An Indian Air Force military helicopter displays an Indian flag as it flies past during the Republic Day Parade | Bloomberg
An Indian Air Force military helicopter displays an Indian flag as it flies past during the Republic Day Parade | Bloomberg
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Squadron Leaders Siddharth Vashisht and Ninad Mandavgan, the two Indian Air Force pilots of the ill-fated Mi-17 V5 helicopter that was shot down in a ‘friendly fire’ in Kashmir’s Budgam on 27 February, were posthumously awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (gallantry) on the eve of the Republic Day. Four other IAF personnel on board, who were also killed in action — flight engineer Vishal Kumar Pandey, sergeant Vikrant Sehrawat, corporals Deepak Pandey and Pankaj Kumar — were awarded ‘Mention-in-Despatches’(MD). MD is an official recognition of a gallantry act of lower order; it does not include a medal but is recognised by a mention in an official report and an oak leaf affixed on the ribbon of the concerned campaign medal.

This case once again brings us back to the age-old issue: what are the selection criteria for gallantry awards? On the face of it, there was no enemy fire or threat in the Budgam chopper crash, and no specific act of gallantry – such as piloting the helicopter to avoid a populated area. In official criteria for Param Vir Chakra, Mahavir Chakra, and Veer Chakra, two aspects – “in presence/face of enemy” and “act of self-sacrifice, valour, bravery, gallantry” – are cited as necessary conditions for the awards. The equivalent awards in peacetime – Ashok Chakra, Kirti Chakra, and Shaurya Chakra – have the same criteria of sacrifice, valour, bravery, gallantry, but are meant for situations “otherwise than in face of the enemy” to cover actions against insurgents or terrorists or in any other circumstances.


Also read: Pilots of IAF chopper shot down in friendly fire in Budgam awarded gallantry medals


Correct award, right spirit

For Sena Medal, Vayu Sena Medal and Nau Sena Medal, fourth in the hierarchy, the criteria do not mention “in presence/face of enemy” but emphasise an individual act of “devotion to duty or courage”. Thus, to qualify for the sub-category “gallantry”, a specific “act of courage” has to be committed. Same is true for MD. With due respect to the air warriors, they do not qualify for a gallantry award. That they were “killed in action” in a combat zone certainly deserves to be recognised and so they could have been awarded Vayu Sena Medal for “devotion to duty”.

Some military veterans questioned the gallantry award given to the two IAF officers in the Budgam crash, as did a lot of people on social media, even as many supported the award. The media, though, shied away from raising the sensitive issue. It was obvious that the issue of death in a combat zone, irrespective of the circumstances that the Indian armed forces broadly categorise as “killed in action” or killed in “battle accidents”, has been mixed up with an act of gallantry. This goes against the very basis and spirit of the gallantry awards. Sadly, the IAF has been conspicuous by its silence on the basis on which the gallantry award was given in this case, and has thus become a party in creating this confusion.


Also read: Role Adnan Sami’s father played for Pakistan in 1965 that has landed his Padma Shri in row


Don’t dilute awards system

Being the ‘guardian’ of the nation, the military, traditionally, is adulated by the public while its heroes are celebrated even more. Gallantry awards identify these heroes and recognise their acts of bravery. Since all soldiers in battle do their duty, identifying the “bravest among the brave” becomes a very complex issue for the military. Career and monetary benefits, reputation of units/formations, and privileges associated with gallantry awards make the issue even more sensitive. Any wrongdoing or miscalculation adversely affects the morale of the forces. And so, governments and armed forces strive to have a fair and efficient system to judge acts of bravery.

I had previously dealt with all the aspects of gallantry awards, including the shortcomings in the system, in an article in 2019 – ‘Ashok Chakra to Hemant Karkare shows why India must overhaul its gallantry award system’. Today, I will specifically cover the need to recognise personnel ‘killed in action’ or in ‘battle accidents’ and those that make a significant contribution to ‘mission accomplishment’ when no act of gallantry per se has been committed, instead of doing so by diluting the system of gallantry awards.


Also read: Rajnath Singh should know a sloppy salute is worse than not saluting. It shows disrespect


Need for recognition

In present-day combat with high technology and standoff weapons,  hand-to-hand combat is passé. Hence, acts of gallantry are difficult to define and tend to merge with ‘mission accomplishment’ or getting killed/wounded on the battlefield, irrespective of the circumstances. In the public mind, the death of any soldier in the line of duty is seen as ‘sacrifice’ and worthy of recognition. Soldiers in close combat are provided combat and logistical support by many other soldiers who can also be killed or wounded by long-range indirect artillery, missile or aircraft fire.

The term ‘killed in action’ covers both deaths due to enemy fire/action and ‘friendly fire’, which occur due to confusion on the battlefield or errors of judgement. The term ‘battle accidents’ covers deaths in accidents in the line of duty in the combat zone due to circumstances other than those involving the enemy or friendly fire/action. Both ‘killed in action’ and killed in ‘battle accidents’ are treated as ‘battle casualties’ for the purpose of awarding special pension and other benefits. There are no medals or specific monetary awards.


Also read: How an Indian officer helped an enemy captain win Pakistan’s highest gallantry award


Separate categories

Ironically, a person wounded in action or battle accidents is entitled to a Wound Medal, without any additional benefits. Honouring personnel ‘killed in action’ and ‘battle accidents’ with medals and some monetary awards will go a long way in recognising the sacrifice as commonly perceived. It will also prevent any unwarranted abuse of the gallantry awards system. There should also be a clear recognition of those ‘killed in action’ on memorials. In the US armed forces, such personnel are recognised with a dagger against their name.

Another category of award must be instituted for significant contribution towards ‘mission accomplishment’ when no act of gallantry per se has been committed or when it is difficult to identify one in modern-day combat.

Armed forces tend to tweak the gallantry awards system to recognise ‘mission accomplishment’ as also those ‘killed in action’ and in ‘battle accidents’. Introduction of separate medals for these categories, along with additional monetary benefits, could well prevent dilution or abuse of the gallantry awards system.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. Flight Engineer and Flight Gunner are the flight crew and mandatory for all the missions but as they are JCO s their valour,sacrifice and bravery for the nation is always been overlooked .Thanks to the media ..they have rightly brought out the discrimination done towards the Airmen Aircrew.Even during flypass in republic day and after an accident the name of pilot and copilot appeared as crew in news but flight engineer and flight gunners name appeared as jawans ….we need to understand that by this morale of the Airmen Aircrew will go down ….we need to pay them the respect they deserve .
    Jai Hind

  2. I am amazed to see someone write, judge, discuss, debate and explain the medal system completely keeping aside the plight the families must’ve gone through. Grass seems greener on the other side, always. Rules and regulations are different and the sentiment of losing ones son is different. One must think thoroughly before casually penning down such articles in the spree of exhibiting knowledge and educating the masses…
    Just a thought…

  3. I am really wondering why print and shekhar gupta hasn’t found it worth publishing regarding the Police gallantry medal to ADG rank officer (IG at time of citation) for EDI building encounter in kashmir.
    An IG rank officer is not the ground commander, the troops are led at max by rank of The Commandant, usually it’s Assistant Commandants and Deputy Commandants who are fighting on ground. It was similar at EDI building encounter. The officers who faced the bullets and grenades, who still have grenade sharpenells inside their body for life were not awarded the medals for gallant action but the IG rank officer sitting cozily somewhere in office got the award due to ‘friends’ at each level .

  4. The Media should be kept out of analysis, opinion, discussion on Military operation .

    Media are just holding camera, taking videos and pictures and leaving.

    But, it’s our Army who perform the best ever willing to sacrifice their life, get handicapped, get out dated for jobs their after and have to sustain his life and family life at paltry pension . To ensure his country men / Citizen to live in peace and enjoy.

    In action or mission every soldier is in worst situation and ever challenged by death at every step in a mission be it due direct act of enemy or indirect act or during intermediary acts .

    Thus, the best person to judge the gallantry awards should be the Military Officers themselves and not the other specially Media and connected bodies.

    Please don’t corrupt the armed forces with the doses of politics.

    Thank you
    KVGK

  5. Sach kadva hota hai axar!
    An apt analysis by an insider who has been there and done that in a manner of speaking.

  6. When the officers go up the ladder, they forget the ground and just make noises to stay relevant…This fellow say not contact battles..And the Army top brass seems to be daydreaming…Actually the future is for mostly only for low intensity conflicts…Mostly tactical…Very low possibility of strategic wars…Too many strategic detriments and political paralysis…

  7. Looking at the comment section here, it becomes clear why the media shied away from bringing up this issue.

  8. It seems that some media perosonal are have no sense on what they should write and what not.

    Just as example….. Between this article you guys are giving links of another article “Rajnath Singh should know a sloppy salute is worse than not saluting. It shows disrespect”…… But you……. (don’t have suitable words for you) did all posiable disrespect that you can do to those soldiers.

    You…… Siting in a Ac room munching chips and snacks have no fucking ideas what sacrifice a person need to do just to become a soldiers.

    And look at your statement that a soldier should try to avoid populate are when a missile is fired on him…….. Are kidding……

    Also this is last article that I am reading from print…… They have army people that write stupid articles….. and it seems that they only want people to make angry….

  9. Everybody has read the personal view of Lt Gen Panag. It is narrow minded thinking of Gen Panag. To become army cdrs twice or administer member of armed forces tribunal is not d criteria that a pers knows everything. Because of such narrow view the status of all forces has gone so down that awards normally have become face value thing nd not actual performance. An army cdrs himself does not face bullets anywhere but can comment so rubbishly on awards was never thought. When u r retd, no business is involved from ur end. Moreover while in service if such work wud have done everyone must have appreciated. But alas. Let army work without outside interference

    • Clearly, you have no idea how the Army works. Do you think Gen. Panag started out directly as an Army Commander?
      Also, in all 3 services, every personnel is doing their duty with utmost sincerity and dedication and they are trained to do this even in the harshest conditions. The author is only suggesting that the govt. should come up with a medal similar to the Wound Medal which is awarded to personnel who are wounded from direct enemy action or in CI/CT Ops. If you read the citations of any PVC or AC you’ll realise the difference between their acts and that of the pilots in the MI-17 crash. Gen. Panag is not disputing their valour or dedication towards their duty. Just that their sacrifice was not enough for a gallantry award.

  10. The day when Media has started scrutinising the medals of soldier is the doom of democracy. Media never represent when a hyped martyr like last rites performed to a politician, instead of highlighting the nirbhaya murderers, the media house like print etc are on the drive to turn people crazy.

  11. A pilot, who knows that he’s flying a Soviet Era chopper, and which has no safety measures to save the lives of people on board, and if, the chopper once gets crazy, it surely would go down. Knowing about all of this and still opting to fly it, it itself takes courage. Nextly, the pilots Sqn ldr Vashishtha, and Sqn Ldr Nandavgan, must have tried their best to retrieve their machine in the time of the crisis. In such a time, when you know that you’re on the verge of death, still trying the best to retrieve a nearly dead machine, requires great patience and courage. Personal Views

    • Sir, the machine they were flying were not soviet era aircraft but state of the art and the most modern helicopters the Indian Air Force has on its inventory. Taken in isolation, your view of acknowledging the bravery and courage of pilots flying outdated and accident prone aircraft is valid, albeit not in this case. The moment a missile hits an aircraft, especially a helicopter, more often than not the machine is doomed. More than anything else, the pilots of the ill-fated aircraft did not have more than a few seconds to understand what was happening. I wish they had more time to act with courage and bravery they are so capable of displaying.

  12. Coming from a senior defence officer it disheartens me to read his comments……
    Sir
    Flying in a combat zone itself qualifies for ACT OF COURAGE.
    Flying itself requires courage…then come flying a vintage aircraft…..then come flying in a combat zone….some civilian if wrote such comments i would not have wasted my morning hours that too in leave…but when one read the writer’s name i was urged to write back…gocinc tht too northern command…it disheartens me to read such words coming from a commander of a combat driven corp.
    Apologies and regards
    Kislay

    • Following this line of logic, every soldier that is martyred at the LC in arty shelling or in any CI/CT Ops must be awarded a gallantry award. They are all risking their lives and are poorly equipped.

      The author has clearly mentioned in the article that the govt could consider a medal similar to the Wound medal for cases like the MI17 crash. Did you even read the entire article?

  13. Rakesh Sharma who went up in space was also wrongly awarded the Ashoka Chakra although no gallantry was involved. Even if one were to admit that going up in space is a brave act, then why was the reserve astronaut, Ravish Malhotra, who did notveven go six inches above the ground, awarded the Kirti Chakra?

  14. General Panag’s view that close combat is “passe” is not correct. We are facing it every day in Kashmir, anti nasal operations and other insurgency areas. I am a decorated officer myself, still I know many very deserving cases di not get noticed. Present military leadership need to give deep thought to this issue. And let no politics come in the system. Highest civil award Ashok Chakra to Katkare may be reviewed.

  15. Please try and get airborne for any mission during any war like situation sir. You would know what gallantry IAF is talking about. Please have some sense when voicing unnecessary opinions.

  16. Do the PVSM AND AVSM TO BE AWARDED TO GENERALS /AIRMARSHALS WHERE AS THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO SURVICE TO OUR COUNTRY.FOR ARMED FORCES OMLY GALANTRY AWARD AND NO SEVA MEDAL.

  17. Disheartened to see a statement coming from Lt Gen Panag, PVSM, AVSM(R). I was literally shocked when i saw the name at the end. These awards have been given for gallant action during PEACE TIME. How can one judge that while the MI17 crashed the pilots and the crew didn’t do any gallant act, they must have tried hard in taking the fixed wing away from the population centre or something else. Even a civilian wouldn’t give out such comments.

    • How can one judge that while the soldiers were dying at the LC due to arty shelling from the enemy, they did not try their best to counter attack and defend their posts? Let us award PVC to everyone who is killed at the LC and AC to all those who die in CI/CT Ops.

  18. That’s why the army doesn’t take advice of you morons. Gajab h yaar. Khud army me serve karke dekho , fir samjh aayga. Bade aaye A/C rooms me baith ke 2 kauri ke article likhne wale patrakar

  19. Sir,
    Please comment on Ashok chakra given to shri Hemant Karkare and two other police officers killed without even using their weapons on the way to Taj during Mumbai attack. With that logic all soldiers killed while traveling in a convoy also deserve the highest bravery award.

    • Your comment is self explanatory. Even without self protection nd disregard to own safety they took on the enemy. Is it not an act of valour ?

    • I full agree with u “The Print” that views are personal … and let me add to it “Pathetic Too”….. sic…. we all know general sahab and his background…. the army need not learn frm him…. they r a good lot…

  20. Yes. I agree. Also why was Rakesh Sharma given Ashoka Chakra fir going up in space? Similarly the three policemen on 26/11 committed acts of foolishness and got killed. Why Ashoka Chakra for them?

    • You see the process of selecting for cosmonaut , the life risk and mishaps in Soyuz rockets. Then come back

Comments are closed.