The image of the Indian Army has been badly dented with a section of its top brass implicated in what has come to be known as the Sukhna land scam. The damage could have been mitigated had there been a clear signal from the Army that it was prepared to deal seriously with the alleged misconduct. Regrettably, the controversy was allowed to malinger and was exacerbated by perceptions that the Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, was reluctant to act firmly against his aide and Military Secretary, Lt. General Avadhesh Prakash. Despite an Army Court of Inquiry (CoI) reportedly citing prima facie evidence to the effect that Lt. General Prakash was the key figure in the Sukhna land case, General Kapoor was in favour of milder administrative action rather than a court martial. The change of heart, which came a couple of days before Lt-General Prakash’s retirement on January 31, owes wholly to the very proper intervention of Defence Minister A.K. Antony, a politician respected across the political spectrum for his probity in public life. It was Mr. Antony’s ‘advice’ that the case should be dealt with sternly that persuaded the Army Chief to court martial Lt. General Prakash. Earlier, as recommended by the CoI, General Kapoor approved a court martial for Lt. General P.K. Rath and administrative action against two others; the sticking point was over his aide and Military Secretary.

The four generals are entitled to a fair process, which only a military court can provide under the procedure established by law. But it is important to send a signal that any scent of corruption in the armed forces will be dealt with firmly and without prevarication, even when it involves the top brass. The case itself relates to the issue of a no-objection certificate (NOC) to a realtor, who falsely claimed to be an affiliate of Mayo College, for setting up a school on private land adjacent to the Sukhna military station in Darjeeling district. Among the issues that need to be determined are whether rules and procedures were bent in granting the NOC and if there were security implications in doing so, given the area’s proximity to the border. The Indian Army, which was regarded as an incorruptible institution in the first few decades following Independence, has been affected by a string of corruption scandals in recent times. The only way to check the downslide is to have a policy of zero tolerance of corruption, something that Mr. Antony has stressed more than once. Apart from the moral and economic implications, corruption in the armed forces has a quite obvious bearing on security. It is a risk India can ill afford to take.

Correction

A sentence in “The Generals and their labyrinth” (Editorial, February 3, 2010) was “Regrettably, the controversy was allowed to malinger and was exacerbated by perceptions that the Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, was reluctant to act firmly against his aide and Military Secretary, Lt. General Avadhesh Prakash.” It should have been “linger”. “Malinger” is “to pretend to be ill in order to escape duty or work” and is thought to have come from the French word “malingre” (“mal”– wrongly + “haingre” – weak).

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