There is a famous saying that “the law is an ass”. There may be some truth in it as technicalities, strict interpretation of the law and the police preparing incomplete cases, intentionally or unintentionally, have resulted in even hardened criminals getting away. So far the media has not earned this dubious distinction of being an ass, but if it continues the way it has been acting, it may still earn it. I am not taking up cudgels on behalf of those in the limelight for allegedly behaving in a non-soldierly manner. My aim is to bring the much-needed balance in this one-sided army bashing concerning the Adarsh Housing Society scam for this constant diatribe against the army has little meaning and has now become counter-productive, to say the least. Various inquiries have already been instituted and those who have transgressed the law, irrespective of their status, would undoubtedly be brought to book. This has been explicitly stated by many functionaries of the government as well as by the Army Chief himself.
In recent years the media, especially the electronic variety, has been showing the defence forces in poor light, while reporting on the misdemeanours of a selected few. They do so with impunity. The government and the Press Council watch helplessly from the sidelines as young reporters, some still wet behind the ears, as well as a few anchors go hammer and tongs, repeating the same news over and over again, without any new genuine inputs.
It would seem that for our electronic media, the TRP god is “Breaking News”, while the print media at least reports events somewhat calmly without sensationalising or lampooning. Perhaps they do not realise that when a character assassination of the defence leadership takes place in public, it does incalculable harm to the only instrument of the nation that works and works efficiently and with alacrity. Both serving personnel and veterans do want factual news, but are really sickened by sensationalism, innuendos and imaginary news. Unfortunately, all three have been used with impunity and what emerges is a wilful and mischievous maligning of the defence forces. Is the media trying to convey that the entire military of the nation consists of criminals who are scheming to line their pockets? It would seem so, the way a few channels are handling this issue. They seem to forget that, notwithstanding a few black sheep, they are talking about an institution that is known for its honesty, probity and discipline, and which has secured the nation externally and internally and even has been called for tasks which directly fall in the ambit of other instruments of the state.
Let me again state that such sensational reporting does more harm than good to the polity of the nation and people’s confidence in the defence forces as well as to the morale of the forces. The number of defence personnel in this so-called scam is minuscule when we consider the vast number of officers in the defence forces. If they think this is part of that much-abused phrase, “freedom of the press”, than I suggest they go back to school and re-learn about “responsible reporting”. I sometimes wonder whether some in the media work overtime at the behest of a powerful group of individuals who want the defence forces to be wilfully and mischievously maligned for their own agenda like deflecting the heat from bureaucrats of Maharashtra, or others who wish to divert attention from bigger scams like the CWG scam, which seems to have gone off the radar screens of the media.
I have no intention of adding more facts to this sordid affair. However, I must say that the media has “missed the woods for the trees”. This happens when the aim is to sensationalise by picking up bits and pieces and then filling the blanks with half-truths and a fertile imagination. In their zeal in showing the defence forces in bad light by concentrating on selected officers of the army and the navy, they have ignored the kingpin and the fountainhead of this entire conspiracy, viz the promoter of the society, R C Thakur, an erstwhile official of the Directorate General of Defence Estates, with a history of underhand dealings in defence lands. It is not Thakur alone but the whole organisation that has done much harm to defence lands throughout the country. The Directorate General of Defence Estates, which is the apex body of the Defence Estates Organisation, has its subordinate offices in all parts of the country. As per its website, “It is entrusted with the task of management of defence lands inside and outside cantonments; and acquisition/hiring of immovable properties for defence purposes”. What is not well known and something missed out by the media is that defence land is divided in to many types, like A1, A2, B1 and so on. The army is directly responsible only for A1 land.
There has been speculation whether the building under discussion stands on defence land or not. No one has thought it fit to enquire the true status and type of this piece of land. The Maharashtra Government says the land belongs to them. The promoter says the same. In this distressing episode unless one is clear about the ownership and type of land, there is no point in publicly castigating individuals for their acts of omission and commission.
Lastly, I come to the question of propriety, made much of by at least one channel, especially of senior officers and certainly of those who in the past had steered the forces as chiefs of their service. The point made by the media repeatedly is that they should have known whether the Adarsh Housing Society was an approved society (according to all commentators, it was) and whether it was meant for allotment to Kargil heroes (according to the Maharashtra Government as well as the local defence formations, it was not, except that defence personnel would be eligible to become members). In addition, they should not have used their position to force an allotment for themselves. This of course is treading on thin ice, as the answer could be either way. However, the more important point is that the Maharashtra government officials were the final arbiters of who should be given a flat. It is little wonder that out of the 103 flats in the dubious building the majority have been allotted to political leaders and civil officials of the Maharashtra government or their kin. A perusal of the list of allottees indicates that 33 allottees are from the defence forces (12 flag level and 21 junior officers) and a whopping 70 from the civil society, all of whom are or have been political leaders and officials of the Maharashtra government!
Former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS)
Published in The Tribune, Thursday, November 18, 2010, Chandigarh, India