A series of accidents under former navy chief Admiral DK Joshi’s watch had not only tarnished his track record but also complicated his relationship with the defence ministry.
The ministry was upset with Joshi’s inability to reduce mishaps, at a time when the navy’s safety record has been blemished by 11 accidents since India’s Russian-built submarine INS Sindhurakshak exploded and sank at a Mumbai harbour last August.
Much to the ministry’s chagrin, the navy had been in a state of denial under Joshi and even argued that its safety record was respectable, dismissing a few accidents as “non-incidents.”
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“There was an uneasy relationship between the navy and the defence ministry during recent months. The matter had been simmering for a while,” a ministry source said.
Three months after the INS Sindhurakshak accident, defence minister AK Antony had on November 20, 2013, asked the navy brass to “optimally operate” the country’s assets and ensure these were not “frittered away.” Joshi is believed to have resented the “perceived insinuation” that the force wasn’t conducting itself professionally.
Weeks later on December 2, 2013, Admiral Joshi virtually brushed aside the minister’s concerns over the state of the naval fleet, stressing that the navy’s track record was “not that bad” compared to international navies.
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A rash of accidents that followed set off alarm bells in the ministry, with Antony reportedly giving a piece of his mind to the navy brass on several occasions. He had also sought an explanation from Joshi on glitches on board INS Vikramaditya, as first reported by HT on February 10.
Dismayed over a string of accidents that had raised questions about leadership and training in the navy, Antony had on February 6 asked the navy to clean up its act, saying he wasn’t satisfied with the force’s functioning.
He had also asked the navy to “strictly follow” standard operating procedures to combat preventable accidents that cost the country dearly — the combined cost of warships involved in recent accidents is pegged at more than Rs 10,000 crore.
“I cannot give the navy a 100% satisfaction certificate. Even one accident is a serious matter,” Antony had said.
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Joshi’s handling of personnel matters had also caused some unease in the ministry. Hundreds of naval officers were given transfer orders in a span of a few months, a development that came bundled with financial implications.