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Army troop movement: Govt fails to convince House panel

Def Secy: MPs want Army chief summoned after Express report on troop movement towards Delhi.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi |
April 5, 2012 1:29:13 am

Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and the vice-chiefs of the three services have failed to convince a Parliament panel with their answers to questions arising out of ‘The Indian Express’ report on non-notified troop movements in the direction of the capital in January.

At least two members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence — Shiromani Akali Dal Rajya Sabha member Naresh Gujral and AIMIM Lok Sabha member from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi — were learnt to have demanded that Army Chief Gen. V K Singh be summoned before the panel.

Gujral is set to send a formal letter to committee chairman Satpal Maharaj,asking that Gen. Singh be called in to not only face questions arising out of the report in The Indian Express on the mobilisation of Army units,but to also clarify the contents of his leaked letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the state of the nation’s defence preparedness.

Tell us: Is the ‘trust deficit’ between govt and Army,highlighted by IE report,bridgeable?

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The Indian Express on Wednesday reported details of an unusual,non-notified movement of two key Army units from Hisar and Agra towards Delhi on January 16-17,only some hours after Gen. Singh went to the Supreme Court against the government on the issue of his date of birth. The movement triggered confusion in the government,and Defence Secretary Sharma flew back from Malaysia ahead of schedule. The Army units,which had reached close to Delhi’s outskirts,were halted and sent back.

Appearing before the committee today,Sharma flatly denied that he had been asked by the government to cut short his visit to Malaysia in the wake of the mobilisation of the Army units. He said he had returned early because of a case that was coming up before the Supreme Court the next day.

But the explanation did not appear to have washed. “He (the defence secretary) is not a lawyer. What was the urgency to return like that?” a committee member said after the meeting.

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Owaisi is learnt to have demanded to know why,if,as claimed by Sharma and the vice-chiefs,the movement was “routine”,the Army units were sent back. Apparently,no answer was forthcoming.

Some committee members sought a detailed explanation from the Army and defence establishment about the entire episode at the next meeting of the panel on April 9.

After the meeting,a Congress MP on the committee said,“While they denied The Indian Express report saying that it was a routine exercise,they did not answer specific queries as to why protocol was not followed,why the Army units were sent back and why the defence secretary returned from abroad early. The defence secretary said he cannot react to a newspaper report,but that is not an answer.”

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The vice-chiefs also faced some tough questioning regarding the Army Chief’s letter on defence preparedness. Congress MP Manish Tewari said that while the defence committee was meeting to discuss procurement and the budget,the Army Vice-Chief’s presentation reflected none of the concerns flagged by the Chief. Tewari said that the Army should send a detailed report to the committee if there are gaps in defence preparedness.

“The general mood of the committee members regarding the explanation offered by the defence secretary and the vice-chiefs about The Indian Express story was that it was not convincing. Their answers had many gaps. But if they deny it,you have to take it at face value,” said a member.

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First published on: 05-04-2012 at 01:29:13 am

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