Sitrep | The Army’s grievance redressal mechanism
It takes two-three years to produce a piece of equipment but centuries to bring a tradition into being. Such traditions cannot be modified easily without causing harm to institutions. The Army has a robust grievance redressal system dating back to hundreds of years. A soldier can approach his superior, whether a non-commissioned officer, junior commissioned officer or commissioned officer with any sort of complaint regarding service conditions, food, leave, pay, promotion, etc. If his problem is not resolved to his satisfaction, the soldier is free to approach his next higher superior officer without any fear of any comebacks from the officer originally approached.
A unique institution held in high esteem in the Army is the Sainik Sammelan. Originally known as the Durbar until replaced by the more egalitarian term currently used, the custom dates back to medieval times. The British adopted it recognising its usefulness. In essence, it is a more or less democratic gathering of troops of a unit or formation where everyone is free to air their grievances in front of their commander without fear of disciplinary action. Both these strains of rendering justice are forceful and produce the desired results. They have stood the test of time.
Now with one stroke all this has been undone. The Army Chief has notified a WhatsApp number to which complaints can be sent to him in person. By making the Chief and his office the focus of imparting justice to over 12 lakh soldiers, this new system bypasses the established hierarchy rendering tens of thousands of leaders at all levels from section to army commander irrelevant. Tomorrow Sepoy Bhoop Singh may as well thumb his nose at Captain Clueless claiming, ‘I’ll send a WhatsApp message to the Chief’. All in all, a rather hasty move with little if any thought given to it’s ramifications.
Besides providing the telecommunication to the Army, the Corps of Signals also provides information through communications intercepts, locates enemy humint and insurgents’ radio networks and jams their wireless systems. To do this, the Corps uses the most sophisticated equipment. A lot of their work involves cryptanalysis and breaking of the enemy’s codes. Traffic analysis is also used to generate information when codes cannot be broken.
I recently interacted with Colonel JS Chandoak, living in Chandigarh who did three tenures in this discipline. During the Bangladesh Campaign, he commanded an ad-hoc intercept company tasked with supporting the operations of XXXIII Corps. Generals ML Thapan and LS Lehl who commanded XXXIII Corps and 20 Division respectively told me that they had complete information about Pakistani orbat and operational orders. General JFR Jacob, who was chief of staff, Eastern Command testified to the effectiveness of signal intelligence in general.
In 1980-81 Chandoak commanded a signals intelligence unit located in the desert sector. The unit’s receivers listened into communications deep within Pakistan. Direction-finding equipment located transmitters of enemy spies. Their task was to pass strategic information up the chain and feed affiliated formations with tactical intelligence. Chandoak’s last stint was with an electronic warfare group responsible for the northern part of the western theatre. Their equipment was state of the art at the time though it would be obsolete now. The Corps of Signals always lives up to its motto ‘Teevra Chaukas’ (Swift and Sure).
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