I refer to your editorial The Tribune- Jail for a Lt-General- Armed forces must stem corruption dated 21 Feb 11.
It is with utter shame that 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 the 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 prerequisite 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. Something is going to give way. I hope it is not the Army! God bless my beloved country.
Lt Gen SK Bahri PVSM (Retd)
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