WING COMMANDER Abhinandan Varthaman, who was held captive by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets on February 27, has been conferred the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest wartime gallantry medal.
Before his MiG was hit, Varthaman downed an F-16 fighter jet of the Pakistan Air Force. He was released by Pakistan on the night of March 1.
Meanwhile, of the 180 gallantry awards announced by the government for Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) on the eve of Independence Day, 114 have gone to personnel deployed in the Kashmir Valley. Among state forces, J&K Police top the list with 62 medals.
The IAF got a total of 13 awards, including 5 Yudh Seva Medals and 7 Vayu Sena Medals. Squadron Leader Minty Aggarwal, who played a key role as flight controller during the aerial combat, has been awarded the Yudh Seva Medal. She played an important part in intercepting the retaliatory attack by Pakistan’s Air Force on February 27, after IAF fighter jets targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26, nearly two weeks after the Pulwama terror attack.
At least five Mirage fighter pilots who were part of the operation to strike the JeM camp in Balakot were also among the awardees.
The government announced 132 awards for armed forces and paramilitary forces — 2 Kirti Chakras, 1 Vir Chakra, 14 Shaurya Chakras, 8 Bar to Sena Medals (Gallantry), 90 Sena Medals (Gallantry), 5 Nao Sena Medals (Gallantry), 7 Vayu Sena Medals (Gallantry) and 5 Yudh Seva Medals.
The Kirti Chakra, the second highest peacetime gallantry award, has been awarded posthumously to Sapper Prakash Jadhav of the Corps of Engineers of the First Battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles, and to Harshpal Singh, a Deputy Commandant of the CRPF. Of the 14 Shaurya Chakras, five have been given posthumously to Army personnel, and two posthumously to police personnel.
In an indication of the improved situation in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE), only 62 personnel from such regions have received the medals. The North-East, where violence has ebbed over the years, saw CAPF personnel bagging four gallantry medals.
Of the 180 medals for CAPFs, three are President’s Police Medal for Gallantry (PPMG), while the rest are Police Medal for Gallantry (PMG). A majority of these medals (72) have gone to the CRPF, which also bagged one Kirti Chakra and two Shaurya Chakras for operations in J&K. In all, the CRPF bagged 55 medals for operations in J&K.
Of the three PPMGs, two have gone to the CRPF for operations in Kashmir — to Assistant Commandant Loukrakpam Ibomcha Singh and Constable Mohammed Majahid Khan for killing two LeT militants in an operation lasting two days in the Karan Nagar area of Srinagar.
The government also announced one President’s Tatrakshak Medal (Distinguished Service), five Tatrakshak Medals (Gallantry) and two Tatrakshak Medals (Meritorious Service) for the Indian Coast Guard.