Friday, December 23, 2011
It has been known for a while now that all is not well in the Military Secretary's (MS) branch. It has been suspected for some time now that wrapped in secrecy, despite tall claims of transparency, the MS branch utilises the opaqueness to play with careers of officers. Why and at whose bidding, it is not known. But it may vary from case to case. And now it stands utterly and totally exposed. By none other than the Principal Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal.
The bench of Justice AK Mathur, Chairperson of the Tribunal and the administrative member, Lt Gen SS Dhillon, have blown the lid off one of the worst kept secrets in the Indian Army. That all is not well in the MS Branch and a comprehensive review of how it functions is the need of the hour.
The scathing indictment of the most important branch of the Indian Army, as far as the officer cadre's career is concerned, came as a result of a petition filed by a Brigadier of the Corps of Engineers. Brig VG Gole, of June 1979 seniority, was shocked when he found out that he had not been empanelled for promotion in the selection board held for the rank of Major General in late 2010. As an officer who had been getting consistently good ACRs, he could not fathom why he was not selected.
And then he found out the reason. To his shock he came to know that the IO portion of his most recent ACR has been effaced, or removed from records in the selection process, as a result of which he fell back in the comparative merit. Why? Because of the following explanation given by the respondents when he filed a case in the AFT:
"A reply has been filed by the respondents contesting the position and took resort to a policy decision at Para 137 of Army Order 45/2001/MS which gives them power to efface the assessment if it is found that the ACR of the incumbent is grossly inconsistent or with inflationary/deflationary/ subjective reporting. This effacing could be done after due approval of the Chief of Army Staff. In this case, the ACR was found grossly inconsistent, therefore, IO’s
assessment was expunged after approval of the Chief of Army Staff".
When the bench called for the records to see if this was true, they found out that this was not so. The decision to efface had been made arbitrarily. The bench found out that:
"We called upon the respondents to produce the original record before us and after perusing the record, we are constrained to observe that the powers exercised by the respondents is arbitrary. We have seen the ACR record of the petitioner from 2006 to 2010 and we find that during this period
he has earned seven ACRs and has not secured less than 8 marks in any of the qualities mentioned in the ACR. We also found that the IO’s assessment in the ACR from January, 2009 to June, 2009 has been totally effaced. We do not know how much marks were given by the IO but at least we have seen the RO’s assessment in which petitioner was given 8 marks in 5 qualities while in the remaining 12 qualities he has obtained 9 marks. Subsequently, even in the ACR from July, 2009 to November, 2009 he has received almost 8 or 9 marks. From February, 2010 to June, 2010, we find that petitioner has again secured 8 & 9 marks in all the qualities. The explanation given by the respondents is hardly satisfactory. Learned counsel for the respondents has produced before us a minute sheet to justify their stand, but we regret to say that it is a totally arbitrary and if we may say malafide in law also".
The bench found that there was room for investigating into how and why the officer's career had been adversely affected. They asked for the officer responsible to be pinpointed and ordered that the Brigadier be considered afresh for promotion notwithstanding his impending retirement and also imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 on the respondents.
"It speaks volumes that such kind of illegality can be committed against an officer. This is a serious matter and we are constrained to observe that it requires deeper consideration by the higher authority and they should pinpoint the officer responsible who has played foul thereby affecting the career of the officer. We allow this petition and expunge the effacing of the ACR of the petitioner for the period from January, 2009 to June, 2009 given by the IO. The marks should be restored back and petitioner should be reconsidered for promotion to the post of Maj Gen in accordance with rules. The impending retirement will not come in the way of consideration of the petitioner for promotion to the post of Maj Gen. The petition is allowed with cost of Rs 10,000".
If this is how the MS branch functions and if this is how the Chief of Army Staff goes about rubber stamping the illogical and illegal decisions of MS branch put up to him, then it paints a sad picture indeed of the Army hierarchy. How many such cases may have gone unnoticed in the past? What about the time when the AFT was not there? Such cases would drag on and on and the officer's career be marred for ever by the time he got relief, if any. Criminal, to say the least.
The officer holding the Military secretary's appointment at the time when this particular case took place is answerable to the entire officer cadre of the Army. He should be held responsible and action taken against him for such illegal action. And Chiefs of Army Staff must sign on the dotted line with their eyes open. Regimental loyalties must not come in the way of being fair to those who serve under the COAS. To say the last.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
During his tenure as the Governor of Punjab, Lt Gen JFR Jacob (retd) had the above photograph displayed prominently on a wall in his office. And once, when I went to interview him for a story, he took me close to it and asked me to observe the photograph closely.
When I could not find anything out of the ordinary, he pointed out the face of a lady who seemed to be struggling to break through the Admiral and the Air Marshal while the Instrument of Surrender was being signed by Lt Gen AAK Niazi in the presence of Lt Gen JS Aurora. "She's Mrs Aurora. She insisted on boarding the chopper and coming to Dhaka to witness the surrender," he told me with a grin.
And I looked carefully and, yes, indeed. Mrs Aurora wanted to be a part of history. Lt Gen Sagat Singh is looking at her and Lt Gen Aurora too seems to have noticed her presence and is looking towards his left shoulder. The Sikh officer behind Mrs Aurora seems to be very amused with her frantic efforts.
The fact that Lt Gen Jacob had a not-so-high opinion of his GOC-in-C, Lt Gen Aurora, is not a secret. And conversing with him brings this out. But Lt Gen Jacob never openly said anything inimical about his former Army Commander. It could come in hints, subtly but never explicitly. But his book, Surrender at Dacca, makes it very clear how he felt.
Lt Gen Jacob also did not share the adulation that many in the Army, and out of it, had for Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw. He accepted that Sam knew how to go about building his image and that he had a way of chatting up to the average officer and jawan, but he did not have much to say about his operational efficiency and capacity of higher direction of war.
This too came out in his book and more so during various conversations with him. Lt Gen Jacob stood by Sam when the latter was the Commandant of the Staff College and got into trouble after a Court of Inquiry was initiated against him. Jack Jacob insisted he refused to expose against him and thus saved his skin. But he was dismissive of the tale that Sam called Indira Gandhi "Sweetie" while refusing to carry out operations against Pakistan in the first half of 1971. "Can you imagine anyone calling Mrs G Sweetie," said an incredulous Jacob dismissing it as a tall story.
Lt Gen Jacob has steadily positioned himself as the main architect of the victory against Pakistan in Bangladesh theatre of operations. For the past several years, ever since his book came out, he has been repeating the fact that Dhaka was not the main objective and that it was he who managed the operations so well that India got it's victory.
For anyone familiar with military functioning, the role of Chief of Staff of a Corps or a Command, is well known. In operations the role may indeed be enhanced to a greater degree, but it still beats the imagination to think that the Army Chief by-passed his Army Commander while giving direct instructions to Chief of Staff Eastern Command, then Maj Gen Jacob, to do certain tasks.
However, there is one task which he certainly accomplished with great aplomb and that was obtaining the signature of Lt Gen Niazi on the Instrument of Surrender. Lt Gen Niazi was expecting negotiations of a ceasefire and not a surrender.
Here again, while recounting the story, Lt Gen Jacob could not help forget a unpleasant memory. Maj Gen GS Nagra, GOC of 101 Communication Zone had already entered Dhaka and was sitting with Lt Gen Niazi "cracking dirty jokes in Punjabi" when Jacob entered the room.
Nagra knew Niazi from the time when he had served as Military Attache to Pakistan when Karachi used to be the capital of that country. And both were old friends from the days of the IMA. He reached Dhaka using his old connections, a jeep and a white flag after the ceasefire. However, he was sent packing out of the room by Lt Gen Jacob.
And while Niazi complained that Jacob blackmailed him into surrender by threatening to let loose the Mukti Bahini on Pakistanis holed up in Dhaka, Jacob denied any such thing. Be that as it may, he certainly completed the required task and managed to line up Pakistan Army for a guard of honour at the surrender ceremony.
With almost all principal characters of the drama which unfolded in Command HQs, Eastern Command, in Calcutta, having passed away, with the exception of Lt Gen Jacob, there is no voice to the contrary on all that he claims. Sam Maneckshaw kept his silence, though Jacob's book came out when he was alive and that is that.
In the larger picture, this was the Indian Army's finest hour. Many performed their tasks beyond the call of duty, those in the field and those on staff. In wars and battles it is common place for commanders to get accolades for victories and many-a-staff officer has not got his dues. Maybe Lt Gen Jacob feels that he deserved greater recognition for his role and was denied what he should have got.
But as the French say, C'est la Vie.....That's Life.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
No sooner had the news come out that Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash (retd), former Military Secretary, had been found guilty by a General Courts Martial (GCM) in Shillong and awarded the punishment of dismissal from service, that the inevitable debate began in media and military circles.
Some argued that the punishment awarded was disproportionate to the sections under which the General had been convicted, others held the belief that he was a scapegoat in the alleged "war between the Generals'.
The facts would have been clearer had the media covered the trial on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes facts can be stranger than fiction. The eventual finding of the court and the sentence awarded can be quite surprising once one has seen the trial unfold.
The first case which comes to mind, in this regard, is that of Maj Maneesh Bhatnagar of 5 Para, who was tried in N Area, for refusing to obey a direct order to attack a feature during the Kargil operations. I started covering the trial on day to day basis and very soon others in the media fraternity followed suit. It was definitely uncomfortable for the Army authorities, but then court martials are open proceedings unless explicitly held in-camera.
And as the trial unfolded, the principal charge of disobeying a lawful command looked weak. There began a discussion on what exactly 'attack' means in military parlance and what is the nature of 'assault'.
Eventually, Maj Bhatnagar was found not guilty on this count and everyone thought he would get away with some nominal punishment. But the court found him guilty of acts prejudicial to good order and military discipline. An omnibus of charges which can be levelled for virtually any adverse act ranging from refusing to salute to refusing to wish 'Good Morning'. Maj Bhatnagar was dismissed from service.
Several scribes inside the court were stunned. But to be truthful, I had a inkling of what was in store for him. The Army would not let him off so easily for all the "tantrums" he had thrown during and before the trial. No one liked the way he was telling the truth. 'This was not done', was the common refrain.
So before we all castigate Lt Gen Aavdesh Prakash and hold his responsible for many of the ills affecting the Army and the role he played in Sukna scam, let's ponder a bit and let's not jump to conclusions; even though a GCM has found him guilty.
The main charge against him regarding Sukna scam has not been sustained during the trial. He has been found guilty of misusing his position and intent to defraud. His advocate gave out a detailed statement later in the day, which has not been carried by any newspaper or news channel. In all fairness, his version should have been given publicity. The same is reproduced at the end of this blog.
The trial, which had so many three star Generals as members, must have been fair. We cannot really expect six or seven Lt Generals to be biased in togetherness, especially when another General is facing a trial. At their level of seniority and experience, every step is taken after due deliberation.
But the law can be a complex thing to handle. And military law is no exception. And Judge Advocates may be in a position to maneouvre a trial since regular officers who are members of the GCM are often not very conversant with the provisions of CrPC, Prevention of Corruption Act or obscure provisions of Army Rules and Army Act which sometimes come into play in a trial.
However, it is true that Lt Gen Prakash could have been easily given rigorous imprisonment along with dismissal but perhaps his brother officers spared him this ignominy. Military justice can be compassionate at times.
STATEMENT BY COUNSEL OF LT GEN AVADESH PRAKASH
COURT MARTIAL FINDS LT GEN AVADHESH PRAKASH FORMER
MILITARY SECRETARY NOT GUILTY IN SUKHNA LAND SCAM CASE
General Court Martial presided over by Lt Gen Phillip Campose GOC 12 CORPS found Lt Gen
Avadhesh Prakash, former Military Secretary NOT GUILTY of the charge pertaining to Sukhna Land
Lt Gen Bikram Singh Army Commander Eastern Command had convened GCM for the trial of former
Military Secretary which assembled on 27 Jun 2011 at Guwahati and concluded on 02 Dec 2011.
The GENERAL Officer was tried on four charges and the main charge was under Section 13(1)(d)(ii) of
the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 pertaining to Sukhna Land Scam case and he was found NOT
GUILTY of the charge on merit.
He was also tried on three more charges; one under Army Act Section 45 (unbecoming conduct)
whereas two were under Section 52(f) (with intent to defraud). All the three charges were basically
for misuse of official position for which he has been found guilty and awarded the sentence of
DISMISSAL from service. The truth is that as per official records, he never misused his official
The trial was conducted without giving full opportunity to him to defend himself effectively. The
Court did not allow him to examine eight witnesses in defence and produce documentary evidence.
As a matter of fact the trial was without jurisdiction and had no authority to deal with the case.
When PLEA TO JURISDICTION was raised under Army Rule in Jun 2011 also, the Court did not allow
him to examine witnesses in defence. The conviction is not based on facts and law.
The findings are contrary to record of the trial proceedings which will be challenged in an
appropriate court of law.
COLONEL SK AGGARWAL , RETD
FLAT NO. 504/BLOCK NO. E-9
GH NO. 79