Bottomline | Matter of Honour

The malaise has penetrated so deep that it is difficult to discern the fair from the unfair at times

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The Army Chief, General V.K. Singh has an opportunity in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam to prove his assertion. On assuming command on 31 March 2010 under the shadow of the controversy involving his predecessor and the then Adjutant General, he had said that his priority will be to restore rectitude and discipline in the service. When I asked him in a one-one-one meeting how he intended to do this, he told me that no one involved in irregularity will be spared. Having served the army for 14 years and watched it as a journalist from close quarters since two decades, I have no doubt that corruption and dishonesty has seeped into the vitals of the army. So, if tainted senior brass gets off the hook lightly, it will encourage others to play lottery.

Let’s start with the two army chiefs and the naval chief who secured flats in the 31-storey building. In less than 12 hours of the scam coming to light, retired General N.C. Vij, who is presently the first vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority holding a minister of state rank, told the media that he had no knowledge that Adarsh society flats were meant for Kargil war widows.Vij was the director general military operations during the 1999 Kargil war, was vice-chief and chief of army staff thereafter. If media reports are to be believed, then as the army chief he misled the Parliament in 2003 while replying to a query on the society. Now, he wants us to accept that he is an innocent boy who was told by someone of the possibility of getting a flat for Rupees 70 Lakh whose market value is over Rupees eight crore, and he went and got it like it was buying lollipops. If he has not cared for the army’s image, why should the service continue to bail him out on Operation Fence; the army needs to undertake an audit of the fence along most of the 740km Line of Control which was erected under his watch in 2003 to check infiltrations. (Having visited the LC regularly since August 2003 when FORCE was launched, I have heard numerous opinions on the fence. Overwhelming suggestions are that it is certainly not cost-effective in the Kashmir valley and higher reaches. Simply too much manpower and finances are being used annually to maintain the charade of the fence deterring infiltrations.)

The involvement of the other two chiefs, Admiral Madhvendra Singh and General Deepak Kapoor is equally rueful. While Kapoor has maintained silence, Madhvendra Singh has toed the Vij line of feigning ignorance about who was to legitimately live in the flats. Offering to surrender the flat is not enough. What about the image of his service that he has broad-brushed black? There are scores of other officers, serving and retired, who have got the society flats either in own names or on proxy. The army headquarters has reportedly instituted a court of enquiry to assess the involvement of its ilk in the scam; the navy, given its little role in the Kargil war, will be watching the army and the CBI enquiries to then take appropriate action. The army chief has also instructed the Judge Advocate General to find out what legal action can be taken against involved retired officers. I have little doubt that General V.K. Singh will not take this matter lightly. He should also delve into the possibility of administrative action (the defence ministry should assist him) leading to stoppage of pensions of retired officers who have sullied the army image.

Over the years the numbers of senior officers who seek political patronage closer to retirement have increased substantially. Needless to add there is always a compromise and consideration in such instances. While this is shameful enough, senior officers should not be allowed go scot free if they tarnish the service’s reputation at a time when there is a shortage of young men joining the defence services.

On a broader note, corruption and dishonesty that goes on under the pretext of ‘senior officers privileges’ needs to be reviewed. These so-called privileges unfortunately have grown over time. Despite troops shortages, over 8,000 soldiers are living in Delhi serving their unit officers posted here. Hundreds of soldiers work in senior commanders’ houses tending to their lawns and golf courses. Many of them do menial household chores not befitting the uniform they wear. Numerous cooks and waiters authorised for messes have never been there. They instead grow in service and rank caring for their chosen masters. If this is not enough, we have had all type of scams, from officers selling liquor, to tents to even grocery items meant for personnel consumption. Cases of unit officers making inflated bills and putting a percentage aside for themselves are not uncommon. A few get caught, but most don’t. The malaise is so deep that it is difficult at times to discern the fair from the unfair. Nothing short of a comprehensive top-down review will help remove the cancer within. Adopting the defensive posture that the military metes out exemplary punishment to the guilty is not enough. The need is to find all the guilty first.


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