The unusual move of the Armed Forces Tribunal to impose a fine of ₹5 lakh on a retired vice-admiral for nepotism maybe telling, but his actions have had significant adverse impact on India’s underwater nuclear capabilities.
Responding to the petition filed by Commander S.S. Luthra, the AFT said it was “disturbing and surprising that the Indian Navy does not have an inbuilt system to ensure such probable occurrence between relatives are addressed institutionally, so that such a situation, as occurred in this case, does not manifest”.
Commander Luthra had alleged that Vice-Admiral P.K. Chatterjee, Inspector General, Nuclear Safety had systematically favoured his son-in-law Capt. A.V. Agashe by discriminating against Luthra and other competent officers, most of them pioneers trained in Russia to run the reactors of nuclear submarines, in the nuclear submarine arm of the Navy.
Admiral Chatterjee not only “intervened in the case of the applicant and brought down his quantitative assessment convincingly, but he has in the same period steeply upgraded the quantitative assessment of his son-in-law,” the AFT said. It also pointed out that all officers in the chain of reporting of Capt. Agashe were officers who were directly or indirectly reporting to his father-in-law.
Admiral Chatterjee “at no stage has made known to Navy the fact that he was consistently reporting on his son-in-law and when not reporting was fully in the position of influencing” his son-in-law’s command chain, the AFT order said.
Damage to nuclear arm
The AFT order tellingly captures what the nepotism of the senior Admiral has done to the Navy’s nuclear submarine arm.
The order points out that the Navy has until now inducted two nuclear submarines – INS Chakra and INS Arihant . INS Chakra was the first nuclear submarine and it was leased from Russia to India. A total of seven officers were trained as Reactor Operators in Russia. Commander Luthra was one of those pioneering seven officers aboard INS Chakra who were trained in Russia at an exorbitant cost. In contrast, INS Arihant is the submarine which was made in India and the crew had been trained domestically, and Capt. Agashe was aboard Arihant .
The order points out that Commander Luthra was sent to Russia twice for a total duration of approximately 40 months for his training. Commander Luthra presented before the AFT that the nepotism was visible in the promotion boards: “In the results of Promotion Board 2B/14, where no Reactor Operator other than his son-in-law Capt. A.V. Agashe, was promoted. In PB 2B/14 and PB 2/15, no Reactor Operator from INS Chakra was promoted,” Luthra submitted in the AFT.
The board ordered that Commander Luthra, who has already opted for premature retirement, be considered for promotion to the rank of Captain with his original batch.
However, the damage done to the nuclear arm and the massive losses incurred in the expensive training is forever, admit Navy officers.