By Sajjad Shaukat
Malpractices and scandals in connection with the Indian civil officials have already come to surface from time to time, but these are not confined to them, even Indian armed forces are also plagued with corruption. Although lower-ranking officers of the Indian Army were found involved in various kinds of malpractices, yet involvement of the highest-ranking officers like generals, particularly Army Chief General VK Singh in corruption is unexpected.
In this respect, recently, the opposition made much outcry over the letter which was splashed across the media. General VK Singh told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the letter on March 12 this year that India’s tanks lacked shells to fire, its air defences were “97 percent obsolete” and its forces “ are woefully short” of weapons, describing the army as unfit to fight a war.
In this regard, on March 26 this year, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony ordered a probe into allegations by Army Chief Gen. Singh that he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to clear a sub-standard defence procurement deal. Next day, Antony said, “we will take strongest action under laws after going into the root of the leak of the army chief’s letter.”
The army chief who is due to retire on May 31 this year has been in a public dispute with the government over the date of his birth was again in the headlines earlier this week over a bribery scandal. The general’s insistence that he had informed Antony left the defence minister facing questions as to why there was no earlier investigation into the bribe offer. It shows that the army chief along with the defence minister was inclined to accept bribery, but when it was leaked by some source, Gen. Singh decided to disclose that he was offered bribe.
In its report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) disclosed on March 20 this year, “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms…India’s imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11.”
India has continuously been spending billions of dollars on purchases of arms, planes, radars and ships from Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel and France including other western countries. It has become potential buyer of latest military equipments from the US, also decided a major purchase of US F-16 and F-18 fighter. On November 2, 2011, the United States agreed to sell India, even the most sophisticated and the new F-35 fighter jets. So as to how Indian army chief has stated that Indian ground and air defences were out-of-date. In fact, his integrity is doubtful. In this connection, the uproar is the latest blow for Prime Minister Singh’s government which has already been paralysed by a series of graft cases and high-profile corruption scandals.
It is of particular attention that earlier Indian Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Singh had also been found involved in corruption. In this context, on August 6, 2009, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG), tabled in Parliament indicted Indian Gen. Singh (without naming him or his current position) for misusing his financial powers when he was earlier heading the Ambala-based “Kharga” 2 Strike Corps to sanction unauthorised construction of a golf club building at Ambala cantonment. The CAG report elaborated that the (then) commander of the Headquarters 2 Corps (GOC) was the sanctioning authority in December 2006. The GOC at the time was none other than General Singh, then a Lieutenant-General heading the 2 Corps. The Indian army sources acknowledged that General V.K. Singh had been commanding the 2 Corps earlier for some of the time when the work on the golg club building was being carried out.
However, a number of Indian army general have also found involved in various kinds of malpractices. On January 22, 2011, Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath was handed down a sentence including a two-year seniority loss and forfeiture of 15 years of service for pension purposes when an Indian army court found him guilty of approving the construction of a school near military land, signing an agreement with a builder and not informing the command headquarters about his decisions, and the court martial also found three other officers to face charges.
In this respect, The Times of India reported, “The senior officer was involved in an illegal land deal—Lt. Gen PK Rath is the highest ranking serving officer ever to be convicted in a court martial in India.”
Notably, in this context, the Press Trust of India, “One of them, Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, is the most senior of the four and also faces a court martial…the other two face “administrative action.” It further revealed that lieutenant generals had been court-martialled in India before, but only after they had retired. The Sukhna land scam case came to light in 2008. Gens Prakash and Rath were accused of favouring a private builder based in the town of Siliguri in West Bengal state, while Gen Rath’s court martial began in September 2009.
In the recent past, the report of the Controller of Auditor General (CAG), disclosed that Indian Army Headquarter had issued orders for a general court martial of Lt. General (R) Surendra Kumar Sahni including some other officers for their role in committing irregularities in procuring meat and dry rations for the troops, stationed at Siachen and other high altitude areas. The report revealed that soldiers were supplied wheat, rice, pulses and edible oil after 28 days of their expiry date—food items were bought at cheaper rates by the contractors and then supplied to various army units, while rations worth of Rs. 1.92 crore were untraceable in the Northern Command as of March 2008.
It is notable that in December 2009, a fire had broken out in the Indian occupied Kashmir near Pakistani Balakot sector Poonch. Brigadier General 16 corps, Brigadier Guredeep Singh and local troops commander tried to hush up the matter while declaring; it was an accidental fire that was caused due to dry grass on both sides. In fact, it was the deliberate attempt made by local Indian troops to hide out their illegal cutting and selling out of trees. Sources suggested that Indian Brigadier and other local officers are earning millions of rupees in the name of forest fire. Such type of fire incidents are occurring as routine matter along the Kashmir border to earn handsome amount illegally from the timber mafia of the Indian-Held Kashmir. Reports also suggest that some of the Indian highest-ranking officers like lieutenant generals are part of the timber mafia clandestinely as they are working behind the low-ranking military officials.
In the recent past, Major General AK Lal was also dismissed after having been found guilty of sexually assaulting a junior woman officer. The woman’s parents had lodged a written complaint against the Major General to the then Army Chief General JJ Singh.
In 2007, the defence circle was also being memorized as year of corruption. During the said year, two Lieutenant Generals, S.K. Dahiya and S.K. Sahni including two Major Generals, Anand Swaroop and SP Sinha were charged in separate cases of irregularities. Again in 2007, the CBI sorted out Major General Anand Kapoor for possessing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs. five crore. In another case, Major General Gur Iqbal Singh Multani was found guilty in smuggling of large quantities of defence liquor to his hometown. He was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment, stripped of his rank and dismissed from service by a military court.
Nevertheless, almost every time, we see some new case of corruption in the Indian armed forces. But involvement of the senior ranked army officers like full Generals, Lieutenant Generals and Major Generals in this curse is a matter of much concern for all the Indian citizens. It is owing to this fact that over the years, the confidence of the soldiers over their military leadership has been dwindling because of top army official’s mall-practices such as raping women, involvement in sex scandals, becoming party to land mafia groups and involvement in financial embezzlements.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations