Today, corruption is as dangerous as an enemy or the terrorist attack. It eats up the taxpayer’s money and keeps the country poor and its defence weak. The army chief in his statement puts the corruption as cancer and honestly feels the system is weak. He feels this cancer needs a big surgery and cannot be fought without an organised preparation. Seeking media and public pressure for the delayed justice is normal and natural. The whistle blown by the army chief this time is more explosive and more clear. General VK Singh states that in the past, he was offered Rs. 14 crore bribe for allowing the traditional 600 substandard vehicles to be purchased more. Sources put the real cost of each vehicle in the market as Rs 40 lakh but the jacked-up price in army purchase is Rs 1.04 crore with accessories. In India market the same truck offered by Tata and Ashok Leyland can be bought at Rs 16 lakh. The army chief says that he reported this critical issue immediately in person to the defence minister but no action was taken. This perhaps forced the issue to get public now by media. The army chief said the vehicles, 7,000 of which were already in use in the army, had been sold over the years at exorbitant prices with no questions asked. He said there was no proper facility where they could be serviced and maintained and yet these vehicles continued to be sold to the army. The repair team has to be flown in from Europe in spite of Indian market competent to provide similar trucks. Instead of supplying the motor parts, tyres and batteries in time the supplier in association with the public sector company Bharat Earth Movers Ltd wants to supply more Tatra trucks. The army chief further states that the same hidden lobby had been engaged in his date of birth injustice as they want him to cooperate with the corrupt system.
On Monday, 26th March 2012 parliament was rocked and blocked and the defence minister was forced to hand over this delayed issue to CBI. How the CBI is going to act on this past incidence as old as Sept 2010? No arrest of the army supplier so far stands teasing and why the defence minister as the superior of the army chief remained quiet in the past needs to be probed. The courage of the ex-army officer Lt. Gen. Tejender Singh, now the arms dealer and vehicle pedlar, shows the depth and reach of corruption in the defence and security of the nation. Corruption of 1% lobby today is so powerful that the ‘honest’ minister is forced to put forward an excuse of no written complaint by the army chief? Why the defence system is unable to defend the whistleblower? ‘Truth’ appears so scared that the minister forgets that no one waits for a written procedure excuse to act when the enemy and terrorist attacks. Even now when there is public exposure and media pressure is building the CBI has no written complain but is acting on media reports supported by minister order. Role model organisations like defence force which are still trustworthy need to look inwards and search truth with reformed procurement systems and indigenous solutions. ‘Truth’ as victim remains hidden in this issue of a late alarm and a late wake up call. Key to make defence strong, safe and effective lies at the top. Unfair procurement process with huge inflated cost as a loot seems to have reached a point where the rotten system is threatening the buyers morally by stopping the update in defence preparedness. Almost three crore money is returned by the army unsused to the ministry in the budget that is approx Rs 2 lakh crore.
Leak of the confidential letter text written by the army chief to PM in line with the tradition in this direction is certainly not a matter to be discussed in public but now the cat is out of the bag. The situation of delays and decisions is ugly and shall remain irreversible if the blame game at the top continues.
Corruption in defence buying, weak readiness of the forces and date of birth issue of the army chief all are the precipitation of the same weak system. Let us examine how and why the army chief written plea on simple correction of date of birth since past several decades send several times to defence minister was dismissed lightly by supreme court. Following text was written by me on 11th Feb 2012 on my blog and published later by few journals/websites including Governance Now:
Casualty of “truth” in the big battle between law and logic for a correct date of birth of the army chief remains hidden. Can truth, army discipline, promotion procedure, speculative line of army chief succession and input of personnel identity have different logic? Unfortunately, truth continues to have 2 faces. First, truth is based on conventional media stories fired by politically powerful ministries with its potential for coercion in the name of `discipline’. Second face of Truth remains a weak participatory team in the ministry inquiring with the potential of a `lever` for improving the quality of army life but trained to obey the superiors. Such teams in the Defence Ministry are responsible to store the correct date of birth & identity of an employee to preserve his self dignity and honour which at times get compromised.
Gen V K Singh’s birth certificate date correction in spite of open evidence of matriculation certificate has been refused by defence ministry, law ministry, AGI and now supreme court perhaps to safeguard the old feudal systems in army under the weak excuse called “discipline”. The supreme court on Friday hearing refused to accept the date of birth correction plea, pointing out that the army chief, who accepted the government's decision in determining his date of birth as May 10, 1950 on three occasions, could not go back on his past commitment. His petition was disposed of as he accepted the option given to him to withdrawn. This is painted now by media as Beating Retreat. This counselling by supreme court also exposes the limitation of the judges as individuals outsourced to settle disputes based on the limited evidences which got precipitated due to poor participatory environment in the defence ministry. The supreme court while refusing judgment on this issue comments, “We understand your (VK Singh) pain, but you yourself (as a junior in the past) left the final decision to authorities”. It is clear the judges felt the pain of the disjoint system in the defence ministry that keep records of the army personals but missed the opportunity perhaps in absence of evidence to reunite the honest and down to earth defence minister and the serving general in the army who is known for his anti-graft crusade in army.
Whistle blowing by General VK Singh in the faulty army systems needs a civilian 100% support and salute. The army chief may have lost the “age war” but the combat for future corruption free systems must go on. The general dared to split open selective identity issues and graft in the administrative systems in the army which forces to follow seniors blindly but ignore the truth. In the past as documented well by the media, VK Singh was forced to conditionally accept the verdict of his seniors in the army who advised him to chill up & wait patiently but at the same time he was asked to acknowledge the separate file for anticipating promotions displaying his false date of birth. Closed door issue about correction in data entry was forcefully dragged on. When VK Singh became chief of army he exercised his right to reach supreme court to expose the old feudal system based on obeying the senior in spite of false facts based on his date of birth. System now stands weak with promotions in army based on age and not on merit. This faulty system which has been the bedrock of Indian Army under the mask of arm twisting discipline needs to be changed with dignity. The evidence point out that corrupt Army System controlled by a minority lobby want to get rid of the General who does not favour corruption in procurements.
Army, in a democratic state like India, is well known for its impartial secular services in serving civilians during crisis like floods, terrorist attack, earthquake and so on. Delay on such petty error which has now been magnified and has challenged the weak systems and refusal of judgment by law makers, law executers and law enforcing agencies shows weak face of governance. People as law abiders need fast justice driven by truth but the speed and the direction of the truth needs correction. The seeds of justice need to re-sown in the defence ministry itself via general bodies and correct participation of data monitors in time. When this participatory process is never done the seed for justice remain to be outsourced by the supreme court counselling who cannot manufacture data and evidence but can only cater justice based on the limited perceptions and documents carried forward to them.
Outside the Indian army the report card of government work inspectors is worst. Indian corporate and middle level business houses continue to engage employees, consultants & partners without valid work contracts treating employees as invisible fodder in their personnel endeavour for more profits. Outside army the law enforcement is very weak. Army as role model is the “take away” of Public interest in this conflict. Common Man cannot even dream of supreme court settling his conflicts. India needs an overall redresser and reform of work systems which at present ridicules the image of Team India. Both defence minister and general must close this issue of date of birth as a ‘default fruit’ of Bad Governance. They must holistically collect new seeds of future justice in work systems for better India and for a participatory Republic. Only in-house participation to sustain the hidden truth can help avoid the dispute over the bad fruit again in future. Media stories are flooded with different trajectories of truth as put forward by several army officers. It is said that as the General's objections to European Consortium Fighter plane deal due to cost/performance superiority of the French Rafael harmed Italian interests, the government found a way to ease him out. However, it is 50-50 now. Rafael has won the bid and the honourable SC has disposed the case effectively in favour of 1950. Many are concerned about how the meek and modest truth shall get “rescued” after this Ceasefire. Fact remains that a soldier on joining the defence, loses his fundamental rights given by the constitution to unite or to form an association to address his work grievances. It is incumbent on the country to ensure that the defence force “spirit” is not neglected by politicians listening favourably to bureaucrats.
There cannot be two seeds for a single fruit called truth. To bury grief and to pug the mistrust deficit, there is a need to cheer up by sowing a “participatory seed” in the defence ministry for a better civil-uniform solidarity. “Discipline” in the army must get modernised first. An army with a modern mind shall emerge more strong. Command in the Defence Forces is controlled not by a salary but by a commitment to the country to safeguard its sovereignty. Absolute faith and trust in the chain of command makes the fighting forces unique. This “do-or-die-never-ask-why” spirit of a soldier appears to be misused by the “babus” to retain their superiority. A society grows wise when honest boys plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. Shade today is getting more valuable then fruits as a safe resource for future generations to use.