The report that sabotage or error could be a reason for the fire on the INS Sindhurakshak in August last year is highly disconcerting given the fact that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction in the armed forces over pay, conditions of work, etc.
This squares with similar suspicions raised by defence minister AK Antony. The ‘error’ aspect brings to the fore frequent complaints on maintenance and upgrade and lack of adequate training as well.
The triggering of torpedoes, ‘impossible without a human element’, is supposed to have caused the misgivings of a board of inquiry, headed by a commodore. If it is sabotage, it has to be seen what the saboteur’s anger was due to.
However, one must be a little on guard before rushing to any conclusion. If there was anyone intent on foul play, he was risking his life as well. Suicide missions are after all for causes that are ideological, even if misguided.
Whatever the case may be, the deaths on the INS Sindhurakshak and INS Sindhuratna, and two similar events thereafter, will re-ignite several debates concerning the country’s defence forces.
On the question of safety, one should look at the technology aspect first.
Initial reports suggested what had happened to the INS Sindhurakshak, which had undergone a `815-crore upgrade in Russia, and the INS Sindhuratna was the malfunctioning of batteries, with the help of which a submarine moves towards its enemy counterpart.
These batteries can be dangerous for people on board because when a battery is charged, it releases hydrogen, which is inflammable. Even at the risk of being repetitive, it needs to be stressed that the only way to scale up the safety aspect is by increasing the navy’s capital budget, which was a little less than `25,000 crore in 2013-14.
Five of India’s 13 submarines have outlived their utility because they were bought in the 1980s, when it made sense to do such deals with the erstwhile USSR.
By all accounts the matter will land in the Armed Forces Tribunal, set up in 2008 to cut the load on civil courts and create a body that would have the trust of the armed forces.
But the problem with this body is that it acts virtually as an arm of the defence ministry.
There have been suggestions to bring it under the ministry of law, though the defence ministry opposes the idea.
And matters reach the tribunal only after a court martial has been done, which leaves the scope for much of the truth to get chiselled off even if anyone is brought to book.
The legal course apart, the Defence Institute of Psychological Research can take the lead in providing support to the forces and come up with suggestions.