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The arrest of former air chief SP Tyagi could affect the morale of the defence forces

As a former chief of the Indian Navy, I had to face the humiliation of being falsely named in an FIR by the CBI. Defence Minister A K Antony apologised to me, but it could not undo the damage that had been done to the image of our armed forces.

analysis Updated: Feb 22, 2017 12:25 IST
VVIP chopper scam,SP Tyagi,CBI
A file photo of the Agustawestland AW101 helicopter. The helicopters were not being procured as an in- house requirement of the Indian Air Force. These were VVIP Helicopters meant for exclusive use of VVIPs. (HT Photo)

The arrest of former Air Chief Shashi Tyagi by the Central Bureau of Investigation has raised serious issues ; the foremost being the observation of the trial judge. While releasing the ex- air chief on bail, the honourable judge noted that the CBI had been probing the VVIP helicopters case for more than four years yet failed to establish if Tyagi was possibly complicit in malfeasance.

With the nation’s attention absorbed by demonetisation and electioneering , the fallout of this episode may not have filtered down to the common man . But sadly, it has left behind distressing visuals of a former military chief helplessly stranded in the harsh glare of the media.

Read: The charge that the arrest of an air chief affects soldiers’ morale is laughable

This has hurt the image of our armed forces, for given its hierarchical structure and ethos, a service chief has a unique status. It comes with the mantle of responsibility that he is required to shoulder for the nation’s security. It is unmatched and quite unlike the heads of public sector organisations or secretaries to the government of India.

In essence , a military chief past or present, symbolises the institution of the armed forces. And when he is subjected to indignity, it is the armed forces as an institution whose image gets dented. The disquiet in military circles has to be viewed in this context.

Read: AgustaWestland scam: HC notice to Sanjeev Tyagi on CBI’s plea against bail

This is not suggesting in any way, that former air chief Tyagi should not be investigated for any wrongdoing in the procurement process of VVIP helicopters. But it would appear that the air force is being singled out by sidetracking the central issue on which this case hinges: who was responsible for modifying the technical specifications?

Formulating the technical specifications which are termed in professional military parlance as ‘staff requirements’ or SRs constitute the key element. These SRs minutely specify various parameters for military equipment and are formulated by several expert committees in the service headquarters . And once these SRs are finalised and signed by all concerned they are forwarded to the government, who takes over direct and complete control of the procurement process. Accordingly the SRs stand frozen and can only be altered by higher government authority in whose custody they remain. Moreover ,it is also well established that the chiefs of our armed forces neither personally nominate, nor select any hardware for procurement . These are regulations that have been in vogue for decades.

What is significant is that these helicopters were not being procured as an in-house requirement of the IAF. These were VVIP Helicopters meant for exclusive use of those in the Blue Book category. These were the high-powered stakeholders vested with an overriding authority to decide or modify the technical specifications as required by them. The air force was merely the professional advisor, the controlling leverage and authority was elsewhere .

Unfortunately this vital issue has been ignored ; sending out the wrong signal . It has certainly hurt the sentiment within the rank and file of the armed forces.

Read: Tyagi arrest: Limit discretionary power to tackle corruption in defence

It is one thing to bungle an investigation but to cast aspersions on the armed forces is a serious matter. It brings back memories of my own experience. As a former chief of the Indian Navy , I had to face the humiliation of being falsely named in an FIR by the CBI — almost a decade after I had retired. It turned out to be a political scuffle between the party in power and its arch-rival . Out of the blue , I found my name had been tagged along with that of former defence minister George Fernandes , with whom I had served during the Kargil conflict. In this politically motivated case, the Indian Navy was obviously being used as cannon fodder, with its former chief as a scapegoat .

After years of embarrassment, I finally took recourse to the Right To Information Act . It turned out to be a godsend . The ultimatum issued by the Central Information Commission brought the government in power to its senses and the ministry of defence discretely closed the case.

Defence Minister A K Antony graciously apologised to me in his office on February 12, 2010, but it could not undo the damage that had been done to the image of our armed forces.

Political rivalry may be unavoidable in a democratic system but dragging the military into political scuffles has never been a good idea . And given their track record , the Indian Armed Forces have a special place in the collective conscience of the citizens of our country. Why tarnish that image ?

Admiral Sushil Kumar is a former chief of the Indian Navy

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 22, 2017 12:15 IST