PUNE: Defence minister A K Antony said here on Tuesday that the government is executing an ambitious plan to strengthen the network of hospitals at all levels across the three wings of armed forces in the country."In the last three years, we have sanctioned new Command Hospitals in Bangalore and Pune. A Rs 8,100 crore project for the renovation of 46 hospitals is set to roll out while the upgradation of service hospitals in Cochin and Visakhapatnam is on the anvil," he said at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Rs 382 crore Command Hospital (Research and Referral), Southern Command, here. On completion, the new hospital complex, to be ready in three-and-a-half years, will be the biggest hospital of the Indian armed forces and one of the best in the country. "We want the Command Hospitals to become the Navratnas of medical care in India," he said. Antony reiterated the government's commitment to the welfare of the armed forces. "The new Command Hospital (R&R) in Pune would prove to be a milestone in the history of medical services of the armed forces," he said. He advised the Southern Command authorities to ensure that the project is completed on time and also commended the authorities for having appointed a project management group which will undertake periodical reviews of the work. Presently, the Command Hospital, Southern Command is a 1082-bedded, tertiary care hospital that is horizontally spread over an area of 108 acres in the Wanowrie area of Pune Garrison. With fast-paced advances in modern healthcare technology and the ever increasing expectations of clientele, there was a need to construct a state-of-the-art modern vertical hospital to provide highest standards of quality medical care. The proposal was first mooted in 1998 and it took considerable time for the papers to move through different authorities before the project was finally cleared for actual construction. The new Command Hospital (R&R) will be a 1,047-bedded, ground-plus-six storied building, spread over 81 acres. It is being constructed near the Military Hospital Cardio Thoracic Centre, Pune, on Kondhwa road. Apart from providing comprehensive healthcare to its dependent service clientele, this hospital would also remain associated with the premier Armed Forces Medical College. The new hospital, being built at a cost of Rs 382 crores, will be housed in a self-sufficient and environment-friendly building, equipped with facilities like rainwater harvesting, modern fire-fighting equipment, modern laundry services, dietary services with modern kitchen equipment and an ultra-modern effluent treatment plant. Antony was accompanied by Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh. They were received by General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command, Lt Gen Ashok Singh. The function was attended by Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services Air Marshal D P Joshi and other senior service officers and civilian dignitaries from the ministry of defence and the army headquarters.