NEW DELHI - The Chief of the Indian Army Staff (COAS) has recently issued a series of directives to root out corruption, ostentatious practices, misuse of privileges, nepotism and lackadaisical approach, among other things.
Various Army Chiefs before him had issued such directives, which were soon forgotten. For instance, General VK Singh had vowed to do away with the colonial practice of allocating ‘orderlies’ to officers and junior commissioned officers, but the practice continues, and even some senior retired officers enjoy the privilege, DNA has reported.
Let us consider a few recent examples of corruption in the Armed Forces. An officer posted at the Army headquarters was arrested for allegedly running a racket of illegal transfer and postings in exchange for money;
Two senior officers were subjected to a CBI probe for involvement in corrupt practices and recruitment scams;
Two former Army Chiefs and seven generals were castigated for taking flats in Adarsh housing society meant for war widows.
Unfortunately, the military’s top brass has made it a practice to brush such issues under the carpet. Whenever there is an allegation of corruption, the military first denies it, then issues a statement that it was an isolated incident, and finally declares that a court of inquiry has been ordered. The proceedings, findings and recommendations of the inquiry are never made public.
Not known to many even in the military, the Regulations for the Army contain an important provision on reporting corruption. Paragraph 317 of the Regulations provides, “It is the obligatory duty of every person in military employ to bring at once to the notice of his immediate superior, or the next superior where the immediate superior officer is involved, any case of dishonesty, fraud or infringement of orders that may come to his knowledge.”
However, despite this obligation, very few corrupt and illegal practices are reported because Section 52(a) of the Army Act acts as a deterrent. It states that any military person who makes a false accusation against anyone subject to the Act, shall be court-martialled and awarded a punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment.
Even if the military takes up investigation of an allegation of corruption, the court is assembled by the commanding officer and his trusted subordinates. Careerism and personal gain usually prompt inquiry officers to give reports that suit the commander. In the end, it is the person who reports a case of corruption who faces the wrath of the military hierarchy.
In a society in which corruption is rampant and ethics are disregarded with impunity in the political, judicial and bureaucratic systems, there has been a concurrent erosion of values within the armed forces.
This has seriously affected the functioning of the armed forces. Corruption undermines the fairness of institutions and processes and distorts policies and priorities, leading to disillusionment. The growing number of clashes between officers and jawans and the protests against the orderly system could be the result of such disillusionment.
The Indian armed forces have been looked upon as a nationalist institution. The COAS must discard the existing paradigm that corruption is an inevitable part of our system and we have to live with it. The change must come from top.
The government must also play its part to reform the law, evolve an effective system to investigate cases of corruption and fix accountability for those responsible. The guilty must be punished in an exemplary manner and inquiry documents made public. The grievance redressal system must be administered fairly, effectively and promptly to dispel the perception that the decisions of the military chain of command, even if arbitrary, cannot be questioned.
The Indian soldier is perhaps the most neglected person today. The judiciary fails to understand the difficult circumstances under which he has to use lethal force; politicians fail to appreciate his work in protecting the nation and pay lip service in times of crisis. The morale and discipline of the Armed Forces are enhanced when the troops feel that they are being treated with dignity, fairness and equality under the law.
We must not forget Kautilya’s advice to the king of Magadh: “The Mauryan soldier does not himself the Royal treasuries enrich nor does he the Royal granaries fill…While the Magadha citizenry endeavours to make the State prosper and flourish, the Mauryan soldier guarantees that the State continues to EXIST! He is thus the very basis and silent, barely visible cornerstone of our fame, culture, physical well-being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity. To this man, O Rajadhiraja, you owe a debt for that very guarantee which is the vital key-stone of our nationhood arch.
Please, therefore, see to it, that you are constantly alive and sensitive to the soldier’s legitimate dues in every form and respect, be those his needs or his wants, including his place in the social order.”