New Delhi, Mar 23: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared a long-pending Indian Air Force (IAF) plan to set up a forward fighter base close to Deesa in Banaskantha district, near India’s western border in northwest Gujarat, adding teeth to its military capabilities against Pakistan.
Defence ministry officials said on condition of anonymity that the CCS has cleared the initial investment of around Rs 1,000 crore to extend the runway, build fighter-pens and administrative facilities. “The proposal for converting the small Deesa airport with a 1,000-metre runway, which was used for helicopter landings and VVIP movements, has been gathering dust for quite some time. The fact is that 4,000 acres for the air base, which will plug the critical air defence gap between the Barmer and Bhuj air bases, was acquired nearly two decades ago. This decision was pushed by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman,” said one of the officials.
Although the defence ministry is tight-lipped about which fighters will be based in Deesa, it is a fact that the new base will increase IAF’s ability to respond swiftly in case of any hostilities in India’s western skies.
Two former IAF chiefs, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the development as very significant. “The Deesa base will fill an important gap between Barmer in the north and Bhuj/Naliya in the west,” said one of the two chiefs. “We have constructed a boundary wall there and have some personnel stationed there. It’s time to get started now,” he added.
The base will come under the Air Force’s Gandhinagar-headquartered South Western Air Command (SWAC), which was headed by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa in 2014-15. SWAC’s area of responsibility covers Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and Deesa will be the ninth base under it.
Setting up a full-fledged fighter base could eventually cost upwards of Rs 4,000 crore and it will be crucial for the government to earmark funds so that the project is not delayed any further, the former chief said.
Money will be critical at a time the Indian military is facing a fund crunch, as revealed in a string of reports tabled in Parliament this month. For instance, the IAF whose projected requirement in 2018-19 was Rs 1,14,526 crore received an allocation of Rs 65,891 crore.
Experts believe the new base will pack a tremendous punch for the IAF.
“Fighter jets have a finite range so extra bases are always welcome as more force is available when required,” said Air Marshal Vinod Patney (retd), head of the Centre for Air Power Studies and a former IAF vice chief. “The IAF has been asking for Deesa for years. It’s good news that the base is on its way to becoming a reality,” Patney added.
Bijbehara: 40 polling booths with zero votes
Bijbehara, Apr 23: Home turf of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, the Bijbehara assembly segment under the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, reported highest concentration of polling stations where zero votes were cast.
Among the 65 booths in Anantnag where zero votes were cast, 40 were located in Bijbehara, one of the six assembly constituencies where voting took place in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections Tuesday.
People cast their votes in 714 polling stations in Anantnag. Bijbehara, the home constituency of PDP president Mufti, had 120 polling booths set up for a population of 93,289 people.
A total of 1,893 electorate or 2 per cent exercised their franchise when the polling ended at 4 pm. The voting time for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat was reduced in view of security considerations. The Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, where voting took place in the first phase, saw 17 polling stations with zero while the Srinagar Parliamentary seat, which went to polls in the second phase, recorded zero votes in 90 booths.
Polling in Anantnag, which has 16 assembly seats, has been divided into three phases. The first phase was completed on Tuesday while remaining two will be held on April 29 and May 6. The decision for staggered polling was taken keeping in view the security situation in South Kashmir which has seen many encounters between security forces and militants.
On February 14, over 40 CRPF personnel were killed in a miliant attack in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Clubbing of booths kept voters away
Srinagar, Apr 23: The clubbing of the polling booths in Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency Tuesday discouraged many voters, who preferred to stay at home rather than walking long distances to cast their votes.
District Anantnag, which went for polls first in the three-phased schedule Tuesday, recorded 13.63 voter turnouts in six segments including Anantnag, Dooru, Kokernag, Shangus, Bijbehara and Pahalgam.
Scores of the voters said that many gave up their plans to cast vote after authorities announced clubbing of the polling booths in the constituency.
In Lisser Chawalgam village of Kokernag segment, at least three polling stations catering to different locations were accommodated in a local higher secondary school.
It included polling station of Shalnaad village as well, which is at least three kilometers away from the station.
Those who casted their votes claimed that they had to enter secretly into the booth as the area had witnessed stone pelting.
“More people could have come to vote if the locations of the polling booths were not changed at the last moment. Many women didn’t cast their votes as they too had to travel kilometres to reach to the polling station,” said a voter, who had come from Shalnaad to cast his vote at higher secondary school Lisser.
Similarly polling booths in rural areas of Anantnag, Pahalgam too were clubbed, which reportedly affected the voting percentage of these areas.
“South Kashmir usually witnesses low voting percentage. The change in the location of polling booths has further the participation,” said a polling officer.
National Conference Candidate for Anantnag, Retired Justice Hasnain Masoodi, told The Kashmir Monitor that the clubbing of the polling booth was the main reason behind the low voting percentage in many areas.
“The polling booths of Jeshnaad and Makawora have been accommodated in government buildings, which are five to eight kilometers away from these villages. It has made the entire voting exercise inconvenient for the people,” he said.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) earlier also said that clubbing of the polling stations for Parliament elections in Jammu and Kashmir will affect the participation of people in the elections.
Security bandobast not up to the mark: Mir
Srinagar, Apr 23: The Congress Candidate from Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency Ghulam Ahmad Mir Tuesday conveyed his gratitude to voters for participating in polling in Anantnag and hoped that the people of other districts will follow suit.
Mir, in a statement, also expressed serious concern over the lack of security arrangements in Anantnag, saying that “the fool-proof security as was assured by the ECI were not visible on the ground, describing it as a lack of concern on the part of ECI.”
“I express my gratitude to voters for participating in polling in Anantnag,” he said saying that he was pleased to observe that the day has passed incident free.
Taking a jibe at ECI for lack of security arrangements in the district during polling, Mir said the required security arrangements were not seen on the ground in the Anantnag.
“The assurances of ECI with regard to fool-proof security arrangements have fallen flat, which was a matter of serious concern and should not be repeated in coming phases in South Kashmir,” he said.
Mir urged upon the ECI to look into the security aspect of south Kashmir and ensure that fool-proof security arrangements are put in place to ensure free, fair and incident-free elections.
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