Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Perfect Murders

By Prakash Katoch

Media hysteria about army causing wasteful expenditure of rupees 100 crores needs analysis. If an Army Chief’s top secret letter to the Prime Minister can be leaked to the media, what is so great about an “internal audit” of Ministry of Defence (MoD) being leaked? No holy cow will take responsibility for the leak and any probe is out of the question. How do you probe deliberate leaks? Then there are the ‘army coup’ story types who willingly stoop to any low despite mediacrooks.comrevelation of properties 20 times the known source of income and rapid rise to abnormal affluence. Flooding the media accusing Army Commander’s negligent decisions and attributing this so called “wasteful expenditure” to two Army Chief's including the present one without inquiry is hardly surprising.  It is good to keep the armed forces under pressure and periodically show them in bad light. Keeps the ISI smiling also especially if they don’t have to pay, or do they also?

Most interesting was the recent TV debate featuring a former Army Commander and a former CAG, besides others. The main issue was purchase of bullet proof jackets for troops fighting terrorists in Kashmir. The latter repeatedly harped on why “procedurally” these bullet proof jackets should not have been purchased. Finally, the former Army Commander asked him if any other indigenous bullet proof jacket was available in the country that be purchased. Our man was dumbfounded but the anchor instantly intervened saying there was no time for further discussion (as if the reply would need eternity), adding he would call them next day to continue the debate, which he never did. What the former Army Commander implied was simply this – am I supposed to get my soldiers shot by terrorists while you “procedurally” sort out how to permit purchase of bullet proof jackets and patkas? Northern and Eastern Army Commanders have enhanced financial powers, with due government sanction for maintaining operational preparedness and saving lives notwithstanding bureaucratic jealousy and the urge for centralized control at any cost.

At Command levels, institutionalized process exists for taking such decisions for emergent purchases. The Integrated Financial Authority (MoD representative) is part of it and undertakes stringent pre-audit. Discretionary financial powers are provided for situations where time is of essence; normal procedure too lengthy to meet emergent needs. Should emergent procurements then be subjected to same procedural requirements?  Have we forgotten what bureaucratic red tape did to troops in Siachen? Till quite recently, the procedure followed was annual provisioning review for procuring special clothing, which commenced on first April only and had no provision for maintaining reserves. Special clothing invariably arrived late (sometimes in October) after winters fully set in. Crucial items like special socks kept lying at Delhi for want of DGQA (Directorate General of Quality Assurance – directly under MoD) clearance while troops got frost bitten and lost limbs. It is irrelevant whether delays were to extract the pound of flesh by DGQA or technical.

Who is accountable for these delays while soldiers are maimed for life or shot/killed without protective gear? Aren’t these perfect murders - read culprits perfect murderers who don’t get nailed? In 1999, an Army Division occupied posts in Kargil Sector, some as high and as cold as Siachen but special clothing was authorized to some 5000 troops of this formation only in 2005 and that too only two-third of projected demand. Who is accountable for frost bitten cases from 1999 to 2005 in Kargil Sector? Our armchair warriors in ministries couldn’t care less for lives of our soldiers; military, para-military forces, central armed police forces and police. The MoD in any case is a conglomerate of generalists, sans domain knowledge, some of whom were forced to visit Siachen when George Fernandez was Defence Minister. Ironically, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (President of India) too has been sidelined through Machiavellian manipulation of ‘The Transaction of Business Rules, 1961’. Even dismissal/ appointment of Service Chiefs are not referred to the Supreme Commander any more. The Committee of Secretaries rules the roost subjugating all ministries including MoD.

The Supreme Commanders watch silently while military veterans return their medals and gallantry awards with petitions inked in their own blood or when government fools the nation with announcements like “Financial Bonanza for Veterans – Government Sanctions OROP”; a blatant lie and a cruel joke on the military. Even the belated correction of basic pay done by the Cabinet Secretary chaired Committee has not been followed up through a government notification despite several weeks having elapsed. Arrears on account of rank pay authorized since 1986 are being given from 2006 only and individual officers made responsible to produce all the documents. Who ate up the lakhs/crores of rupees spent on computerization of entire CDA? But, the million dollar question this nation needs to ask is can the soldiers be allowed to be murdered and maimed behind the cover of red tape? Isn’t time more than overdue to affix bureaucratic accountability?

The author is a former Special Forces Lieutenant General of Indian Army

 By the kind courtesy of http://turningpointindia.blogspot.in/

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