Media is abuzz with headlines such as 'Bribery Gate', 'Army Chief versus Defence Minister', 'Army Chief versus Government' and what have you. In the case of what media terms ‘Bribery Gate’, the defence minister says that he was not given an official complaint. The eloquent government spokesman went even further by stating that as per law all actions should have been taken by General V.K. Singh only. Whether he would say the same thing for a chief of police or chief of a central armed police force is questionable. In his arrogance, he even went on to say on a Hindi channel that Gen V.K. Singh being a “sarkar ka naukar” should have filed an official complaint himself. Some in the audience seemed to get a little het up, but then what is there to feel bad about if the remarks come from a “public ka naukar”?
Are we missing the point that General V.K. Singh actually did take the best possible action? The fellow offering the bribe was a retired officer over whom Army has no jurisdiction. If Army had jurisdiction over retired officers, then it would have initiated action against all those retired officers who were involved in the Adarsh Housing Scam, the moment the scandal broke out. The next issue is even more significant, which is that the bribe reportedly was being offered on behalf of BEML, which being a PSU, is directly under the ministry of defence (MoD). What better than to report the matter to the defence minister himself, who should have initiated action forthwith but did not. Even if we take the defence minister’s statement that he asked the Army Chief to render a written report (which appears an afterthought, perhaps on an in-house lawyer-politician advice), what stopped him from demanding it next day, next week or next month if he were keen on acting against corruption? Then is the question of whether this report was official or not. By what stroke of imagination do you term a uniformed Army Chief meeting the defence minister in the latter’s office and reporting the matter as ‘unofficial’?
More significantly, the major issue being missed is not the quality of the trucks in question but the exorbitant difference between the market price of the TATRA vehicles in question and the price at which they are being supplied to the Army— more than double. The question that media should be investigating is as to who is pocketing that Rupees 50-60 lakhs profit per vehicle. Going by the 2G episode ('only Raja pocketed everything'), it should be no wonder that the government will try to put all the blame on BEML but can you digest such farce? What about the DG Procurement of the MoD? If the Army Chief is being offered Rs 14 crores just to accept the requirement, is it not reasonable to assume that more would have been offered to those who sign the contracts and handles actual deals? How many times multiplied would be that offer? If the defence minister was not aware what is happening under his very nose, well, he knows now, so why has he not asked for a CBI inquiry for the hundreds of such category vehicles procured earlier and plying in the army with obvious similar proportional price differences of those times?
Is it not reasonable to assume that this is just one such item and more likely simply the tip of the iceberg? It simply cannot be an isolated incident and would be happening in case of ‘all’ imports through PSUs and all direct imports as well, especially the big ticket deals. No wonder there were rumours galore during the Eurocopter deal and talk of even someone having been forced to return the advance bribe when the deal fell off. If the defence minister talks of ‘transparency in procurement’ why not take some actual action, other than merely blacklisting firms and looking the other way on everything else?
As regard the eloquent government spokesman’s statement that action could have only been taken by the Army Chief and not the defence minister, well, how is it that the defence minister has asked for a CBI inquiry now and did not do so when the matter was reported to him months back? Has the uproar in Parliament changed the law Mr Government Spokesman?
Why is it that the defence minister has not asked for a CBI inquiry into the deployment of two mobile interceptors in Delhi as reported in the media, including their procurement from Ukraine at a cost of some 38-40 crores, circumventing sanction of appropriate authority by breaking the costs into various pieces of below Rs 10 crores per part of the same piece of equipment? Is this not highly irregular calling for immediate action? Does one import a T-90 tank part by part so that the costs are not noticeable? Reminds one of the Aum Shinrikyo cult of Japan that smuggled in a Russian Mi-8 helicopter part by part and the Japanese were unaware. When the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), who imported these mobile interceptors, is directly under the MoD then why is the defence minister glossing over the issue? The citizenry has a right to know. Who is the enemy in Delhi against whom these mobile interceptors were deployed and was this done by the express order of the defence minister?
What is the use of having a ‘clean image’ if advertently or inadvertently one has ended up abetting the corrupt? The same appears to be the state up the ladder, as is apparent through a report published by DNA of an inquiry report of massive irregularities in purchases by the NTRO, with the NSA sitting on the report for past several months. Is our 'clean' Prime Minister listening?
It would seem that General V.K. Singh has actually done a service to the nation by talking openly about bribery and corruption in higher echelons. This being the 21st Century, facts will come out one day or another. It is better to discuss transparently and look for solutions, no matter if it gives jitters to some people.
Lt Gen Prakash C. Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian army