In May 1998, a Navy board of inquiry (BOI) held a battery of service officers accountable for lapses in the controversial “chillers case” — when procurement of sub-standard equipment for a warship almost grounded it. But the Navy rewarded them by keeping their careers on the upswing — some even became admirals.
File notings, in the possession of the Hindustan Times, did not rule out the possibility of illegitimate gratification for undue favours. The Navy’s chief of personnel recommended that entries be made in the confidential dossiers of the indicted officers, which would be taken note of while positioning and promoting them.
However, one of the indicted officers, VS Mathur, rose to the rank of vice-admiral and heads the Navy’s logistics branch. Two others, Rear Admirals K Raina and SA O’Leary, will be considered for the three-star rank very soon, most likely this week, said sources. The Navy allegedly disposed of the case without referring it to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
As commodore, Mathur was the head of the tender purchase committee, which confirmed the purchase order. He retires this November. Raina and O’Leary hold the posts of assistant controller of logistics and assistant chief of personnel (civilians).
More than a decade after this case came to light, the Navy is still examining it — all the while letting its officers rise in the ranks. A Navy spokesman told HT, “The Integrated Headquarters MoD (Navy) is examining the issue in consultation with the Western Naval Command.”
Fitted on INS Gomti, the second-rate chillers, which are vital components for keeping a ship’s air-conditioning plant running, almost crippled the warship in 1995.
The chief of material endorsed that the failure of procurement system had been aggravated by the “professional ignorance” of the indicted officers. No disciplinary action was initiated against them, as the case allegedly became time barred. But it was decided that a portion of the loss caused to the state exchequer (about Rs 12.44 lakh) be recovered from the officers. The sources said that in November 2003 the Navy decided to regularise these losses as otherwise the officers would be deemed to be guilty.
Admiral Raina, tipped to be the next controllers of logistics, said, “Lot of water has flown under the bridge. I don’t remember the facts of the case.” Admiral O’Leary said he was not authorised to speak to the media "but vested interests are chucking muck at the Navy."