Having got the site engineer in Kirkuk accept the consignment of pipes and withdraw her ‘rejection’ note, the journey back to Baghdad had to be completed without any breaks. The 12th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business in Asia in the seventies and eighties
We felt happy that after considering our detailed explanations the site engineer expressed her willingness to accept the consignment and withdraw her ‘rejection’ note that caused us to come for discussions in the first place. After all, she also admitted that broken pipes would leak and such damage could have been caused at any time, in loading to unloading, and even during shipment time. A certain negligible percentage of breakage should not condemn the whole shipment.
With all these matters sorted out, we began our journey in right earnest; it would take a few hours, but, hopefully, by midnight, we should be able to reach Baghdad, provided there were no major military crisis.
In fact, our return journey was just as peaceful as the onward journey; the highways were deserted and occasionally we saw some military vehicles moving about. Only at a couple of places our vehicle was stopped for inspection; the men in uniform were kind and hospitable, offering us tea and giving us the directions to reach Baghdad safely.
We stopped for a break and moved on; about four or five hours later, I cannot really recall how long it took, but we safely entered the outskirts of the city. We had to stop at several check posts before we were allowed to reach our hotel.
Abbas was half asleep; we relaxed for a while, helped ourselves for a drink or two, ate the leftover khubbas with some cheese, and went to sleep. We planned to leave by about ten in the morning, so that, safely we could reach Basra by night, including a brief stop-over, if possible, at Nasriya.
In the next morning newspapers, we saw a lot of stories about the progress the defence forces were making; there was hardly any information about the death and destruction this senseless war was causing; neither was there any data about the casualties in the area.
We tried to get through to our hotel in Basra; lines were unclear and he told us to come a day later, as no room was available. Stephen felt this to be some kind of a message for us not to come, for some reason. He decided that we stay for a day more in Baghdad.
There was nothing to do; it was not a holiday trip when conditions were totally unpredictable. All that we did was to walk on the road, parallel to the Saadoon Street, which ran along the Tigris river. In the past, when I had visited Baghdad several times before, I always stayed at the Ambassador on the banks of this river. Across the river, one could see some nice government buildings and guest houses, including the bridge. In less than an hour we returned back to the hotel and spend the day, for complete rest and taking stock of the situation.
We packed our bags and left rather early; except for greatly damaged roads and destroyed military vehicles, and the army movement, we hardly noticed anything else. Civilian traffic was fear and far between. On the way, we were able to pick up some fresh dates, both raw and ripened, and were joined by other vehicles, which were now joining the traffic, as we proceeded towards Basra.
Our stop-over at Nasriya was short; in fact our host advised us to move on and try to be in Kuwait by night fall. We enjoyed their hospitality and cautiously drove to the outskirts of Basra; here the military presence was visible and vehicular traffic under check and control. There was not much of gun fire, but we could sense the seriousness of the situation by the grim faces of personnel on the move.
At our hotel, the receptionist advised us that as the traffic had slowed down a bit it may be a better idea for us to proceed to Kuwait instead of taking a chance for overnight stay, though the room was available. As our major job was completed in Kirkuk, Stephen was determined to push through and reach home by night. We left the hotel immediately.
The exit formalities at Iraqi border did not take long and nobody even checked our luggage. The no man’s land was crawling with vehicles; mostly foreigners were trying to get entry permits to Kuwait.
Stephen took a little longer this time to get our passports stamped with entry permits to Kuwait, and we completed our customs formalities without much delay. I do not recall how long it took, but by about 10.00pm or so, we reached home safely.
Once we were in Kuwaiti territory, Stephen stopped at a roadside shop for some soft drinks and rest; alerted his wife about our arrival plans and requested her to get some nice food for starving folks from Iraq!
We thanked the Lord for His kind mercies. After a relaxing shower, we sat down, enjoyed our meal with the rest of the family before we hit the sack. We were tired, but our minds were running ahead, as to when we may get our seats to fly back to Dubai.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
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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,