Friday, June 29, 2012
Talking of corruption in the army
By Maj Gen (Retd) Ashok Coomar
While there is rarely any official reaction on the rising trend in the incidents of corruption being reported about the armed forces, debates in the print and electronic media continue about how to eradicate the menace. Participants, who are mostly proud military veterans, term these incidents as “aberrations” and lay great stress on the swift military justice system and its exacting standards of reprehension. Recent debate on Times Now regarding an inquiry against MGASC, Northern Command about alleged acceptance of bribe in cash and the arrest of a Colonel from NDA by the CBI in an alleged recruitment scam of civilian employees largely centred around these arguments. Just one participant, Col RSN Singh a former R&AW officer had the courage to mention the “muck” (officers of low moral values) which had been accumulating since long. This “muck” sitting in senior positions today perpetuates and also protects the corrupt. Over the years systems have been so mutilated that one of the arguments put forth so emphatically - of awarding exemplary punishments – does not appear to be valid any more.
Many decades ago corruption in the army was indeed an aberration and punishments swift but alas it is no longer so. Gone are the days when funds to play with were meagre; allocation of public funds such as Annual Training Grant or the Contingency Grants just in hundreds; the unit run CSD Canteens profits just a few thousand and the difficulties in meeting legitimate needs enormous but genuine. Also gone are the days when justifications such as “for the sake of shielding army’s good name” or the “for the sake of Regiment or Unit” had a ring of morality despite fudged papers under scrutiny. Audit staff respected the uniform and dropped the observation if documentation was produced. In fact opportunities for corruption were few and those inclined to indulge even fewer. And importantly – most officers and men cherished a code of honour of honesty and integrity. Any compromise implied such disgrace that social boycott was automatic and near total.
Today the picture has changed. Availability of Public Funds at the unit level has gone up enormously with widened scope for spending and manipulation. Regimental institutions are run on commercial lines to attract all and sundry - soul aim being profit-generation. Traditional culture of even Infantry units has undergone a sea change. Greater the ostentatious show off, greater the glory. In every event almost everything is out-sourced entailing huge expenses. The worst part is – it is all on the house! No prizes for guessing how the expenses are met.
As the Mahatma once said one cannot be dishonest in one department and honest in others. What was initially intended as a “practical” way out of procedural quagmire has gradually become a major source of corruption. Some senior officers rue the trend but lack moral courage to check the practice.
Most veterans and serving officers know that what is exposed by the media can be termed as aberration only if we accept that actual incidence is much greater. At some level spirited defence put up by veterans appears praise worthy but at another it is unconvincing, appears to be sham and emboldens the culprits. Drawing comparisons with civil counterparts amounts to negotiating army’s standards of integrity, honesty and probity. If we insist on comparisons, the day is not far when the anchors will conclude with a remark that “Thank God the army is not as corrupt as ………”
In this context the statement by Gen VP Malik on Headlines Today on Jun 26 was indeed commendable for its honest and forthright approach. He said that he felt proud that the media applied highest standards of honesty and probity to the armed forces. While expressing his aguish at the falling standards of morality in the society he conceded that the army had not remained unaffected. He unequivocally condemned spread of the evil and hoped that the new chief will continue the drive for its eradication. Needless to say the debate ended on a sombre note.
Gen Malik’s words had a sound advice for us veterans too! It is not just futile but counterproductive to term the exposures as mere aberrations and boast of exemplary punishments. Who does not know the oft repeated reassembly of GCMs to reconsider the light sentences awarded? And it does not need a prominent lawyer to see through the lack of morality exhibited by the members of GCM which deliberates in camera to arrive at verdict and sentence by a majority vote of which no record is maintained!
If we do indeed want to see a change, we veterans will have to accept the truth and build moral pressure by insisting on the revival of the moral code which has been forgotten.