Army Headquarters orders investigation into leakage of documents to The Hindu
Defence Minister A.K. Antony has ordered the Army to begin an internal investigation based on The Hindu's revelation that possible corruption in the procurement of Rs. 500-crore worth of equipment had compromised its ability to use satellite images of enemy troop movements and assets.
Sitanshu Kar, Additional Director-General in-charge of media relations at the Ministry of Defence, told journalists on Thursday that Mr. Antony ordered the inquiry first thing in the morning, after meeting with officials.
Mr. Kar said he could not comment on who would carry out the investigation, and by when its findings were expected to be made.
The Hindu had reported on Thursday that the Army's image-analysis capabilities, which allow it to cull information of military relevance from satellite images, were hit by a controversial 2008 contract.
The contract relieved the supplier, Rolta, of its responsibility of providing periodic upgrades of the software — though the Army continued to pay crores of rupees to the company.
Documents obtained by The Hindu also established that the military officials involved in giving the contract to Rolta went on to work with the firm — raising fears of conflict of interest.
Highly placed military sources said the Army Headquarters had ordered a simultaneous investigation of how documents related to the contract were leaked to The Hindu.
Defence experts said The Hindu's expose pointed to serious problems in defence acquisition practices, which successive governments were reluctant to tackle head on.
Poorly conceived procedures
Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, Director of the National Maritime Foundation and a former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said the problem lay in poorly conceived bureaucratic procedures put in place after the Bofors scandal, which was exposed by The Hindu in 1987-1988.
“If the armed forces buy a lemon,” he explained, “it is obviously either because of incompetence or corruption. Now, though the post-Bofors system is ostensibly designed to prevent malpractices, in fact privileges incompetence and thus opens the floodgates to corruption.”
“What we really need is to create a cadre of young officers who are competent to make the kinds of highly technical judgments military acquisitions need today, not committees of bureaucrats with no specialist judgment,” he said. “Task force after task force have made thoughtful, well-considered recommendations to reform the defence acquisition system.”
Brigadier (retd.) Gurmeet Kanwal, who heads the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, called for expeditious investigations into the allegations, saying delays had hurt the armed forces' ability to acquire necessary equipment. Firms found guilty of misconduct could be subjected to financial penalties, he said.