New Delhi, July 12: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said the army had been given standard operating procedures as it moved its units to Chhattisgarhs Naxalite-hit areas, ostensibly for training.
We are there not to fight or engage Naxalites. At the same time, the government has given them (the army) standard operating procedures for self-defence, Antony said, confirming the report in the July 9 edition of The Telegraph.
The government had approved the Rules of Engagement (RoE) for a brigade-minus force (less than 3,000 soldiers) that is headed for Narayanpur district in south Chhattisgarh. Army chief General V.K. Singh had asked for the RoE in January.
The army has been allotted 750sqkm for a manoeuvre range in Narayanpur on the edges of the Maoist stronghold in Abujhmarh, near the Raoghat mines of the Bhilai steel plant. Two battalions from the Assam and Bihar regiments of the infantry led by a brigadier have been tasked to establish the range.
One of the key points in the RoE — or standard operating procedures — is that the soldiers can fire in self-defence if attacked by Maoists. Antony said the army was going into Chhattisgarh because it did not have enough field firing ranges. There are only 40 ranges available now, down from 104 six years ago. The army is now having a presence in some of the areas where they were not present earlier. But it is going into these areas purely on professional grounds. They want more training grounds (as) they are short of firing ranges.
The minister was, however, not willing to part with details of the rules of engagement. In the past, he has discouraged public discussion on counter-Naxalite operations.
These (issues like deployment of the armed forces to tackle Naxalites) are not to be discussed in public. I will not entertain any public debate , he had said last month. But the governments position on involving the military — the Indian Air Force has already deployed helicopters to support security forces — has shifted from a blanket no question of it last year to a more calibrated presence for training this year with boots already on the ground.
This is in keeping with past practice. In the early 1970s, for example, at the peak of the insurgency in Mizoram, the army established the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) in the state. This was done as much to school soldiers and officers in a live hostile environment as it was to aid deployment against the insurgents.
In Jammu and Kashmir, too, the army first sent units to establish training centres in the teeth of the insurgency before it was deployed fully to dominate the Valley in the late 1980s.
A former commandant of Mizorams CIJWS, Brigadier (retired) B.K. Ponwar, heads the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College in Kanker, south Chhattisgarh, that is supported by the army.
A.K. Antony today asked global companies vying for multi-billion dollar military orders from India to stick to the straight and narrow path while negotiating contracts with the armed forces.
As India prepares to sign defence deals, big enough to change the fortunes of the global majors, Antony also promised that decisions would be based on merit and would not be guided by political considerations.
Do not try to corrupt our people.… Quality and price are the only criteria in terms for acquisitions. All the vendors will get level playing field, the defence minister told an audience that included representatives of many of the companies at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis here.
The defence ministers words have gathered more weight since Lockheed Martin and Boeing were among the four companies eliminated from the race to supply 126 combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force for an estimated $12 billion. The Eurofighter Typhoon and the Rafale were shortlisted despite stiff lobbying by the Pentagon.
The armed forces are now in the middle of concluding mega deals to buy submarines; attack, transport and heavy-lift helicopters; heavy artillery guns and warships.