Service Chiefs exempted from airport security checks

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New Delhi, Dec 6 (UNI) The Army, Navy and IAF chiefs were today exempted from pre-embarkation security checks at civil airports, ending a raging controversy over the issue.

''I think it is appropriate to give them exemption who defend our country's borders,'' Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters.

The move comes days after a furore over the Service chiefs being subjected to such checks even while people like Congress president Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra were given a waiver.

The exemption has also been extended to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, holders of Bharat Ratna decoration, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the Attorney General of India, Mr Patel said.

''For chiefs of Defence Staff, it will apply to those holding the rank of full General or equivalent,'' he added.

Asked whether such exemption would open a pandora's box with fresh demands from different sections, the Minister replied in the negative.

''We have a committee that goes into all such issues before taking a decision. Only the three service chiefs have been included in the list of VIPs exempted from security checks,'' he said.

A strong case for the exemption of the Service chiefs from security checks and frisking was made out by the Defence Ministry after its proposal was shot down by the Civil Aviation Ministry.

Defence Minister A K Antony had even expressed surprise in Parliament last month that the Civil Aviation Ministry had rejected his proposal on the ground that it would lead to similar demands from others.

Former Army chief General (retd) Shankar Roychowdhury had dubbed the checks ''an extremely disgraceful and shameful lapse on part of the Union Government.'' In fact, even Union Ministers of State were included in the list of VVIPs/VIPs exempted from pre-embarkation security checks, prepared by the Bureau of Civil Aviation, after Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma threw a fit on being checked by CISF officials at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport in April.

Over the years, the armed forces have been progressively downgraded in the official Warrant of Precedence.

After the 1962 war with China, the Service chiefs were put below the Cabinet Secretary, while Major-Generals and equivalent in Navy and IAF moved under the Intelligence Bureau Director.

Then, after the 1965 war with Pakistan, the chiefs were pushed below the Attorney General.

The 1971 war saw the chiefs come even under the Comptroller and Auditor General, and Lt-Generals below state chief secretaries.

UNI

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