The Army Chief, General V K Singh has an opportunity in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam to prove himself a man of his word. On assuming command on March 31, 2010, under the shadow of a controversy involving his predecessor, General Deepak Kapoor, and the then Adjutant General, he had said that his priority would be to restore rectitude and discipline in the service. When I asked him in a one-on-one meeting how he intended to do this, he told me that no one involved in irregularity will be spared. Having served the army for 14 years and watched it as a journalist for two decades, I have no doubt that corruption has seeped into the vitals of the army. Checks and balances in field areas where the bulk of the army operates are tenuous, and commanders at all levels have tempting financial powers. So, if tainted senior brass get off the hook lightly, it will encourage others to play hookey.
Within hours of the scam coming to light, retired General N C Vij told the media that he had no knowledge that Adarsh society flats were meant for Kargil veterans and war-widows. Vij was the director general military operations during the 1999 Kargil war, and vice-chief and chief of army staff thereafter. If media reports are to be believed, then as the army chief he misled the Parliament in 2003 while replying to a query on the society. Now, he wants us to accept that he is an innocent boy who was told by someone of the possibility of getting a flat for Rs 70 lakh whose market value is over eight crore, and he went and got it like it was buying lollipops. If he has not cared for the army's image, why should the service continue to bail him out on Operation Fence? The army needs to undertake an audit of the fence along the 740 km Line of Control which was erected under his watch in 2003 to check infiltration. Enormous manpower and crores of rupees are spent annually in the Kashmir valley and upper reaches to maintain the charade of the fence deterring infiltration.
The involvement of the other two chiefs, Admiral Madhvendra Singh and General Deepak Kapoor, is equally rueful. If reports of the assets that General Kapoor has garnered when in office prove to be true, he would find himself in the running for the title of the most corrupt army chief in independent India. The army headquarters has instituted a court of enquiry to assess the involvement of his ilk in the scam. The army chief has also instructed the Judge Advocate General to find out what legal action can be taken against involved retired officers.
I have little doubt that General V K Singh will not take this matter lightly. He should delve into the possibility of administrative action (the defence ministry should assist him) leading to stoppage of pensions of retired officers who have sullied the army. Over the years the numbers of senior officers who seek political patronage closer to retirement has increased substantially. Needless to add there is always a compromise and consideration in such instances. While this is shameful enough, senior officers should not be allowed go scot free if they tarnish the service's image at a time when there is a shortage of young men joining the defence services.
On a broader note, corruption and dishonesty that goes on under the pretext of 'senior officers privileges' needs to be reviewed. These so-called privileges unfortunately have grown over time. Despite troops shortages, over 10,000 soldiers are living in Delhi serving their unit officers posted here! Hundreds of soldiers work in senior commanders houses tending to their lawns and golf courses. Many of them do menial household chores not befitting the uniform they wear. Numerous cooks and waiters authorised for messes have never been there. They instead grow in service and rank caring for their chosen masters.
If this is not enough, we have had all type of scams, from officers selling liquor to rations to tents to even grocery items meant for personnel consumption. Cases of unit officers making inflated bills and putting a percentage aside for themselves are not uncommon. A few get caught, but most don't. The malaise is so deep that it is difficult at times to discern the fair from the unfair. Nothing short of a comprehensive top-down review will help remove the cancer within. The 'privileges' should either be legalised or abolished. Adopting the defensive posture that the military metes out exemplary punishment to the guilty is not enough. The need is to find all the guilty first.
The writer is Editor, FORCE news magazine. Views expressed are personal