With the Centre approving a home ministry offensive against the Maoists, Defence Minister A K Antony on Saturday said the Indian Air Force too was all set to get permission to open fire in self-defence during anti-Naxal operations after laying down safeguards and procedures.
However, he reiterated that the government would not involve them in a combat role in the anti-Naxal operations, which was the primary responsibility of the state government and central paramilitary forces.
"After carefully preparing safeguards and operational details, for self-defence only, we will give the operational clearance. When we give permission, we will first inform the air force," Antony told the media on the sidelines of an international flight safety conference organised by the IAF.
"There is no proposal to deploy the armed forces in anti-Naxal operations. The IAF will have a limited role to transport the paramilitary forces and casualty evacuation. There is no proposal to engage the IAF in a combat role in the operations," he said.
The defence minister said the government was "very clear that 'we will avoid deployment of armed forces to maximum extent in internal security situation'."
Antony said internal security was "purely the primary duty" of state governments and paramilitary forces and that the Centre would extend all help to them.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik had a fortnight ago sought the defence ministry's permission to defend air force helicopters and crewmembers operating in Naxal-hit areas.
The defence ministry's stated position is not to use armed forces in internal security role and that the IAF proposal would have to be considered by a higher authority such as the Cabinet Committee on Security to permit the IAF to use force to defend itself when attacked by the Maoists.
If permitted, the IAF would deploy its Garud special force commando to man the guns to be mounted on the helicopters operating in the Maoist-hit areas for transporting paramilitary personnel and for casualty evacuation.
Meanwhile, the CCS had a couple of days ago given its approval to a home ministry plan to go on the offensive in selected districts of the states infested by the Maoists.The CCS decision against the backdrop of the Left extremists beheading a Jharkhand police inspector after kidnapping him and killing 17 policemen in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra in an ambush.