The objective is Fortress Andamans. Important strategically because of its location, particularly now because Chinese warships and submarines have been in evidence not only in the Indian Ocean but also, at times, the Bay of Bengal, it is an important experiment for India’s defence establishment in “jointness.” The Andamans is the only place with a joint services command– there are still differences about just how much “jointness” there should be.
There is consensus within the armed forces about the Andamans tri-service command, the islands being very close to the Indian Ocean shipping lanes. The Army is already considering moving additional troops to the islands; the Indian Navy has already committed ships. But before there is a buildup and before the troops and weapon systems arrive, the logistics have to be right. And even before that, the command has to have relevant financial powers.
That is just what has happened. The ability to spend money on infrastructure and maintenance has been doubled or more in some cases. The CINCAN or the Commander-in-chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command will have more financial leeway.
* When it comes to repairs and refits of naval ships and submarines ( and this relates to machinery, equipment, and armaments), a new order issued last week by the Centre allows an expenditure of Rs 50 crore, up from Rs 40 crore if it is done through a government organisation like a public sector undertaking or port trust. If it’s through the private sector, it is Rs 40 crore, up from Rs 30 crore.
* If it’s emergency repairs when the fighting or sea-going efficiency of a vessel, whether it is a ship or a submarine is hampered, the CINCAN can spend Rs 5 crore without even asking for financial approval, up from Rs 3 crore.
* When it comes to hiring vessels or boats or even yard craft, the CINCAN’s powers have gone up from Rs 5 crore to Rs 20 crore.
* Disaster management in these times is also important: the Andamans have suffered during the tsunami and India is currently fighting the floods in Kerala. And expenditure allowed is now double: from Rs 5 crore to Rs 10 crore for keeping equipment ready for such emergencies.
Other powers have also been granted to the CINCAN. Even these major increase in financial powers is being seen as an effort to increase efficiency and eventually, strength. Once, the infrastructure is in place, the buildup will begin. The Americans have Diego Garcia, the Chinese, have Karachi (Sri Lanka has made it clear that no warships belonging to any country are welcome in its ports– something that will affect Beijing the most) and India will have the Andamans.
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