B.K. Chengapa, an Army officer with 38 years of service, on Thursday became the first three-star General to command south India.

At a simple ceremony at the headquarters of the Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala Area here, he took over as General Officer Commanding from Nitin Kohli, a Major General-rank officer who was officiating GOC for the past 10 months. Maj. Gen. Kohli will be the Chief of Staff, ATNK&K Area.

Asked the reason for a higher rank officer commanding an Area that has already been truncated (Goa was removed from the Area and attached with Maharashtra a few years ago), Lt. Gen.Chengapa said that south India held a third of country's land mass and had many important defence establishments.

When it was pointed out that there had been no addition to the present force levels in south India, he said this was not of any great consequence as forces could be moved. It was efficiency and optimal use of forces that was important.

Lt. Gen. Chengapa said that he would work in close cooperation with the State government and other security agencies to ensure the security of the southern States. There were about 5.5. lakh ex-servicemen and efforts would be made to look after their welfare.

He was commissioned into the Garhwal Rifles in August 1971. Apart from being a 1971 Indo-Pak war veteran, he has served in the Siachen Glacier and in counter-insurgency environments in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-east. He was earlier Chief of Staff, Headquarters Northern Command.