Wednesday, 17 June 2015

COS of HQ Western Command; GOC of Chetak Corps and Sudarshan Chakra Corps.

As my turn came for promotion to Lieutenant General, I was informed by the COAS, General Rodrigues, during a visit to HQ 15 Corps that he had earmarked me to take over command of 15 Corps in July 1993. Since I had already done over two years as COS at the same location in a difficult period, I requested him for a change. My father was, at 93 years, not only of an advanced age, but had also been ailing for some time and needed care. I, therefore, told him that I would prefer to be posted to a place which had good medical facilities. The COAS accepted my request. He posted me as the COS HQ Western Command to succeed Lt. General B.K.N. Chibber, PVSM, AVSM, who was being moved as the Security Adviser to the Government of Punjab. This was to be an interim posting till a vacancy for the corps commander occurred. Accordingly, I got a short tenure of six months as the COS with the then Western Army Commander, Lt General GK Gulati, PVSM. This enabled me to get familiar with the operational tasks of Western Command, as also with the ongoing operations of counter-insurgency in Punjab, which were in the final phase of consolidation.

The dynamic Chief Minister, Shri Beant Singh, along with the very competent DGP, Shri KPS Gill, were well in control in Punjab. There was unity of purpose and very close coordination between the civil administration, the Police and the Army in the conduct of the operations. In Punjab, by and large, the civil society was not with the insurgents, which enabled a quicker return to normalcy. The media also played a positive role by providing a very balanced coverage of the events. The actual task of eliminating militancy was undertaken by the Punjab Police, while the Army provided them with a secure environment by dominating the rural areas and the border belt during night time. At the Command level, in addition to the planning for the conduct of the counter-insurgency operations, there were operational discussions, tactical manoeuvres, and war games. As the COS, I found that there were many administrative installations, hospitals, and logistic units which needed attention. Their supervision and reporting were under the direct responsibility of the COS, and I was able to visit these various installations as also familiarise myself with the entire western border in Punjab, during my time there.

 In November 1993, I was appointed GOC of a pivot Corps, while it was undergoing the yearly operational alert. This was one of the most important pivot corps of the Indian Army providing a pad for launching operations, with considerable resources on its orbit. Its armoured content was as much as that of an armoured division. The Corps also had an independent Artillery Brigade with the 155 mm (Bofors) guns. The Corps Key Location Plan (KLP), at Bhatinda, Suratgarh, Bikaner and SriGanganagar was still under development at that time. Major General J.S. Dhillon, my COS, was of great help in finalising the KLP and other infrastructure. Maj General Vinod Sehgal was GOC of one of the divisions; Maj General N.C. Vij (later COAS) was in command of the other; and Maj General C.S. Panag was the GOC of the third Infantry Division. The Corps was also a test-bed for developing the “Battlefield Surveillance Centre” and the “Artillery Command and Control Centre”, which have now been made operational in the Indian Army. Aspects like offensives across deserts and riverine terrains and reduction of strong points were perfected.

During our stay at Bhatinda, our daughter, Anisha got married. The wedding was solemnised at DSOI, New Delhi. I deliberately held the wedding outside my corps zone, to ensure that my subordinate commanders and staff did not flock to the wedding with gifts. I also disallowed leave to the officers to participate in the event. Some of my officers may have thought me too strict. But my purpose in organising the wedding function of my daughter outside my Corps area was quite clear—private functions must remain private in the Armed Forces. And I mention it here, to highlight the tendency at times to use official facilities for private purposes in many departments. This leads to misuse of resources and promotes corruption, and senior officers must set an example to discourage such a trend; we emphatically must not follow the precedent of our political leadership and other government officials in this regard.

Most of the stations in the Corps, i.e Bhatinda, Suratgarh, Bikaner, SriGanganagar, Lal Garh Jattan, and Kota, were small or new towns. The cantonments there were not fully developed. The Army, today, by its efforts has developed good sports facilities, opened new schools, and constructed housing complexes and hospitals in most of these stations. All this systematic work has also helped in restoring the confidence of the civil populace, in ensuring better governance, and in normalising the situation on the ground from anti-national elements. It is often not fully realised that the Army, in this process, plays a significant role in the development of infrastructure of remote areas, smaller towns and the border belt. The civilian population and the retired veterans also feel involved in the task of nation building.
The army units in peace-stations basically are either involved in training for war, or are there for much needed rest and refit from the pressures of the field areas. The Infantry units have their peculiar needs for reorientation to the new environments, as unlike the specialised units, the Infantry units mostly come from a hard field-station to the peace-station on rotation. They need time to get their families and the shortages and low scaling of married accommodation (approximately 15%) permits tenures of less than a year. Formation Commanders need to cater for their special needs and must not give them additional duties, other than their operational tasks, which often appears to be the norm. The training commitments of the units located in the peace stations, particularly specialist units such as Air Defence Regiments, Assault Engineering Regiments, Armoured Units and Artillery Regiments need coordination as the firing ranges are few and far away.

I was able to conduct the planned two weeks operational familiarisation of all the formations, preceded by a Corps Level War Game at the operational locations in November 1994. This also enabled me to meet a large number of my units and their officers on the ground. Thereafter, Infantry Div (Rapid) under Maj Gen Vinod Sehgal was exercised on the offensive operations astride the canal/river obstacle along with the independent Armoured Brigade. One Infantry Brigade of the other Infantry Division provided the “enemy force”, and the third Infantry Div was tasked to provide the control and umpire organisation. The exercise was supported by the other supporting arms and services fully. Such exercises enable the units to practice battle-craft and drills. The Army Commander, Lt. General G.K. Gulati, PVSM, witnessed the exercise and gave some valuable advice. The GOC Div, Maj Gen Vinod Sehgal, was a fine soldier and an imaginative Commander, and tried out some new concepts although most commanders these days do not try out anything new, for fear of making mistakes and adopt the well-beaten and predictable paths. In fact, new concepts and ideas are often run down.

As I was just about settling down as the GOC, I was pleasantly surprised to get my transfer orders as the GOC of a strike Corps, located at Bhopal. The command of one of the strike Corps of the Indian Army is an honour, which any professional soldier would aspire to. I took over the command of this Corps from Lt General K.M. Seith, AVSM, a fellow paratrooper and a friend. The Corps had its armoured elements located in Central India, with other two formations at Ranchi and Secunderabad. The Corps was well spread with units at stations like Trivandrum in the South to Barrackpore in the East, Pune in the West and Delhi in the North.  Some of the supporting formations were still under the process of being raised. The Corps HQ was housed at Sultania Infantry lines in some makeshift accommodation, with some units in tentage and TRS (Tent Replacement Scheme) huts in the EME Centre Complex at Bairagarh.

We raised the Air Defence Brigade at Dehu Road and moved the Independent Arty Brigade to Aurangabad. Both these stations proved to be good assets to the Corps, as these also had good education facilities. I was able to visit various formations and assess their training needs. The Division, ex Ranchi, was practised in move and deployment in the Rajasthan deserts for training. The long time taken for this induction and deployment was a matter of concern and was suitably rectified later by the Army HQ, by allocating another formation from Central India. This improved the operational capabilities of the Corps further. We were able to conduct a full scale exercise in the deserts, codenamed Chakravyuh, by all the formations, including the Armoured Division, with the training tanks, the Artillery and the Engineering brigades in full. HQ Southern Command provided the ‘enemy’ troops. I was also able to get the Air Effort, including helicopter lift, for a Special Forces battalion lift for the exercise. The exercise was witnessed by the COAS and the Air Chief. Maj General Vijay Kapoor was able to exercise the Armoured Division in a realistic setting in the deserts and along with the other Divisional commanders practice various concepts of offensive missions. The logistics Services were also able to get fully exercised.

It took considerable time for the formations and units to de-induct to their respective permanent 
locations, spread in the South and Central India. This also gave us the opportunity to see the variety and diversity and uniqueness of India’s heritage during our visits to the formations. My wife accompanied me during some of my visits to these stations and acquainted herself with the education and the associated issues of the family welfare. The infantry units, I noticed, were always pressed for time doing numerous tasks, since they get to the peace station tenures for a short 2-3 years, before going back to the field. The commitment on station duties, assistance to civil authorities during natural calamities, time for operational training, therefore, needs to be balanced realistically.

Aruna with the ladies of the Station

Receiving the COAS, General Shankar Roy Chowdhary
The Corps has the Sudarshan Chakra as the emblem, depicting the ultimate weapon of the Gods, and true to its emblem, over the years the equipment profile and high professional standards have made it the real ‘cutting edge’ of the Indian Army. Having visited the Corps HQ at Bhopal for a reunion recently, and having seen its professionalism, the new accommodation and the sports facilities, made one feel proud of belonging to such an elite formation. The enhanced financial powers of the formations today, along with the new concept of HQ Sub Area being placed under the command of the Corps HQ have enabled better integration and response for logistic installations as compared to earlier times.  The quality of maintenance of the buildings, the roads and the completion of urgent works improved consequent to the new arrangement of the Sub-Area HQ being placed under the Corps HQ. The Army, today continues to retain its traditional standards of excellence, competence and high professional standards. A visit to any of the Army stations is always refreshing and rejuvenating and the senior officers’ conclaves and the periodic reunions contribute greatly to further enhance the standards.