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A call to arms

The Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam has revealed a rot in the armed services that isn’t just depressing and distressing but also disillusioning. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: May 21, 2011 16:48 IST
Karan Thapar

All my life I’ve been an admirer and champion of our defence services. In fact, of the army in particular. As an officer’s son I guess this is inevitable. Indeed, you can’t have failed to notice the number of times I’ve written in support of our army, its officers and the causes they have espoused.

So today, with a heavy heart and a somewhat reluctant pen, I’m struggling to express criticism. The Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam has revealed a rot in the armed services that isn’t just depressing and distressing but also disillusioning. Honestly, I did not think this was possible. In fact, I’m still hoping it can be explained away. But, I guess, that’s a vain and forlorn hope.

First, the dismal facts. Judging by newspaper reports the rot runs deep. Twenty-three retired army officers are part of Adarsh including two former chiefs, a former vice chief, three more retired lieutenant generals, three retired major generals and five retired brigadiers. The tally for the navy is 11, including a former chief and a former vice chief.

These aren’t small fry.

A second worrying issue is how much the services knew of what was happening and did they deliberately fail to prevent land in de facto defence possession from being expropriated? A report by the Director of Audit, Defence Services, Southern Command dated October 8, 2010, suggests that the no-objection certificate issued by the army (MG&G Area) was manipulated. Worse, the press now suspect that some officers connived at this clearance in the hope of obtaining benefits.

What will pain the army is the claim that this property was meant for Kargil widows and martyrs but ended up in the hands of former chiefs, generals and brigadiers. We knew this sort of thing happened on civvy street. But if the infection has spread to our defence services the moral superiority of their uniform will have been sullied — if not diminished.

Former army chief, general VP Malik, accepts this is a grievous blow to the army’s image. He adds it can and must be overcome. The question is how? I’d like to suggest a few urgent steps that could help.

First, the army chief must order a full and detailed inquiry that will go into how this happened, who was involved, what, if anything, they gained and personally question all concerned including those who served at the very top. And this report must be made public. Transparency is critical.

Second, although I’m wholly prepared to believe that generals Vij and Kapoor and admiral Madhvendhra Singh weren’t aware Adarsh was intended for war widows and martyrs and only acquired flats in ignorance of this fact, they need to give a full and public account of their involvement in this society. More than in their own interest, the honour of the service they once headed requires this.

Third, the ‘guilty’, once identified, must be prosecuted. If the law permits, let the army do so itself. A military court martial — if it can be extended to cover the retired — would carry far greater credibility than a prolonged civil court trial.

Last week, in a courageous and forthright interview, general Singh, told me that this sorry story had damaged the army’s reputation and would cause pain to his soldiers. I believe he’s determined to clean the augean stables. I hope the government will let him. Faced with a crisis, his instincts are far superior to theirs.

The views expressed by the author are personal