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Ongoing Sino-Indian logjam: The winter haul

As long as coronavirus lasts China will continue to weaken. And as long as the current situation
on the LAC continues, the Dragon will be seen to be ineffective. India must plan accordingly.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The latest round of talks between SinoIndian militaries has ended predictably without a way forward. As winter sets in both sides hunker down to fight the elements more than each other. What is it that each can achieve in winter? What is the element of risk involved in contemplated actions? What can really happen? These are the questions that arise as China continues with its crab-like, untrustworthy moves. Further, indigenous opinions say that we negotiate with the Chinese on their offer. They need a lecture on “Aatma Samman Bharat”. 

The Chinese Gambits

 Wow! Finally! China has a stand. It stated, “China-India border LAC is very clear, that is the LAC on November 7, 1959. China announced it in the 1950s, and the international community including India is also clear about it.” However, no one is clear about it. The famous ‘Green Line’ of Chou Enlai varies with circumstances. We rejected it in 1959. No reason to accept it now. It appears that Chinese have pruned down their lofty aims with which they started this ambitious military expedition. It is a climb down. Make no mistakes. However, the ‘Chinese are Chinese’. They must be seen to be having an upper hand. Hence, they promptly stated that they do not recognise the UT of Ladakh. 

Chinese must also show that they have the initiative and pose strategic threats to India. Superpower after all! Hence a flurry of ‘String of Pearls’ activity. Yang Jiechi, the Political Bureau member of CCP, Central Committee, went to Myanmar to progress the CMEC. However, there seems to be wariness in Myanmar. Our COAS and Foreign Secretary went on 4-5 October 2020 to reassure Myanmar as a counter. Wang Jiechi also went to Sri Lanka to deepen their relationship in the post pandemic period. In plain words it means ‘expand the debt trap so that Sri Lanka is immersed in further debt’. Early days. Need to watch out. China continues to woo Bangladesh. In July, China announced tariff exemption for 97 per cent of Bangladeshi products. On 4 October, Xi Jinping said China is ready to align with Bangladesh leaders to and jointly promote the construction of the BRI projects. Meanwhile Nepalese people are pushing back with street protests outside the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu over constructing buildings on Nepalese territory. 

China is also trying to operationalise the ‘Debt Trap’ against the Maldives; which is under pressure to relinquish control over one of its islands against loans. While the Sino-Pak relationship is booming, the opposition has found its mojo. After a long time the public and Opposition are protesting the Army involvement in politics. Thanks to Papa John Bajwa and CPEC. Overall, China continues efforts to make inroads with all our neighbours, despite blips in Pakistan and Nepal — its two most important pawns in the Sino Indian Chess board. 

Internationally, China is bereft of any alliances. Its friends are few and unreliable. Its partners are pariah states — Pakistan and North Korea. Its internal problems related to diseases, ethnic issues, pollution, food problems, diplomatic isolation, military limitation and economic trimming persist. The Pew Research data of the negative views of 14 advanced countries about China gives a lot of room for introspection. The South China Sea and Taiwan situation remains tense. Lot of threats and hot air. The two-front situation has not changed. Things are not rosy.

 The Indian Response

 India has been quietly preparing for the winter. Wintering in Ladakh is a matter of experience besides wherewithal. Indian experience will come to the fore. The Atal Tunnel is inaugurated. It increases the road open time and will reduce our air effort considerably. The QUAD foreign ministers met recently in Tokyo. The statement of our External Affairs Minister was quite explicit and pointed to China. The sounds emanating from there were not exactly music to Chinese ears. India has conducted a slew of tests of various varieties of missiles in the recent past — Hypersonic, anti-tank, extended range supersonic cruise, subsonic cruise, a missile launched torpedo, a submarine launched missile, anti-radiation warheads, et al. All these are a potent message to China. If there is one thing China will take seriously, it is these missiles. The missile program is really successful in our country. Overall the situation is stable. Not too conducive to China. However, let us not forget that India wished Taiwan on its National Day with nice posters on Shantipath opposite the Chinese Embassy despite the Chinese ambassadors stupid diktat to our media.

Weather

 The winter is setting in with temperatures getting into the minus of zero zone in Ladakh. Soon Indus and Pangong Tso will solidify. The ground goes hard. Mobility will improve. There will be clear skies. The dense air will be excellent for flying and air operations. The winds will pick up in the plains. Past mid-November, snowfall in higher reaches and cloudy days will increase. Mid November onwards frigid conditions are the norm. A winter subtropical jet stream (rivers of wind) blows in the Himalayas from West to East as shown in the illustration above in this season. It overlaps the Ladakh area. Jet streams are cold tubes of air blowing at speeds varying from 30m/s to over 100m/s, with strong vertical wind shears, strong horizontal temperature gradients and areas of clear air turbulence. They are at heights of 6-14 km above msl and the tube diameter could be up to 50km. These dimensions and exact locations are highly variable and unpredictable. 

Local turbulences add to this phenomenon. Jet streams are used by long haul jets to aid flight. However, short haul, high manoeuvre operational flying is another kettle of fish in a jet stream. Light weight UAVS will be extremely difficult to handle. They could be blown away if caught in the jet stream. Long range Missiles and Rockets will become inconsistent and inaccurate since their control systems might be inadequate. If targets are located on steep gradients, hill tops, and narrow valleys; guided missiles could miss their targets altogether. All fancy operations are suspect in winter. Planning becomes iffy. Manned air operations will prevail. Overall large scale operations will be difficult but are not precluded. Logistics will be very difficult to sustain force ratios for offensive operations. Small scale operations will be the norm. The subtropical jet stream, incidentally, causes the North-East Monsoon. 

International Opinion

 The situation on ground is unchanged since 29-30 August when India occupied key heights and turned tables on the Chinese. Since then it is dawning on international Chinese scholars, that China is losing it. In July, when the Chinese had the initiative, Yun Sun (a Chinese Scholar in Stimson Centre) said: ‘If a strategic friendship with India is untenable, it frees up room for tactical gains’. The same lady now says, ‘It should at least be debated whether China might have just won the battle and lost the war… China’s sheer loss is strategic, and tactical advances in an uninhabitable mountain region cannot offset that fact’. 180 degrees?

 Gordon Chang’s article headline in Newsweek screamed: ‘The Chinese Army flops in India. What will Xi do next?’ Slowly those who have an upper story functionally intact are coming round to my opinion that the Chinese are strategically myopic. They were too tactically focused without thinking through strategic ramifications or having a fall back option. Overall, with the occupation of the Kailash Range, the strategic and tactical advantage is with us. China has some territorial advantage. They will not let go of it without some additional leverage. 

Further Courses of Action

 At this stage there is bound to be a debate as to what are the options available to both India and China. Further courses of military action will be dependent on the Aim, Risk (of failure or success) and Escalation factors in each of the available options in the current winter weather and terrain conditions.

 Indian Aims and Options: In my opinion Indian aims and options are simple. Firstly. It will aim to blunt any Chinese offensive and mount a limited counter offensive to evict lodgements or get into better bargaining positions thereof. Secondly. If opportunity arises it must attempt to achieve territorial parity by a Quid Pro Quo action. Even a small piece of territory is ok. Thirdly. It can manoeuvre in mountains to get into an advantageous position to foreclose any Chinese offensive without heavy costs. Fourthly. It can commence insurgency in Tibet in an adverse situation. The risk factor is pretty low and escalation can be controlled. All these are well within Indian capability. Small team actions with the backing of big firepower will be the order of the day. Chinese Aims and Options: Chinese aims and options are complex. It will aim to achieve or declare victory. That demands a major rake up in violence levels. In the least it will aim for a face saving exit. However the time for small team Chinese actions is over.

 Barring Depsang plains, its chances of penetrating the Indian defence line is low. Even a penetration at Depsang might not lead to victory, since a riposte can come anywhere in the South. Moldo garrison, and Spangur are huge vulnerabilities. The Finger area is vulnerable attrition. Considering they have a clear weakness in well trained Infantry, the risk of failure for the Chinese is very high if they attempt a major offensive. Since China has to up the ante in any action, the escalation factors are high. Hence China runs the risk of not being able to control the narrative. I have grave doubts if the Chinese leadership is up to it in the overall context. I also grant that people will have grave doubts and will express incredulity at my opinions. However, please read all my ‘Sino-Indian’ writings on www.gunnersshot.com and you will see that so far I have not gone wrong — strategically, operationally or tactically.

 India’s Best Bet: India’s best bet is to play below par. Hold tight and do not give the Chinese a chance. Do not underestimate them. Do not let your guard down. Given a chance, grab some piece of territory or occupy a key terrain feature. It is time to shift gear into ambiguity on the ‘One China’ policy and Tibet. India must use asymmetric options which are aplenty. We must continue to force multiply military actions with economic, diplomatic and geopolitical actions. The message to China should be clear. The Indian door is shut.

 To Negotiate or Not 

After China dangled the carrot of the 1959 line, many have started advocating negotiations, on that line or another, citing pragmatism. All these positions are well inside the cartographic boundaries we have maintained for the past 70 years. The offer from China was rejected in 1959 and continued to be rejected for 60 years despite facing a humiliation in 1962. If in all these years we felt that the 1959 line or any of these intermediaries were ok we should have thrown in the towel long back. We should also be clear that we are preparing to negotiate with China on its proposal and its terms for a settlement. The same untrustworthy China which has not honoured any of its international commitments or treaties ever since we can remember. Please read Chris Patten’s article on why China’s leaders cannot be trusted. With due respect to these thinkers and elders, they are less than naïve. If an expansionist China can betray us in 1962, they will do so in future also.

 China is still negotiating from a position of territorial advantage. It is a good bargaining chip. That has to be neutralised. To still think that China has greater stamina due to its CNP is a gross misjudgement. Look at the Taliban vs USA example. We need to get China down a few notches more. In my opinion there are a plenty of hybrid and asymmetric options available to us. We need to think differently. That is all. Just hark back. My ‘father of the nation’ got us Independence from a great empire with far less resources at his disposal using the most asymmetric and unorthodox options. China is a far less adversary and India has far more arrows in its quiver yet. The Chinese and Pakistanis seem to have realised it. Some of us have not. We must negotiate on better terms. Let us not run out of patience. Give the undernourished armed forces a chance. They will deliver despite everything. They have put China in the international dock. If they cannot, we can always fall back to our over-endowed bureaucratic, diplomatic and political class. As I said earlier — the Chinese have come in at their behest. They should be allowed to go back at ours.

 Lastly, as long as the virus lasts China will continue to weaken. As long as the current situation on the LAC lasts, China will be seen to be ineffective. So what is the hurry?

 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 Dept 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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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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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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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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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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