Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Military Matters: Formation Commanders root of Corruption

Of Matters Military - Probity and Formation Commanders
Major General Mrinal Suman
The manner in which a nation perceives its soldiers has a profound influence on their morale and psyche. Soldiers are very sensitive to adverse publicity as it threatens the very edifice of their sense of military honour from which they draw their sustenance.
Citizens have put Indian soldiers on a pedestal and feel let down whenever cases of their unbecoming conduct are reported. Even minor acts of misconduct carry considerable shock effect. These are the challenges the army has to face due to the high expectancy quotient that it enjoys.
Hardly a day passes without the army being in the news for all the wrong reasons. Resultantly, there is a serious threat to the exalted status of the army. People have started questioning OG’s claims of uprightness, honour and ethical conduct. They wonder if the soldiers are still ‘different’ or have they also got sucked into the national quagmire of corruption.
It is unfair to fault the media for the negative coverage. It is for the army to carry out an honest introspection and undertake necessary corrective measures before the situation drifts beyond redemption.
Numerous arguments are being offered to explicate reasons for falling standards of probity in the army – influence of materialistic environment, soldiers coming from the same stock of the society, inadequate remunerations, rising aspirations and prevalent corruption in the country. Undeniably, these reasons do act as contributory factors. However, the primary cause of the ills afflicting the army as an organisation is the gross pomposity, ineptitude and self-indulgence of the formation commanders. They and they alone are to blame for the current state of affairs. Take the case of Adarsh society. Can anyone believe that three chiefs and other senior commanders were unaware of the complicatedness of the case or else a well-connected sub-area commander would never have been posted back as the area commander to negotiate the case through its tortuous path? Sukhna and all other land cases also point to the involvement of the formation commanders.
In their typical haughtiness, it is fashionable for most formation commanders to condemn services like MES, ASC, ordnance and EME for the prevalent corruption in the army. Undoubtedly, these services are not above board. But the question that needs to be answered is – who is responsible for their transgressions.
An incident that took place during an army commanders’ conference some years ago needs to be recalled here. While discussing some issues concerning MES, most army commanders slammed it for unbridled corruption. E-in-C heard them all in silence. Thereafter, he sought permission of the chief to respond.
He looked at the army commanders and stated – “I agree that MES lacks required integrity. But, it is the formation commanders who sanction projects and take them over after completion. They have powers to initiate disciplinary proceedings in case of unsatisfactory performance. I wonder why tens of MES officers are not being court-martialled by them. On the contrary, allegedly corrupt MES officers get far better ACR from the formation commanders as compared to officers serving in engineer regiments. Finally, I have details of the commanders who are misusing MES for their personal purposes including private houses. If unconvinced, I can circulate the list right now.” Needless to say, there was a pin-drop silence thereafter.
The point being made is simple. MES, ASC, ordnance and EME are under command their respective formation commanders and accountable to them for their performance. Therefore, the formation commanders are duty-bound to proceed against all corrupt officers. Their failure to do so points to the presence of skeletons in their own cupboards. Asking the services for dishonest favours renders formation commanders spineless and it is this spinelessness that prevents them from exercising their immense powers to punish the guilty. On the contrary, they befriend such officers for extracting undue gains.
If a formation commander wants to curtail his electricity bill by loading all air conditioners in the appointment house on the circuit for security lights or demands repainting of the house every year to match new curtains, he forfeits the right to question MES officers for their misdeeds. Of late some formation commanders are known to demand ‘cut’ from MES before sanctioning works.
The same reasoning applies to EME, ordnance and ASC. Things have worsened after the grant of rations. A formation commander who demands unauthorised or excessive rations can never muster courage to question his ASC officers for their alleged wrongdoings. Many smart formation commanders choose to feign ignorance as regards authorisation and receipt of rations, intelligently preferring to leave the whole matter to their personal staff, thereby freeing themselves of any guilt complex. However, their culpability does not get reduced as abettors of corrupt practices.
Many formation commanders possess two-faced personality. They pretend to be no-nonsense, incorruptible, hard task masters in public but demand undue favours from the services in private. Most corrupt demands are justified as ‘command privileges’. This unethical arrogance is the crux of the whole problem.
Indian army is a command oriented organisation wherein the formation commanders wield all the powers. Therefore, every case of corruption should be considered a command failure and the concerned formation commander dealt with as an accomplice. No officer from the services will ever have the guts to cheat if his formation commander is above board. Fear of assured exemplary punishment will be the biggest deterrent.
A few years back, a middle-aged lady was often seen driving a Fiat car in Pune, displaying a sticker – “MY SON SERVES IN THE ARMY”. Evidently, she was very proud of that fact. One wonders if she still feels the same way now. Or, has she removed the said sticker?

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