The image of the army and particularly of its top officers has never plunged as low as it has in the last few months.
The myth that only Army Service Corps, Ordnance Corps or Military Engineering Service (MES) officers were involved in financial wrongdoings has been busted. Those belonging to combat arms and elite regiments now head the list of wrongdoers. Every single item or service capable of being procured has a become source of corruption - whether it is eggs, dry rations, meat, petrol, liquor, hired transport, or old weapons or even defence land.
There are various reasons for the sharp decline in ethical standards. The foremost: the absence of a role model. The stringent military code is applied only against juniors. Inaction against higher officials has encouraged others to indulge in corruption.
Two and 3-star generals named in the ketchup colonel episode were allowed to get away. The punishment meted out to a brigadier convicted by court martial was toned down. Only colonels and those ranked below were subjected to harsh punishment.
Easy availability of regimental or non-public funds offers opportunities of misappropriation. There are no training programmes to discuss the importance of discipline. In other armies, exposure to such courses for senior officers is mandatory.
Affinity to one's regiment/corps leads to subjective treatment and favouritism. Rules are not correctly interpreted. Hardly any officer from the legal branch or the JAG Department has been taken to task for rendering improper advice.
The rank and file is demoralised. The prestige of military officers has greatly eroded. Can a general be trusted with sensitive military plans or procurement decisions once he is found to have knowingly declared incorrect income simply to become eligible to own a flat?
Zero-tolerance for corruption and prompt investigation must be ensured. Integrity checks must be ordered for all officers above a certain rank, say colonels. Multiple probes of departmental enquiry, followed by one-man investigation and finally a court of inquiry ought to be stopped. Finalisation of court martial must be time bound. Mere censure for economic offences must be prohibited. Commanders and legal advisers must be made accountable for their decisions.
The writer is a former Judge Advocate General (Army)