New Delhi: The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) has said Army, Navy and Air Force personnel — stranded at various locations because of limited available transport during Covid-19 lockdown — will be allowed a one-time relaxation to use private airlines to get back to their units.
According to a communication to the three service chiefs on 12 June, the relaxation will be valid for a month — from 10 June to 10 July.
Any ticket, which the government partly or fully reimburses in normal circumstances, has to be purchased from Air India through an authorised travel agency or website. The fare is reimbursed on producing the ticket and boarding card as proof of journey.
Until around 2009, service personnel and government officials could travel by any airline according to their entitled class. The then UPA government later made it mandatory for them to travel only by Air India.
Exceptions, however, were allowed with due permissions from the relevant authorities.
Decision amid heavy troop build-up along LAC
The development comes amid heavy troop build-up on both sides of the 3,488-km long Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Ladakh.
Multiple levels of diplomatic and military-level talks have taken place in the last one month to defuse the tensions at the border. This includes a rare seven-hour commander-level talks earlier this month where the “April status quo” was discussed.
On Monday, the brigade commander and commanding officer-level talks got under way in Eastern Ladakh. The talks are happening near PP14 near the mouth of Galwan Valley and PP17 in the larger Hot Spring Area.
Ticket bookings only through authorised agents, airline websites
The DMA communication, however, has said the military personnel will have to get their tickets booked using the airline website or through authorised booking agents only.
They also have to avail the cheapest available ticket in the entitled category among the available airline options. The tickets will then be reimbursed by their respective services.
“With the current and extended operational deployment of the Army and limited transport resources, it is practical to permit personnel to use all airlines so as to report to their place of duty in the fastest way possible,” a senior Army officer told ThePrint.
The latest DMA communication comes days after an earlier communique, which had conveyed to the service chiefs that personnel should return to their units at the earliest from leaves, even as much of the branches of the Army headquarters continue to function at reduced 33 per cent attendance and for a minimum duration.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown on 25 March, armed forces personnel on leave were asked to continue on leave and the leaves of those on duty were withheld to curb the spread of the virus.
The Railways had, however, run special military trains for Army troops to meet operational requirements at the northern and eastern commands amid the lockdown.
In a separate move, the Army is also likely to suspend the annual medical exam of its personnel because of the pandemic and will keep it suspended until the situation normalises.