Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Armed Forces Must Stem Corruption

A letter addressed to "The Tribune" in response to the paper's editorial on 21 Feb 2011
Dear Sir,

I refer to your editorial dated 21 Feb 11 on the above subject.

It is with utter shame that we old soldiers watch senior officers being found guilty and being sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. Section 63 of the Army Act of 1950 is a very useful statute under which covers "an act prejudicial to good order and military discipline". Any misdemeanour can be charged under it eg., insolence, insubordination, stealing the affections of a brother officer's wife, being drunk or not being at an appointed place at the correct time etc.,. In fact Section 63 was the most used rule to discipline officers. With all round economic progress in the country, more and more cases of corruption are surfacing and more serious charges are being brought into use.
However, I am satisfied that in most cases the Services themselves throw up such cases and deal with them post haste. Unlike our colleagues in the civil services and our political masters, who know what is wrong with their colleagues but seldom make out a case against them. Even if they are found out, the CBI has to obtain permission from the Govt to start the investigations. Which their colleagues take ages to give, so that the culprit can cover his tracks at leisure. In fact if somebody blows the whistle, they go after him.
I was recently told by an IAS officer of MP cadre that every one knew about the corrupt ways of the Joshi couple who had amassed a fortune of a staggering Rs 360 crores. But no one had the gumption to give information about their misdeeds in writing, to a superior so that action could be taken against them. Look at the two consecutive Chief Secretaries of UP, who were voted as the most corrupt officers by the state IAS Association. But no one had the courage to supply the requisite information to prevent them from milking the state and its people of hundreds of crores.
How is it then that the country and the press goes into a frenzy if a couple of officers out of 40,000 odd, have crossed the red line. Has a politician or any bureaucrat from the IAS, IPS, IAAS, Indian Forest Service, PWD, Electricity Dept, IRS ever been brought to book with such alacrity and severity? The only one I know of was punished in New York for having taken commissions for awarding contracts. But that gentleman from the Indian Defence Accounts Service was working in the UN and did not have the protection of his brother officers! The punishment given to Lt Gen Sahni will ensure that for at least 10 years senior officers will think twice before they try something similar. Unlike the civil servants the army will continue to take decisions promptly, and not seek protection like the joint secretary level officers enjoy in the govt. The self cleansing process in the services will ensure that they stay a notch above their civilian counterparts as far as honesty is concerned.
What the govt and the people of India do not realise is that when you expect a defence officer to behave like Yudhishtra and be ready to bear the rigours of service life and fight like Bhim, he needs to be treated differently from his civilian counterparts in the govt. They too have a desire to educate their children well and partake of the affluence the people around them are enjoying. (Remember when an IFS officer died, along with a Brigadier, in a bomb attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul his bereaved wife was visited by the PM personally and granted extraordinary compensation, while the Brigadier was ignored as he had only faced hazards of his service, for which he had signed up!)
But the Cabinet Secretary and his august Committee feel otherwise. No wonder they pronounced that defence officers need not be treated differently from their civilian counterparts. In fact, it would be better if they could be brought down a notch or two further!

Leadership in an officer is a prerequsite to be able to lead men in a critical situation and lack of probity in an officer is the antithesis of it. No soldier will follow an officer who has lost his respect. This does not matter in the civil services, but they do not want to accept this reality.
The Defence Services are still proud of their distinctive character, culture and elan and will continue to perform well both in battle and in peace time. But for heaven's sake do not expect them to be super human. You want them to shoulder all the responsibilities due to the failure of the state but want them walk the straight and narrow line. Some thing is going to give way. I hope it is not the Army! God bless my beloved country.
by Lt Gen SK Bahri PVSM (Retd)


  1. Dear Satish,

    Thank you for sending a very nice mail and a letter to the editor. Hope he publishes it.

    I have been thinking of writing to you and share a few thoughts, I'll do it now.

    In the present case as also in the cases pertaining to Sukna and Tehelka, the Services acted quickly and penalised the guilty. However, not a single guilty person in the civilian sector was even charged, let alone tried and punished. In fact, one of the Tehelka babus was made a governor to ensure he was out of reach of the arm of law. I'm afraid the same story may repeat itself where Adarsh scam is concerned.

    I have been 'thinking out of the box' as that is the current flavour. Supposing the Services announce the punishment but hold it in abeyance till the corresponding civilians too are tried and punished. That would certainly exert a pressure on the civilian mechanism. Maybe we should extend the ambit of court martial and include those whose actions result in adverse effect on the morale, efficiency etc of the armed forces. That will teach them a quick lesson.

    You have used the figure of 40,000 and that may be the current officer strength of the army. In my arguments I use the figure of one lac, which is roughly the sanctioned officer strength of the three Services. I point out that even if fifty officers have been found to be below par, it works out to about one twentieth of one percent. Yet the 'free press' goes to town crying about it. There is a hidden agenda somewhere. In the current dispensation, the neta - babu unholy nexus are out to dishonour and overwhelm whosoever is seen to come in their way. These could be Defence Services personnel, BJP/NDA people, the 'Hindu Brigades or Saffron outfits'. They all are tarred with the same brush. We all must uphold the good name of the Services at least.

    The next point is about Manmohan Singh. At least he now admits that he has his failings and limitations. It crossed my mind that many a cadet and GC were sent packing home for lack of moral fibre (LMF). Here we have the unelected prime leader of the country who has done nothing about all the numerous humongous scams around him. He is shamelessly hanging on to the gaddi. He even indulges in Hosni Mubarak speak to say that he has a certain job to perform (ha!) and he has never thought of resigning !! I wish the LMF formula was applied on him.

    This mail is also being sent to a few BCC addressees for their info.


  2. Dear General Bahri and Veteran Krishan Puchhi,

    I very much appreciate the noble thoughts expressed by you both. But, your expressions seem to be a cry in the wilderness. This message may reach hundreds or thousands or may be lacks of people who really do not matter in the hierarchy. What is eventually going to happen? Do you think our thick skinned and immunish leaders and bureaucrats would ever act on such such practical suggestions, instead they would certainly brush them aside to continue with their misdeeds to disrepute and dishonour the country and its citizens unabated.

    Something more than just making noises would have to be done. I am sure a large number of our citizens want that the Government should be forced and compelled to hand over administration to the Army for two to three years at least to set the house in order.

    Col LK Anand Retd

  3. Dear Col Anand,
    Well even one officer of this nature should not be kept on appointments which deals with money.We have to make our country free of scams and corruption and few dept like Army is on right track.
    Comdt BPSingh

  4. Part-1

    Dear Veterans,

    The article by Lt Gen SK Bahri, written to the Press may not be published, not because of lack of logic and contents (which are excellently projected), but for its frank analysis of the problem of corruption in the Army Vis a Vis the Politicians & the Bureaucrats.

    Army Act 63 is no doubt an effective weapon in the armoury of the Military Law & Discipline. But let us not forget that it is not used against an innocent soldier. When it came to corruption, the general public believed that there were only two pillars in our society, which were above this phenomenon. First was Judiciary & the second was the Armed Forces. In the last couple of decades, the Judiciary had lost its sheen of claiming to be above corruption. Many Chief Justices themselves had acknowledged this fact & called for cleansing the system.

    When the same trend started showing its ugly head in the Armed Forces, the reaction of the common man was, 'You too Brutus?" It only shows the highest esteem the public had for its Armed Forces. Even in our days, there were instances of corruption which were more in the nature of pilferage of Petrol, Oil & Lubricants (POL) or Rations. There were instances of bad accounting, misuse of Regimental Funds & Canteen Funds. They were all dealt within the house & no culprit ever escaped, if caught. I remember a Major, in 1972 being Court Martialled for pilfering two Jerrycans of Petrol. He lost three years loss of seniority for both promotion & pension. Unfortunately, the total loss to the Govt was only Rs 68/- (the cost of petrol was just Rs 1.35/- per ltr).

    Veteran KK Punchhi, has rightly brought in the issue of Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF). That was the exact words used by the Presiding Officer of the Court Martial, while awarding the sentence. When I was doing Staff College, two officers were given Reprimand to be recorded in their Course Reports, for copying. In judiciary, last year seven Magistrates & Judicial Officers were caught for the same offence, while taking their examinations. The visual media did play up that incident for at least three days.

    Now from 'Lack of Moral Fibre', some of the Senior Officers have started showing 'Loss of Moral Fibre'. Even in IPKF operations, a Major General was put under Military Custody, for indulging in Local Purchase of tea leaves, from a Furniture Dealer. While being escorted in a train by two Majors, form Chennai to Secunderabad, to face the Court Martial, he managed to vanish from their custody, at Vijayawada Junction. The result was, the Major General went into hiding till his Retirement which was only a month ahead, and the poor Majors received Red Ink Entries for dereliction of duty.


    Col (Retd) TN Raman
    Comments in two Parts (Part-2 follows)

  5. (Part-2) continued from previous ie (Part-1)

    We all agree that the Army takes such aberrations seriously & is quick to react. The recent trend in Sukhna Land Scam & the Rations Scam points to the fact that no one, however Senior he may be in the Rank & Status, can escape justice. Is it not a healthy sign?

    We can also quote umpteen examples of how the Civil Bureaucrats manage to go Scot Free, even in cases like Tehelka. That is the reason why they are despised & condemned by the entire Nation. By quoting such examples, are we to allow our delinquents also to follow suit?

    To my mind the Army is correct in its approach of dealing firmly with the errant Generals, who have lost their Moral Fibre. The time has come for the Armed Forces to reassert their clean image, by sending a message to the people of our country that Corruption in the Forces is an exception & not the Rule, as is perceived by them in connection with the Politicians, Bureaucrats & now, even the Judiciary.

    If lack of monetary compensation for the job alone is the guide line for increase in corruption in the Armed Forces, then we may not find suitable Officers to convene even a Court Martial. The very fact KK Punchhi himself has brought out that only a minuscule percentage of Officers from the Armed Forces have indulged in corruption, shows that in our case the fish has not started rotting from the head.

    We all are quite upset with the Media for exploiting the situation & sensationalising even a trivial news about Army's misdemeanour. What we lack is an effective PR. For example, all the scams, but for Tehelka, were uncovered by the Army itself, through its own internal mechanism. The Media exploited some leaked Enquiry Reports to show the public, as if they uncovered the whole rot. Armed Forces must work on this vital aspect, in addition to the other measures that are being projected to curb the corruption.


    Col (Retd) TN Raman