By Sajjad Shaukat
Although high-ranking officers of the Indian Army like Chief of Army Staff, Gen. V.K. Singh, Lt. Gen. Surendra Kumar Sahni, Lt. Gen. S.K. Dahiya, Maj-Gen. Anand Swaroop, Maj-Gen SP Sinha, Maj-Gen. Anand Kapoor, Maj-Gen. Gur Iqbal Singh Multani, Brig. Guredeep Singh including a number of low-ranking officials were found involved in corruption of various forms such as irregularities in procuring meat and dry rations for the troops, stationed at Siachen, unauthorised construction of a golf club building at Ambala cantonment, possessing disproportionate assets, smuggling of large quantities of defence liquor etc., yet involvement of the 27 officers of the Indian Army in illegally selling of arms and weapons is most surprising.
In this regard, on July 7 this year, even Indian media disclosed this new mal-practice of Indian Army officials. Army sources of India admitted that the officers, mostly lieutenant colonels and colonels, had faced a court of inquiry following a public suit filed in the Rajasthan High Court by an advocate who said that the officers were selling their private weapons to people of dubious character.
In this respect, The Economic Times revealed on July 7, 2011, “the weapons were bought by these army officers from the Central Ordnance Depot of Jabalpur and later sold to civilians in violation of the Arms Act, the petition had contended. The Supreme Court is presently hearing the case.”
Sources also suggest that disciplinary action has been initiated against these army officers after the court of inquiry indicted them, and further course of action in the matter, “be it court martial or otherwise would be decided after legal vetting.”
It is not the new practice of Indian Army officers’ illegal involvement in arms sale. In this connection, in 2005, an army inquiry had found misuse of the privileges, given to service personnel to purchase private weapons. Indian Army officers including a few seniors had similarly bought weapons from private suppliers, when they were on a posting in Bhutan as part of the Indian military training team there. In that case, after probe, the army court of inquiry had indicted 25 officers who were punished, but did not face a court martial.
However, despite various investigations and punishments, illegal arms trade of Indian Army officials have continued. In this context, some cases of unauthorised weapon’s sale by the army officials either remained undetected or were deliberately not disclosed by the Indian high-ranking military officers in order to save the image of the Army. Only those cases were admitted, which had already been disclosed by the media—or came to surface as some source indicated the same with solid evidence.
In this context, in October, 2010, The news of Indian army scandal pointed out that 72 officers including a serving Colonel and three Lieutenant Colonels were found involved in an illegal arms selling racket on sensitive international borders.
The Indian officers serving in border districts of Rajasthan and in the Indian Army Training Team (IMTRAT) at Bhutan were found involved in an illegal arms selling racket. The 72 named officers sold both prohibited and non-prohibited bore to dealers and private persons by violating the Army Act and Customs Act.
While describing as very serious matter—the involvement of Indian army officers in illegal sale of arms, The Supreme Court of India had questioned as to what the Ministry of Defence and the army commanders were avoiding to file a proper affidavit in the matter. The Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar remarked, “it is wondered whether the weapons had landed in the hands of dacoits,” adding, “the weapons could well be used in acts of terrorism.”
The Supreme Court said that the affidavit by the centre was entirety eyewash as it had not mentioned the names of any senior officers of the rank of Brigadier and Major General, who were part of the illegal arms selling racket.
While raising objection in the affidavit, the bench also remarked that it was mentioned that 40 officers sold their weapons, but it was also stated that only four top-ranking officials were involved in the racket of illegal weapons’ selling. The court took serious notice, saying, as to why a junior officer of the rank of Captain submitted the affidavit, showing the non seriousness of the Indian Army in the highly sensitive case. It emphasised that there was a need to maintain some decorum and that some higher authority should have filed the affidavit.
Additional Solicitor General, Vivek Tankha also explained the issue as very serious one, and his remarks lodged a strong protest from a high official who was compelled to say that he had raised the question of national security, while the government filed an affidavit through a junior army officer. At this point, the bench questioned as to how an army officer can file an affidavit on behalf of the Ministry of Defence? We cannot go by this affidavit.
Various sources suggested that the affidavit filed by the Indian Defence Ministry had stated that four top-ranking officers of the Indian army obtained weapons, supplied to their colleagues, but illegally sold to gun houses, arms dealers and even to civilians. And 40 other officers sold their own weapons and 25 others were found in possession of ammunition in excess to their privilege.
On December, 2010, a case of 41 officers, one JCO and 4 retired officers of the Indian Army relating to sale of Non Standard Pattern (NSP) weapons came to surface. They were found to have sold the NSP weapons without taking sanction of the competent authority. In that respect, court of inquiry investigated into the case and identified six arms dealers who bought the illegal arms from the army personnel.
Besides, some other developments also show that despite tight security and preventive measures, it is very easy for the Indian Army officers to steal arms and ammunition from Indian depot. For example, on April 6, 2008 in the house of Bajrang Dal fundamentalists in Nanded, a bomb went off. The investigations proved that the militants belonging to the Bajrang Dal were found in the bomb-making and attack on a mosque in Parbhani in 2003. Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra arrested a serving Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit along with other army officials, indicating that they were helping in training the Hindu terrorists, providing them with the military-grade explosive RDX, used in the Malegaon bombings and terrorist attacks in other Indian cities. ATS further disclosed that Lt. Col. Purohit confessed that in 2007, he was involved in bombing of Samjhota express, which brunt alive 69 Pakistanis.
India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) is now convinced that besides Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit, other Indian army officials and a Hindu right-wing leader Swami Aseemanand were directly involved in the Samjhota Express blast. In this regard, a court in Panchkula, Haryana has recorded Aseemanand’s statement in the blast case before a magistrate. His earlier confession was recorded in the Mecca Masjid case, which is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
It is interestingly notable that Dr. J C Batra, who is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India, was asked to give opinion on Aseemanand’s confession. He appeared very defensive and stated that Swami’s statement does not have much legal value as circumstantial evidence is also needed, while adding that RSS is being wrongly implicated. And without naming Indian Army officers, he also stated that there could be others involved who are not being exposed. In this context, a Pakistani parliamentarian, Mian Abdul Sattar, parliamentary secretary for planning and development, who was accompanying him, later said that he was told by JC Batra that the Indian Army was involved in this case and there “are efforts to shield it from getting exposed”. Nevertheless, Leaders of the Indian extremist parties, Shiv Sena, BJP, VHP and RSS are now pressurising the Congress regime to release the culprits.
Nonetheless, mostly, we see some odd cases of corruption in the Indian armed forces which include lower-ranking officials, but involvement of the senior ranked army officers in various mal-practices is a matter of concern for the whole Army. It is due to this fact that over the years, the confidence of the soldiers over their military leadership has been dwindling.
But, in the present case, 27 officers have been facing charges for illegal sale of weapons procured from Indian ordnance factories. On the whole, one can conclude that it proves illegal arms trade of the Indian Army.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift International Relations