Selection and purchase of motor vehicles for the armed forces has to be done in an open and transparent process. Not necessarily from only the one who has had a monopoly since Independence—and has not done much to upgrade their 4x4 either
General VK Singh has well and truly thrown an angry wet cat into a room full of Delhi’s best, and the grapevine as well as the jungle drums are abuzz with savage verbal exchanges of the sort that would can overshadow the Jeep scandal of the sixties. The chief of Army Staff has revealed that he had been offered a bribe of Rs14 crore by a lobbyist on behalf of a well-known and existing supplier of vehicles to the Indian Army. There is almost no doubt on the identity of the manufacturer involved, or the vehicle offered and rejected.
Corruption in the armed forces is nothing new. If anything, the scale has gone up, and so has the brazenness. Across all levels, whether it is using service vehicles for private use, or taking land meant for army usage and converting it into golf courses or apartment blocks maintained through funds meant for other purposes, or even the way officers and their wives are spotted in full uniform and plumage at airports to welcome their seniors or others—it is no longer only about dipping into regimental mess funds or fiddling with the rations.
Nor does it, apparently, have to do with which government was or is in power. Nor, also, is corruption anymore about being discreet. It is all out there in the open. Even the armed forces drivers on duty in Khan Market talk openly about such things—you just have to hang around the car repair shops there to listen in.
Take, for example, the case of the IAS couple, Tinoo and Arvind Joshi. Mr Joshi's tenure in the ministry of defence during the NDA government and the purchase decisions made by him then in his capacity of joint secretary are the talk of the town. Some of the results were found in his possession during the income tax raids in Bhopal and elsewhere. That one is well-known.
Here’s another one that is not so well-known—the supply of fresh meat “on the hoof” during the IPKF activities. A friend who was on a ship providing support services then recalls how they would typically receive about 10% of the animals manifested—because the supply officers and audits would calculate the total cubics of the single deck holds without realising that you simply can not carry live animals stacked on top of each other. That one is still doing the rounds of the agencies.
Then, moving on from the army and the navy, the scandal in 2006 of fuel adulteration at Pune’s Lohegaon air base—from where the high-end Sukhoi Mk-IIs operate was simply hushed up—and never heard of again. But that does not mean that fuel, adulteration or misuse, is not part of the whole corruption scenario in the armed forces. Yes, we will keep hearing of engine failures and crashes therein.
Likewise, in what is probably the crux of the current matter, is the way that sub-standard 4WD vehicles are sought to be foisted onto the Indian Army from a particular manufacturer. A rebuilt 4WD, tentatively named after an implement used to chop wood with, is sought to be sold to the army at a price of about Rs15 lakh when the civilian version of the same is sold at about slightly less than half the price. Talk to serving or recently retired armed forces officers, or ride by trains past army positions, and you will see backyards full of rotting vehicles of this brand, suffering for lack of spare parts or being cannibalised.
Here it is very interesting to analyse the current position with smaller 4WD vehicles used by the Indian Army. On one side, you have the petrol-driven Maruti Gypsy, which appears to be giving good service, for the role it has to play. On the mid-range side, the Ashok Leyland Stallion and the Tata LPTA 715 seem to serve the purpose in the 2.5-tonne to 5-tonne payload range, and then there are the bigger ones.
But it is the space between the Maruti Gypsy and the Ashok Leyland Stallion that remains in a haze, and this is where the current controversy seems to be centred, and rightly so. This used to be occupied by the now defunct Nissan Jonga of the fifties vintage and the various models on offer from Mahindra & Mahindra. To some extent, you also see Tata Sumo 4x4 vehicles, but not as many.
Regardless of which manufacturer it is that General VK Singh refers to, fact remains, without compromising national security, there needs to be some transparency in some matters pertaining to the armed forces in India, especially in matters like vehicle selection. There is nothing secret about these 4x4 vehicles, they are also used for private and civilian government customers, and their technical specifications as well as performance parameters are up there in public domain.
As a motoring journalist, it is my submission that selection and purchase of motor vehicles for the armed forces, barring the highly specialised ones, be done in an open and transparent process. If that is one good thing that comes out of this whole episode, then the nation will be served that much better.
After all, for a price of Rs15 lakh (without taxes, since these are for the armed forces) our soldiers can pick and choose from pretty much any decent brand and model of 4WD on offer by other manufacturers, too. Not necessarily from only the one who has had a monopoly since Independence—and has not done much to upgrade their 4x4 either.
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)
Maharashtra CM dilly-dallies on filling up key state information commission posts. In a reply to Central Information Commissioner’s letter to the state CM, the latter replied that “he would keep the matter in his mind”, and it still remains there without any action
Key posts in the Maharashtra information commission have not been filled by the state government even though there were around 22,000 pending Right to Information (RTI) as of November 2011, according to Shailesh Gandhi, India’s Central Information Commissioner. He further adds that if citizens and activists in the state are not all alert and voice their protest against this callous attitude of the Maharashtra, the RTI Act will die a natural death in the state, with other states following Maharashtra’s lead in killing the RTI Act.
Mr Gandhi had pointed this out in his letter in November last year to the state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to take up the mater urgently as without key officers at the helm of the state information commission, RTI applications in the state may not be even looked into. The CM had replied that “he would keep the matter in mind”. But months have gone and the matter still remains in the Mr Chavan’s mind.
Here is the letter...
12 November 2011
Shri Prithviraj Chavan,
Government of Maharashtra
Hon’ble Shri Chavan,
I am writing this letter to you, to draw your attention to a serious problem facing the implementation of RTI in Maharashtra. Presently, there are no Information Commissioners for Mumbai and Konkan. The pendency is mounting and if urgent steps are not taken, RTI will suffer a grievous blow, from which it may not be able to recover. I understand that most cases are taking around a year to be decided. By inaction and allowing pendencies to mount, RTI could become dysfunctional and the aam admi in whose name we undertake most activities will stop using this important tool. I am aware of your personal commitment to transparency and RTI, and urge you to please ensure that information commissioners for Mumbai and Konkan are appointed urgently through a transparent process.
It would be a good idea to publish a proposed process and get public reactions and suggestions before finalizing it. It is necessary that the process of selection of information commissioners should be made accountable and transparent. I am briefly outlining what such a process could be:
Various commissions are the checks and balances of our democracy. If appropriate people are appointed, these important institutions would help in delivering democracy to citizens. It may be prudent to select most commissioners who are below 60 years in age. It is also necessary that Commissioners deliver adequate number of decisions and are accountable to people. Information commissioners are not delivering at an adequate pace to meet the requirement. Whereas it is possible to adjudicate 5000 cases in a year—as I have demonstrated—most commissioners are adjudicating less than 50% of this. Those appointed as information commissioners must undertake to deliver an account of their job to the citizens.
Hoping for a positive response, and thanking you in anticipation,
Why did the PMO try a defence that was bound to be exposed within an hour?
Not telling the truth is equal to lying. Not telling the whole truth is also a form of lying. What do you call editing a letter to present a wrong picture that makes you look pure as driven snow?
In my book, that is the worst form of lying and this is what the Prime minister’s Office (PMO) has to done protect the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government in the coal scandal, which looks ten times as bad as the second generation (2G) scam.
The Times of India has reported two days ago that a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had uncovered a Rs10.7 lakh crore scandal in the allocation of coal mining blocks to private and public sector companies. The CAG said if the government had auctioned the blocks, this huge amount would not have accrued as unintended benefits to the companies.
The next day, the PMO released parts of a letter from the CAG, Vinod Rai, to the PM on the Times of the India report. The key sentence, plucked out of context, stressed in the PMO’s press release read as follows:
“….Pursuant to clarification provided by the ministry (of coal) in exit conferences held on 9 February 2012 and 9th March, we have changed our thinking….”
Please note the dots in front of and after the sentence, which indicate that the sentence has been excerpted from Mr Rai’s letter.
The Times of India published the full text of Mr Rai’s letter which gives the correct picture and pins the lie of the PMO.
An earlier draft of the CAG report has used the phrase “windfall gain” while referring to the advantage gained by the companies to whom the coal blocks were allocated.
The relevant part of Mr Rai’s letter to the PMO (this part was left out of the press release) says: “The words ‘windfall gain’ were reproduced in our earlier draft as they were used by the joint secretary/secretary, ministry of coal in their notings. Pursuant to clarification provided by the ministry in exit conferences on 9.2.2012 and 9.3.2012, we have changed our thinking on the expression as in many cases the profits have not even begun to accrue.”
The PMO’s press release gives a clear impression that the CAG has said in the letter that it has changed its thinking on the whole issue of ‘Coalgate’.
But the CAG’s letter says it has changed its thinking only on the phrase “windfall gain”. It says nothing about changing its mind on the whole issue
Liar, liar, pants on fire, as the children’s song goes. And is the prime minister’s nose getting longer, like Pinocchio’s nose in the fairy tale?
No one can understand why the PMO was so amateurish and tried a defence that was bound to be exposed within hours. Is not the prime minister surrounded with intelligent people?
A bit of history needs to be recalled.US president Richard Nixon was impeached solely because he told a lot of lies during the Watergate scandal.
And I must tell you what a wag said yesterday about Coalgate. “Not even toothpaste can remove the coal dust from the UPA’s face”.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)