A week after government auditors exposed Army supplying stale food to jawans, Union Defence Minister A K Antony on Saturday gave an assurance that efforts were in progress to improve quality of rations given to them.
In his message to the armed forces personnel on the eve of 64th Independence Day broadcast over radio, Antony said necessary provisions had also been made for supplying special rations for jawans deployed in counter-insurgency operations and high-altitude areas.
"The government has taken several welfare measures for the defence personnel. We are making efforts to improve the quality of atta, rice, vegetables, tea, pulses and other items. Similarly, we have made a provision for special rations to troops deployed in counter-insurgency operations. Special rations have also been authorised for additional troops serving in high-altitude areas above 12,000 feet," he said in his address.
The Comptroller and Auditor General had in its report last week slammed the defence ministry for supplying rotting food items that were unfit for human consumption to jawans, particularly those in Jammu and Kashmir and North East.
Paying tributes to martyrs among the armed forces and conveying best wishes to uniformed and civilian personnel of the Army, Navy and Air Force and their families, Antony also expressed sympathies to the survivors of 'the nature's fury' in Leh and heartfelt condolences to those, who lost their family members, including several defence personnel.
"It is difficult to pick up the pieces after such a large-scale loss of life and property," he said.
Observing that armed forces personnel had on several occasions rendered invaluable service in times of natural calamities, the minister noted that personnel from Army, Air Force, DRDO and Border Roads Organisation were doing a commendable job in accelerating rescue and relief efforts, restoring communication links and in assisting in attempts to restore normalcy at the earliest.
Alerting the defence personnel about the 'several challenges' brought on by India's rising economic stature, Antony said the development in and around neighbourhood had forced a review and upgrade of the nation's security apparatus.
"The challenges to our nation's security are indeed varied and manifold. The security measures taken by us are often misunderstood by some nations. However, we have always been a peace-loving nation and we will continue to strive for peaceful relations with all our neighbours," he said without naming either Pakistan or China.
Antony said post 26/11, the government had initiated several steps to strengthen the security apparatus, particularly along the coastline.
"We have cleared the setting up of four air enclaves at Goa, Kochi, Vizag, and New Mangalore. Coastal security has been strengthened, with acquisitions of new systems and platforms," he said.
Noting that the armed forces all over the world were modernising and becoming technology-intensive, the Defence Minister assured that the defence modernisation plans were on the right track.
"We want to give our armed forces the latest and the best possible equipment. We would like the modernisation process to proceed hand-in-hand with indigenisation. The success in the development of the indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant must be replicated in other fields too," he added.
Antony said the defence ministry had accorded top priority to create infrastructure and build all-weather roads in inaccessible areas.
The Border Roads Organisation, he said, had been given the responsibility of constructing the Rohtang tunnel that would enable easier year-long access to Lahaul-Spiti areas of Himachal Pradesh and shorten the distance between Manali and Leh.
"This tunnel will ensure that the remote areas in the northern region, which remained inaccessible for over six months, will now be connected and accessible throughout the year. The Rohtang tunnel would be the longest tunnel in our country at such a high altitude," he added.
Noting that the armed forces guarded the land, sea and air frontiers in harsh weather conditions and in forbidding terrains, Antony said living away from families made their task all the more challenging.
"Despite all odds, you all have been doing a creditable job both during warlike situation and in peace," he added. Pointing out that during his visit to Siachen in June this year jawans had raised the problems and difficulties being faced by them, he said some of them wanted better quality socks and more snow-mobiles for operational requirements, while others requested reduced telephone rates for better communication with families.
"I have directed the concerned officials and departments to take immediate remedial action," he said.
Admitting that the pressure on the armed forces personnel was tremendous, Antony said the need for exercising maximum restraint could not be over-emphasised.
"I wish to stress that any instance of human rights violation anywhere will not be tolerated," he added.
Listing the welfare measures for the personnel, Antony said 20 military locations were now offering e-ticketing to them as a pilot project. With this facility, the system of railway warrants will be replaced and armed forces personnel will be able to book and print e-tickets through IRCTC websites at unit locations.
"This project will be gradually extended to more than 5,000 Army, Air Force and Navy units across the country. We are committed to carry forward these measures and do a lot more for the all-round welfare of our jawans in the future," he added.
Antony said the defence ministry was trying its best to ensure there were no procedural delays in pension-related cases of ex-servicemen.
He noted that some personnel were retained despite a disability attributed or aggravated by military service. They forego any lump-sum compensation, he said adding, it had been decided to grant them a disability element or war injury element at the time of retirement or charge in addition to pension or gratuity keeping in view their valour and sacrifice.
On the other hand, in case of pensioners who retire on disability pension, a decision was taken to pay them a constant attendant at the rate of Rs 3,000 per month, in addition to the disability pension, he added.
Pointing out that the government had granted permanent commission to women officers in non-combatant roles, the defence minister said he expected full cooperation from the armed forces in taking forward all such welfare schemes to their logical conclusion.
Regarding efforts to improve living conditions of jawans, he said the government had laid special emphasis on Married Accommodation Project under which a total of 1,98,881 dwelling units would be constructed in four phases.
"We are making all efforts to address the accommodation related issues. We are sure that MAP will go a long way in boosting the morale of our armed forces," he said.