandate. The said Judge is now facing various charges of corruption reportedly on the behest of Pak Army & the ISI.

In October 2020, a teacher, Samuel Paty was beheaded in Paris by an Islamist terrorist reportedly for displaying a cartoon of Muhammad. French President Emmanuel Macron defended freedom of expression and the rights to publish such cartoons, after which widespread protests took place in Pakistan, with calls to boycott French products and sever diplomatic ties with France. In November 2020, activists of TLP demanded the expulsion of French Ambassador from Pakistan. The protests were called off on 16 November 2020 after the Government of Pakistan reached an agreement with TLP by seeking more time to discuss the matter in Parliament.

On 11 April 2021, TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi (son of founder Khadim Rizvi) released a video message asking TLP activists to launch protests across Pakistan if the government did not expel the French Ambassador from the country by 20 April 2021. On 12th April 2021, after Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore, protests broke out across the country, with TLP activists blocking roads and cutting off Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Gujranwala from each other. The protests turned violent with reports of stone pelting; at least two people were killed in the riots on 12 April 2021. In addition, TLP claimed that two protesters were shot dead in Faisalabad and Karachi. On 13th April 2021, one police officer was beaten to death by the rioting mob in Lahore, while 40 others were injured. TLP spokesperson Tayyab Rizvi claimed that the number of TLP workers “martyred” in the protests by the second day had increased to 12. A spokesperson of Punjab Police confirmed that two cops were killed by the protesters who used clubs, bricks and firearms to attack them. Paramilitary forces were brought in to assist the local police across various cities including Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur. On 15th April 2021, the French embassy in Pakistan advised French citizens and companies to temporarily leave Pakistan “due to serious threats”. Pak Government formally banned TLP under Anti-Terrorism Law. On 16 April 2021, Pak government blocked several social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube for around four hours fearing call of protests by TLP. Situation turned extremely violent on 18th April 2021, at Yateem Khana Chowk, Lahore where three people were killed and hundreds of others, including 15 policemen injured in a clash between TLP protestors and police. It was reported that the TLP workers took five policemen, among them a DSP, hostage after an attack on a police station. It has also been reported that the protesters have taken a 50000 litre petrol tanker with them precluding any massive operation against them for fear of collateral damage.

Tanzimat Ahl-e-Sunnat leader Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman has called for a nationwide shutter down strike on 19th April 2021, against the Lahore incident. It has also been reported that that the protesters will march with the dead bodies of their colleagues to Islamabad, demanding expulsion of French Ambassador, release of all TLP members jailed in various parts of Pakistan and action against Pak’s Interior Minister Mr Sheikh Rashid. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also supported Mufti Muneeb’s call for the shutter down strike showing growing collusive support for the protests among other radical Islamic groups in Pak. The protest that started over a cartoon of Muhammad in France has brought the entire nation to a standstill. The Pak social media is replete with hashtags like #CivilWarInPakistan, #Stop_Gov_Terrorism, #Lahore, #LahoreBurning, #iStandWithTLP, etc.

There have been widespread reports of Pak Army and police personnel defecting from the forces and openly coming out in support of the protesters. The military-intelligence establishment’s pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable. While PakistaniEstablishment is trying to enforce writ of the Government& present a positive image to the international audience, given its precarious economic condition, the possibility of the ongoing protest looming into a major crisis for Pak cannot be ruled out.

There have been widespread reports of Pak Army and police personnel defecting from the forces and openly coming out in support of the protesters. The military-intelligence establishment’s pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable.

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Defence

INDIAN NAVY SEIZES NARCOTICS WORTH RS 3,000 CRORE

Ashish Singh

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New Delhi: Indian Naval Ship Suvarna, whilst on surveillance patrol in the Arabian Sea, encountered a fishing vessel with suspicious movements. To investigate the vessel, the ship’s team conducted boarding and search operation, which led to the seizure of more than 300 Kgs of narcotics substances. The boat with its crew have been escorted to the nearest Indian Port of Kochi, Kerala for further investigation. The approximate cost the catch in the international market is estimated to be Rs 3,000 crore. This is a major catch not only in terms of the quantity and cost but also from the perspective of disruption of the illegal narcotics smuggling routes, which emanate from the Makran coast and flow towards the Indian, Maldivian and Sri Lankan destinations. Apart from the human costs from drug addiction, the spoils of narcotics trade feed syndicates involved in terrorism, radicalisation and criminal activities.

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Defence

RAJNATH SINGH REVIEWS PREPAREDNESS OF MOD AND ARMED FORCES AMID SPIKE IN COVID-19 CASES

The Defence Minister asks them to aid civilian administration to tide over the current coronavirus situation; gives go ahead for emergency procurement of critical medical supplies.

Ashish Singh

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a virtual meeting to review the preparedness of Ministry of Defence and the armed forces to deal with the recent spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Army Staff General M.M. Naravane, Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) Surgeon Vice Admiral Rajat Datta, Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar, Secretary Department of Defence R&D and Chairman Defence Research and Development Organisation Dr G. Satheesh Reddy, Financial Adviser (Defence Services) Sanjiv Mittal and other senior civil & military officers attended the meeting via video conferencing.

Rajnath Singh was briefed about the measures taken by AFMS, DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and other organisations of Ministry of Defence such as National Cadet Corps (NCC) in providing aid to the civil administration in this hour of crisis. The Defence Minister was informed that a COVID care centre established by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is active in Bengaluru assisting the civil administration. He was informed that arrangements are being made by the DPSUs to buy oxygen plants that will help them in production of oxygen cylinders at a faster pace. The Defence Minister asked the DPSUs, OFB and DRDO to work on war footing to provide oxygen cylinders and extra beds to civil administration/state governments at the earliest. Rajnath Singh called upon the Armed Forces to be in close contact with the state governments and be ready to provide any required assistance. In a significant decision, the Defence Minister directed the Armed Forces and other stakeholders to go ahead with procurement of critical medical requirements under emergency powers of procurement.

DRDO Chairman briefed that a Covid-19 facility, developed by DRDO, has again been made functional in New Delhi and efforts are being made to soon increase the number of beds from 250 to 500. Dr Sathish Reddy informed the meeting that the ESIC Hospital, which was converted to Covid hospital in Patna, has started functioning with 500 beds and a Covid hospital will soon be made functional at Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He also informed that work is on at war footing to set up a 450-bed hospital in Lucknow, 750-bed hospital in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and 900-bed hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Rajnath Singh was also informed that based on the On-Board Oxygen Generation Technology developed for LCA Tejas, a 1000 litre/minute capacity oxygen generation plants technology has been given to the industry and the Uttar Pradesh government has placed order of five such plants with the industry. Dr Reddy informed the Defence Minister that more plants can be supplied by the industry to cater to the hospital requirements. He further said SpO2 (Blood Oxygen Saturation) based supplemental oxygen delivery system developed for soldiers posted at extreme high-altitude areas can be used for Covid patients as their conditions become similar. The product will be available soon in the market from the industry as per technology provided by DRDO. The Defence Minister was informed that the AFMS has mobilised its man power and other resources in various military hospitals dealing with Covid patients. To augment the manpower if required, the minister suggested to utilise the services of vaccinated retired Armed Forces personnel to assist the civil administration/state governments to deal with the current situation. During the meeting, Rajnath Singh also discussed ways to contain the spread of Covid-19 among the Armed Forces personnel and the officers/staff working in Ministry of Defence. He focused on Covid-appropriate behaviour at the work place, stressing on the need to strictly follow all the Covid protocols such as wearing of masks at all times and maintaining physical distancing.

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Defence

HERITAGE AS LEGACY IN THE EVOLUTION OF INDIA: CASE STUDY OF NAVAL DOCKYARD IN MUMBAI

The Indian terrestrial approach lured us away from the seas which were left almost unprotected.

Janhavi Lokegaonkar

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India is a maritime nation with a rich heritage. History records our oceanic links with other nations of Indian Ocean and beyond from the Harappan civilisation and lasting through the centuries. Indian maritime influence can be seen in all walks of Indian history. Our development is owed to the maritime economy and a gradual advancement of maritime infrastructure along the coastal frontiers. If we are to learn from our history, the biggest lesson is that the Indian terrestrial approach lured us away from the seas which were left almost unprotected. The failure amongst the Indians to perceive the potential threat from the maritime frontiers and percolate a maritime vision and policies among the masses was one of the grave problems that led to the rise of Colonial rule in India. This article highlights one facet as an outcome of “Manthan” or churn of the sea saga of Indian journey.

Under the Company and the Crown, the city of Bombay was developed further taking into consideration of all the physical features it had which gave it an edge. Even with self-gain as the motive, the emerging vision aided colonial officials to analyse the importance of the geography of Bombay and developed it as ‘Urbs Prima in Indis’-the premier city of the Empire.

Today as we traverse the heritage precinct of Fort area in South Mumbai, we are reminded of the lasting legacy that is the built heritage across the city’s waterfront. The Naval Dockyard that stands tall as a custodian of Mumbai’s coastline is a heritage facility in itself. The Wadia Master builders were commissioned to develop this shipbuilding and docking facility (erstwhile Bombay Dockyard) in Bombay in 1735. Today, this is used by the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy that upholds its heritage and continues to maintain its legacy.

With the Industrial revolution in Europe, change was inevitable. In the wake of Industrialisation in England, there was a paradigm shift in the realms of production. Technology took over and since then it has only developed. Ironically, this phase also marks the deindustrialisation in the Indian subcontinent in order to facilitate and furnish the English industries. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the need for better docking and banking facilities at such a juncture is self-explanatory. The undertaking of construction for new dock building and related facilities was deemed necessary and beneficial for improving the efficiency of the maritime trade and commerce.

Bombay Dockyard and nearby facilities made ‘Ships-of-the-Line’ for the Royal Navy that were considered to be of superior quality and craftsmanship. The skills and nautical expertise of the Indian shipbuilders was a legacy in itself. But, the Indian shipbuilding industry that was once sought after met its downfall as the sail ships were replaced with the steam vessels. Despite such setback, this never deterred the Indian shipping industry. Bombay faced economic repercussions but the indomitable spirit of the city as we see today was blazing even then. After an initial slump in the shipbuilding industry, the Dockyard and other facilities gave rise to a number of other associated industries that aligned with the needs of the shipping sector thereby creating a market for economy with wider avenues. Soon, the docking facilities were equipped and gained momentum as a ship repair and refits industry which made a lot of progress.

Built heritage and maritime affairs intermingle with economic matters-thus creating a legacy and building a stronger future of our nation. A gradual progression in the maritime infrastructure and its resultant impact on the economy has played a vital role in the development of the Indian shipping sector. Promotion of our maritime heritage and traditions by a holistic development of the coastal communities by integrating them in the mainstream policies will ensure the promotion of our rich maritime legacy.

The evolution of the Mumbai city is owed to the maritime economy and due to harnessing of its maritime connect and development of the infrastructure. The role and contribution of the maritime sector in developing the city to what it is today must be acknowledged. The mushrooming of allied industries in the shipping industry is a subsequent factor. The economy of Bombay strengthened which led to the creation of an industrial infrastructure. This was the rise of a modern SEZ i.e. Special Economic Zone, a precursor to the modern metropolis that Mumbai has become today.

Shortly after the World Heritage Day commemorated on 18 April 2021 this week sees launch of a multi-stakeholder initiative to revive maritime consciousness in form of a unique workshop titled “Indian Maritime History : A Manthan”. In the two day workshop, 21 – 22 April 2021, Dr Malini Shankar, IAS (Retd), Vice Chancellor, Indian Maritime University will deliver the Keynote Address while Commodore Odakkal Johnson, Director, Maritime History Society will mentor the proceedings and provide the thematic setting. The contents will benefit students, faculty & maritime enthusiasts. The workshop will evolve elements of an approach towards a long-term facility for excellence in Maritime History as envisaged in Maritime India Vision 2030. Maritime History Society and Indian Maritime University invite an enthusiastic response toward the resurgence of Sea Mindedness through participation, promotion and resource infusion into the journey to enhance influence for greater maritime consciousness in India.

Janhavi Lokegaonkar is a Research Associate at Maritime History Society with a focus on modern aspects of Indian Maritime History

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