The disclosure made by Gen V.K. Singh, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), in an interview to The Hindu ( March 26,2012) that he had refused an offer of a bribe of Rs.14 crores in connection with a commercial transaction relating to the purchase of vehicles for the Army some months ago and that he had reported it to Shri A.K.Antony, the defence minister, if correct, raises serious questions regarding the way corruption allegations are handled in the Government of India. Subsequent reports have alleged that the bribe was offered by a senior retired officer of the Army.
As per the normal procedures, the COAS should have immediately taken the following action:
- Report the matter to the minister.
- Address a formal Demi-official letter to the minister in confirmation of what he had reported orally and requesting for an enquiry.
- Call from his office the file relating to this transaction and record a note that he (the COAS) was offered a bribe by a retired Army officer which he refused and that he had reported it to the defence minister orally and in writing and asked for an enquiry.
- Address a note to his office that the retired Army officer who offered the bribe should not be issued a security pass in future to visit Army offices and that action should be initiated for suspending his pension payments till the final outcome of the enquiry.
Apart from orally reporting to the defence minister, the COAS does not appear to have taken any other action as expected under the normal office procedures when there is an attempted bribery. His disclosing the incident now in a media interview would naturally give rise to a strong suspicion that his belated disclosure two months before the end of the controversial final months of his career because of his differences with the MOD regarding his date of birth must have been motivated with a personal agenda.
When the COAS orally reported the matter to him, the defence minister should have immediately taken the following action:
- Record a formal note in the relevant file of his office regarding the disclosure of the COAS and stating that he was ordering the defence Secretary to refer the matter to the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for a Preliminary Enquiry ( PE) to be followed by a formal investigation if found correct.
- Address a formal DO letter to the defence Secretary with copies to the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime minister to refer the matter to the CBI for a PE.
The defence minister does not appear to have taken any of these actions. This related to a case of attempted bribery in an office of the government of India. It did not require the concurrence of any state government or any other authority for ordering a PE by the CBI. The minister was competent to do so and should have done so.
There have been serious acts of omission by the COAS as well as by the defence minister and these amount to a serious case of dereliction of duty. Before the controversy gets dirtier due to allegations and counter-allegations and suspicions and counter-suspicions, the Prime minister should ask the Cabinet Secretary to take over the responsibility for further enquiries to establish the truth.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies