By Sajjad Shaukat
On January 22, this year, 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.
In this regard, 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.”
However, Gen Rath gave approval to a builder to develop cut-price land near an army base, and the court martial also found three other officers to face charges.
According to 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 disclosed 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.
Although lower-ranking officers of the Indian Army were found involved in corruption, yet involvement of the highest-ranking officers in this mal-practice is surprising.
In this connection, some recent reports has disclosed that Indian Army Headquarter has 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.
A recent report of the Controller of Auditor General (CAG) paved way for the action against Lt. General(R) SK Sahni. The report revealed that soldiers were supplied wheat, rice, pulses and edible oil after 28 days of their expiry date. In this respect, 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.
On July 10, 2010, the summary of evidence was completed; giving recommendations to continue disciplinary action against General Sahni and orders for general court martial were issued. In this regard, a Court of Inquiry which was constituted in 2005 had recommended disciplinary action against him in connection with the case. After his retirement from army in 2006, the inquiry was initiated. In order to avoid the legal proceedings, recently, he has claimed to have developed a serious heart problem including a very painful spinal disorder.
Surprisingly, even Indian Chief of Army Staff, Gen. V.K. Singh has 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. V.K. 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 blames the (then) commander of the Headquarters 2 Corps (GOC), who 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 building was being carried out, but claimed that “all proper sanctions were taken” and that “there was no misappropriation or misuse of funds”. In this regard, army officials, while trying to save the skin of General V.K. Singh and the image of the Indian Army elaborated, “It is a procedural issue. All proper sanctions were taken. Sanctions have gone through various headquarters. There is no misappropriation or misuse of funds. Works have been physically executed on the ground, checked, and handed over to the unit. Being a procedural matter, it will get resolved. Regarding ‘special repairs’, if something happens to a building, there is a provision that the whole architecture can be changed.”
Army sources severely criticised the CAG’s genuine findings, saying that “the local auditor at Ambala is unable to understand the point” and “in any case, golf is an officially-recognised sport in the armed forces.”
On the other side, CAG report clearly states: “In yet another case of misuse of financial powers, Commander of HQ 2 Corps…got a building constructed for a Golf Club in Ambala Cantonment under the cover of sanctions issued for carrying out special repairs.”
The report explained, “An unauthorised club building, i.e. a double-storey building having a restaurant, kitchen, bar, committee room, museum, library, golf secretary’s office, reception, toilet block etc., were got constructed in Kharga Environmental Park and Training Area (KEPTA), another name for the Golf Club.” It was also revealed that another “building, P-258 was demolished by the contractor and a new building for the golf club came up at the site.”
The CAG report noted that an earlier CAG report in 2008-09 had blamed a former head of the Western Command (and another officer) of allegedly misusing financial powers for the purchase of golf carts.
Nevertheless, Indian newspapers also disclosed the corruption of General V.K. Singh with referece to the GAG report. For example, on July 12, 2010, The Tribune reported, pointing to “misuse of the special financial powers delegated to Army Commanders, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India said that funds meant for operational requirements were used to procure things like golf carts for golf courses maintained by the Indian Army at certain places…these vehicles were required for transporting aged/handicapped patients in the military hospitals. These carts were received by the Research and Referral Hospital, Delhi. Three motorised carts were issued to Command Hospital, Western Command, Chandimandir, and one each was issued to military hospitals at Amritsar and Jammu. The three motorised carts received by Command Hospital, Chandimandir, were allocated to Shivalik Environmental Park and Training Area (SEPTA). CAG says this is another name for the golf course at Chandimandir.”
It is mentionable 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 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 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.
Nonetheless, almost every month, we see some odd case of corruption in the Indian armed forces, but involvement of the senior ranked army officers like Major Generals, Lieutenant Generals and full Generals in corruption cases is a matter of concern for the whole Indian Army. It is due to this fact that over the years, the confidence of the soldiers over their military leadership has been dwindling because of their mall-practices, raping women, involvement in sex scandals, becoming party to land mafia groups and involvement in financial embezzlements.
Sajjad Shaukat is a regular writer for Opinion Maker. he writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations.