At least two navy chiefs had advised the defence ministry against giving operational assignments to Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who has presided over some of the recent mishaps to hit the force, HT has learnt.
Yet, the ministry went ahead and picked Sinha, who has now positioned himself as a contender for navy chief’s post, to head the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command (WNC) — the most heavily-armed wing of the navy.
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A series of Sinha's annual confidential reports had adverse comments about his professional competence to handle such assignments, HT has learnt. But those parts were expunged from the three-star officer's dossier by the ministry clearing the way for him to take up the sensitive position.
In response to an HT query, Sinha sent an SMS levelling serious allegations against some top admirals but did not comment on his case despite repeated requests.
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In a rare instance of intervention, the defence ministry had in June 2011 overruled the navy and appointed Sinha as CISC (chief of integrated defence staff to the chairman, chiefs of staff committee), a three-star officer responsible for bringing about synergy between the three services. It did so after the law ministry's advice.
In August 2012, the ministry again brushed aside concerns from the navy and appointed Sinha as the WNC chief.
A senior official, however, said Sinha was eligible for the post as unfavourable observations had been the deleted following procedure.
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Adverse assessments come to light at a time when Sinha, who is now the senior-most admiral after Admiral DK Joshi stepped down as the navy chief on Wednesday, is eyeing the top job. Joshi resigned accepting moral responsibility for the recent accidents. Sinha, too, was expected to do the same.
The ministry named Sinha's junior, Vice Admiral Robin Dhowan, as the acting chief on Joshi's advice. It led to speculation that Sinha might resign, choosing not to serve under a junior. But there is no indication yet of Sinha resigning or being told to step down.
A source said the ministry was unlikely to name Sinha for the top job, as several mishaps had occurred under his command. Dhowan, who is now the second senior-most admiral, is said to be a serious contender for the post.
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The major accidents that happened under Sinha's watch include the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak on August 14, 2013 that killed 18 sailors, INS Talwar slamming into a fishing trawler on December 23, 2013, the INS Sindhurakshak hitting the seabed on January 17, 2014 and Wednesday’s INS Sindhuratna mishap that killed two naval officers.
Sindhurakshak is still nose-down in water and a US firm was recently awarded a R240-crore contract to salvage the warship.
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