Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitches for strong economic ties with China, the Centre remains focussed on defence preparedness along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Defence Ministry has set itself a deadline of 2018 to complete infrastructure projects in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Refurbishing six Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) for military aircraft, building strategic railway lines, tunnels, and arterial roads leading up to the LAC are among the projects the government plans to “finish” before its term ends in 2019.
“The Chinese infrastructure is right up to the LAC, whereas we are at places 50-100 km away from the LAC. This is now being addressed. By 2018 — a year here or there — we plan to put the infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh and the Northeast in place,” Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh told The Indian Express.
Singh, who was Minister of State for Defence Production from 2006-09 in the UPA government, said the days of “policy paralysis” towards the Northeast were over. Singh visited forward areas in Arunachal and Sikkim last week, which followed Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s visit to the area at the beginning of the month.
“The Border Roads Organisation has been brought solely under the Defence Ministry… and has been given strict deadlines. The DG, BRO will be monitoring the progress of these projects every three months and submitting the reports to me. I will be personally monitoring the progress by the year-end,” Singh said.
The six ALGs, the Minister said, had fallen into disuse and been encroached upon by local people, but they would be made fully operational by the end of the year, and their 1,200-metre runways would allow military and civilian jets. The Air Force currently bases its Sukhois at Tezpur and Chabua in Assam. Singh said an idea of building “missile resistant tunnels” was also under consideration.
While the government recently slashed the budget for the mountain strike corps being raised in the Northeast, Singh said the commitment to raising the unit remained unaffected. “It was decided that the Northeastern borders will be guarded by sons of the soil and I am happy to say that two battalions of Sikkim Scouts have already been raised and Arunachal Scouts are being made ready… Initially there was a challenge raising the first battalion of Sikkim Scouts. But now we have raised even the second,” he said.
Changes in blacklisting policy
A year after it was announced that the blacklisting policy would be changed, Singh said the amendments had been more or less finalised, and the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) was likely to approve it “anytime now”.
“We are trying to reverse the trend. Only in extreme conditions will a company be blacklisted,” the Minister said. “Also, if there are three-four subsidiaries of a company, and if one has indulged in wrongdoing, the others can continue supplying.”
He added that the appointment of agents — or ‘representatives’, as Defence Minister Parrikar has called them on several occasions — would be “recognised”, and they would be “held responsible” for wrongdoings. The difference with the previous government, Singh said, was that “we don’t go to the CBI” often. There was consensus within the government that a “decision taken in national interest” should not result in anyone going to jail.
One rank, one pension
Singh said the government has “arrived” at a figure, and the “Defence Minister will be making the formal announcement any moment”. He said the government had consulted all parties involved in the decisionmaking, and “we are hopeful that we have been able to cater to everyone’s expectations”.
Parrikar had indicated on Saturday that the OROP — earlier stuck in the Finance Ministry due to disagreement over monetary allocations — was more or less final. The formula applied by the Services was reaching a higher figure, while the one used by the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) was producing a lower figure. That deadlock has been resolved now, Singh said.