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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

From Today's Papers - 28 Mar 2012
Asked Gen to act on bribe offer, but he didn’t: Antony
Vibha Sharma/TNS

New Delhi, March 27
Defence Minister AK Antony today corroborated the Army Chief’s allegation of a Rs 14-crore bribe offered to him by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh, but blamed Gen VK Singh of “inaction” in the matter.

Making a statement in the Rajya Sabha, Antony mentioned Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh by name and said he had asked the General to act, but he did not want to pursue the matter for unknown reasons.

This, and the assertion that he himself could not act as there was no written complaint from the Chief were the explanations that the Opposition BJP refused to buy.

“Is this an issue on which both of them should have put blinkers on their eyes and not inquired into the matter at all? Then we are learning to live with corruption,” Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley wondered.

But all that Antony offered as explanation for his “inaction” was that he acted on his judgement. “If I am wrong, you may punish me. I think I have done my best,” he said.

But the BJP also extended complete support to Antony on military preparedness, procurement and modernisation. Also urging that the matter be settled fast, Jaitley said “Over the last few months facts, which have been coming out in public domain are indeed disturbing... issues which should be settled in closed doors are now becoming a matter of unnecessary public debates, which in subject of armed forces is to be avoided”.

While supporting Antony, Jaitley’s colleague SS Ahluwalia asked for terms of reference of the CBI probe.

Earlier, recalling the incident through a sentimental speech that started with a promise that he would “say the truth, nothing but truth”, Antony admitted that General VK Singh had told him of “one retired General Tejinder Singh” meeting him and offering the Rs 14 crore bribe.

“I was shocked... It took me one to two minutes to regain my composure. Then I told him to take action, but he told me ‘I do not want to pursue it’. I don't know why he did not want to pursue it at that time,” Antony said. “This happened more than one year ago… that is my memory. Exact date they (Army officials) know because no one can meet the Army Chief without appointment," he said of the General’s allegation that he was offered a bribe for consideration of “sub-standard” vehicles and had informed the Defence Minister about it.

Asserting that he would not compromise on the issue of corruption as he had fought against the evil throughout his life, he said: “If I am wrong, please punish me. All through my life I fought against corruption in all positions I held. I am for moderation not for corruption. I have ordered many CBI probes into land scams in the Army.”

Meanwhile, the Congress offered a guarded response on the controversy over the Army Chief's allegation. Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the "right tradition and convention" established in political parties is "not commenting on Army and defence matters", especially something concerning the Army Chief and hence it is incumbent on Congress not to comment. (With PTI inputs)
BSF men brave stones at J-K recruitment rally
Jupinderjit Singh/TNS

Akhnoor (Jammu), March 27
It's not only the aspiring candidates who keep officials on their toes at defence recruitment rallies in Jammu & Kashmir. "Stone missiles" raise a major safety concern. Recruiting officials wear helmets and keep the protective gear ready to shield themselves at such events.

A BSF recruitment rally in Akhnoor today saw officials ducking for cover as the unruly youth rained stones on them.

"This is Jammu and Kashmir. The recruitment rallies here are like this," says an officer, as he ran for cover. A constable nearby manages to avoid a "missile" even as another officer continues announcing the names of the youth to come up for the scrutiny of documents. In between, repeated requests are made to maintain calm.

Even the youth whose names have been announced run towards the officers covering their heads with the bags containing their documents.

In another corner, a group of policemen loses patience and charges at the mob. The youth run helter skelter while the officer on the public address system keeps calling names and in between directs the policemen to "just control the mob and not hit anyone". Two stones narrowly miss The Tribune team seated along the officers in the makeshift tent, where 10 men face a 8000 strong mob.

One of the jawans shows the injury suffered by him when a stone hit him yesterday. He is back on duty and is more alert this time.

In between, there are moments when the mob mellows down, but only to go out of control again.

The BSF had to recently cancel a recruitment rally at Rajouri. The reason: Lack of police security.

"Everyone wants employment. But the posts are limited and the process takes time. We understand their impatience, but they will have to wait," a BSF officer says. "They (the youth) have come from far-off places. We don't take harsh action against them," he adds.

Commandant Yogesh Kumar, presiding officer of the recruitment, says the aim behind organising such rallies is to provide employment opportunities to the youth of the state. "There is age and height relaxation for candidates as per the geographic constraints," he adds.

As regards the massive response, he says the starting salary will be over Rs 15,000 per month. "This is an attractive sum besides the glory of protecting the motherland," he adds.

A group of candidates returning disappointed after the rejection of their forms say some unruly youth throw stones in frustration, "We stop them as this harms all of us. But when the security forces resort to lathicharge or shout at us, more youth lose patience."
Chasm widens between Antony and Army Chief
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, March 27
Developments in the past couple of days have ensured that the ‘trust deficit’ between Defence Minister AK Antony and Army Chief General VK Singh has grown. The chasm between the minister and Army Chief has widened to such an extent that the South Block housing the Ministry of Defence (MoD), virtually reeks of palpable tension.

For officials caught on either side of the divide, the mantra is to “keep silent” and bide time, at least till May 31 when the Army Chief demits office. This morning Antony, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, narrated the sequence of events. Antony claimed, "He (Army Chief) told me that Lt Gen Tejinder Singh offered him bribe, but he did not want to pursue it. No written complaint was filed. Till today I have not received any written complaint from him and after yesterday's (Monday) report, I have ordered a CBI inquiry.”

This, in the ministry, is being seen as a way the mild mannered Antony normally does not react unless he is deeply hurt. The minister choked for words as he addressed Parliament. With the BJP virtually giving a ‘clean chit’ to Antony for his honesty, the war between the minister and the Army Chief is now in the open.

In January this year, it was Antony who put his entire might in the Cabinet to save the Army Chief from being sacked after other powerful Cabinet members reportedly wanted strict action against him after the issue of his date of birth. The MoD turned down some key issues raised by the Army Chief in the past three months. Sources point out that the Army Chief’s ideas to ‘transform’ the Indian Army have been consigned to the ‘cold storage’.

In October 2011, the Army Commanders conducted promotion boards for officers in the rank of Brigadier and Major Generals. The MoD usually does not question the wisdom of the Army headquarters. However, in this case, the MoD questioned the policy which allows the Army Commanders to evaluate their subordinates. After a delay of some five months, the result were declared.

Earlier this month, the MOD appointed Lt Gen Bikram Singh as the next Army Chief to succeed General VK Singh. The appointment was made some three months in advance, instead of the two months that is norm. The catch is that once a new Army Chief is designated, all files are routed through him.
Naxals kill 15 CRPF men
Shiv Kumar/TNS

An injured CRPF jawan being taken to a hospital.
An injured CRPF jawan being taken to a hospital. — PTI

Mumbai, March 27
A land mine blast triggered by suspected Naxalites claimed at least 15 personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force this afternoon, according to state police officials.

The attack happened when the bus in which personnel of the 192nd battalion of the CRPF were travelling to an area called Karwafa Fulbodi Gatta hit the land mine planted on the road, police said. The area is around 45 kms from the Gadchiroli district headquarters.

CRPF chief K. Vijay Kumar who was in Gadchiroli area today left for the attack site, officials said.

According to information available in Nagpur the death toll could be higher as there were a large number of personnel in the vehicle.

Reinforcements have been sent to pick up the dead and injured, officials said. Shortly after the message of the attack was received, the anti-Naxalite commandos began a combing operation, officials said here.

A number of seriously injured jawans were being air lifted to Nagpur, officials said. "I am gathering information and will make a statement" in the Maharashtra Assembly, Home Minister R R Patil told reporters in Mumbai.

According to an RTI reply, Naxal violence has claimed the lives of a total of 10,268 people, including security personnel, between 2005 and May 2010.

As many as 2,372 deaths were reported in 2009 as against 1,769 in 2008, 1,737 in 2007, 1,999 in 2006 and 1,952 others in 2005. 439 people were killed between January and May 2010, it said.

As many as 83 districts in nine states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- have been identified as Naxal-hit, the RTI reply said. (With PTI inputs)
Bribe offer
CBI waits for Gen’s complaint to get going
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 27
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will register a formal case in the “bribery offer to Army Chief” case only when it receives a formal complaint from Army Chief General VK Singh.

Sources said the case would progress only after the lodging of a formal complaint and after procedural formalities are completed.

The premier investigating agency was supplied with the tapes of a conversation that purportedly took place between Army Chief General VK Singh and another person in connection with the alleged bribery case.

The CBI is yet to establish that it is a recording of a meeting between Gen VK Singh and Lt Gen Tejinder Singh. The veracity and authenticity of the recording is yet to be established. The tapes carry a conversation purportedly between Gen Singh and another officer in which the former is said to be shouting.

Normally, verification is done by taking voice samples of both the persons and getting those forensically examined.

Meanwhile, the agency has asked the Defence Ministry to make available a complaint from Gen VK Singh besides other details such as list of witnesses and supporting documents after which it would initiate its probe in the case, they said.

Yesterday, a team of the CBI had visited the Army Chief.
Corruption in the Army
Inquiry must be transparent & swift

Another ugly and unfortunate display of distrust between the Defence Minister and the Army Chief has dealt a body blow to the government. Both are said known to be ‘saints’, but the day after General V.K. Singh alleged that Defence Minister A.K. Antony took no action on his complaint over an attempt to bribe him, the Raksha Mantri told Parliament on Tuesday that it was actually the Army Chief who had refused to pursue the matter. One of them is, clearly, taking liberties with the truth. The controversy has sullied the reputation of both and raised questions about their conduct and inaction during the past 19 months. The timing of the General’s allegation, coming barely two months before he retires and after he was forced to give in to the ministry on the controversy related to this date of birth, raises the suspicion that he is trying to get even with his detractors. The General had, after all, named the same retired officer who he accuses of ‘indirectly’ offering him a bribe, earlier in the month for allegedly defaming him on the issue of bugging the Defence Minister’s office.

The Czech-origin Tatra multi-wheeled vehicles, manufactured by a public sector unit under licence, were being supplied to the Army for the past 25 years. If the quality of the vehicle was indeed unsatisfactory, why did the Army never complain in writing? What is more, it is said that only one vendor has supplied the vehicle to the Army since 1986 and enjoyed a virtual monopoly. Why was then a bribe needed to be paid to the Army Chief? While General Singh’s insinuation that at least some of his predecessors might have been bribed to keep quiet about the quality of the vehicle has stirred the hornet’s nest, the retired officer named by the Army Chief has denied the allegation and any interest in the vehicle, claiming that he has been engaged in only real estate and mining since his retirement.

While the CBI inquiry may clear the mist, the very public washing of dirty linen cannot but affect the morale of the armed forces. The existence of dealers and middlemen in defence deals is not a state secret. And given the combative mood in both camps, the last word on ‘corruption in the army’ has not yet been heard.
Press Trust of India / New Delhi Mar 27, 2012, 13:36 IST

With the Army chief's allegation of bribe offer kicking up a storm, Defence Minister A K Antony today said he had asked General V K Singh to take action but he did not want to pursue the matter for "unknown reasons".

Making a suo motu statement in the Rajya Sabha, Antony responded to questions as to why he did not act on the allegation by saying that he had not received any complaint from the army chief in writing.
He told the House that after Gen Singh's allegation appeared in the media yesterday, he had ordered a CBI inquiry based on newspaper reports.

"This happened more than one year ago. That is my memory. Exact date they (army officials) know because no one can meet the Army chief without any appointment," Antony said.

Recalling the incident, the minister said the Army chief had told him that one retired General Tejender Singh met him and offered Rs 14 crore bribe.

"I was shocked... It took me one to two minutes to regain my composure. Then I told him to take action but he told me he did not want to pursue it. I don't know why he did not want to pursue it at that time," Antony said.

He assured the House that action will be taken against the guilty, however powerful they may be.

"I will take action, nobody will be spared. If anybody is found guilty, whoever he is, however powerful he may be, I will take action," Antony said.

"I acted on my judgement. If I am wrong, you may punish me. I think I have done my best," he said.

The minister said in the past he has taken action even on anonymous complaints from any quarters.
PUNE: The principal controller of defence accounts (PCDA) plans to set up e-kiosks at the seven pay account offices under the Indian Army's Southern Command. These e-kiosks, through a touch-screen facility, will provide information on the status of personal claims and third party liabilities, as well as updates on the utilisation of the budget.

The first of the seven e-kiosks, along with a 'dak management system',

was inaugurated at the PCDA (SC) office here on Tuesday by the general officer commanding-in-chief of Southern Command Lt Gen A K Singh. He also opened a new look receipt section, where bills from the various army units and formations under the Southern Command will be acknowledged through the system.

"The move to set up e-kiosks at all the seven pay offices will benefit about 3.1 lakh jawans," said PCDA S N Mishra, who is the nodal payment, internal audit and accounting authority for 1,025 units under the Southern Command.

"The entire new receipt system has been designed as a bank teller system and will cut down substantial delays in registration of bills and claims, and improve customer satisfaction," said Mishra.

Lt Gen Singh complimented the officers and staff of the PCDA for kick-starting the e-kiosk initiative, which forms part of the transparency process undertaken by the defence services.

Addressing senior defence accounts officers, Singh said, "India is on the rise as an economic and military power. Every citizen, including Army personnel, will have to work hard to make this country better. We should adopt a culture of 'we' instead of 'us and they'," he said.

Following the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the PCDA has embarked on a transparency movement with the objective to provide unfettered access to its processes and output. The computerisation of most of the functions of this office was completed a decade a
Clear and present danger
General V K Singh has brought attention back to corruption in defence purchases, an issue successive governments have failed to tackle effectively. As a result, India is one of the most flourishing grounds for shadowy middlemen of all varieties - Page 3 types, non-resident Indians, well-connected foreigners, retired officers, and even mainstream politicians.

Whatever may be the outcome of the CBI inquiry into the army chief's claim, the fact is that corruption has taken deep roots in defence purchases in India. Almost in every deal, defence firms engage in multi-layered operations to manipulate the outcome of contract evaluation. Arms dealers are not just individuals operating on whims, but are mostly seasoned hands - including retired military officers - undertaking corporatised operations to ensure that the firm they work for ends up winning the lucrative contract.

If market rumours are anything to go by, an arms agent earns anywhere near 4% of a contract, which adds up to hundreds of crores of illegal commission annually. No wonder some of India's biggest arms dealers have emerged as leading hoteliers and major players in construction business in recent years. Suresh Nanda, accused in several arms deals that the CBI has been investigating for years, owns several hotel properties across the country. Sudhir Choudhrie, who too has figured in major defence deals as an illegal arms agent, owns a major construction company, hotels, and is a leading donor to the Liberal Democrats of Britain. It may not be just coincidence that their Indian businesses have received huge investments through Mauritius and other tax havens.

The past practice of bribing just political leaders or senior officials has been democratised in recent years with the competition heating up. Today, from preparation of the tender document to evaluation and final selection, arms dealers try at every stage to manipulate the proces-ses to suit the firms they represent. In the process, they are also able to manipulate India's national security necessities and requirements, taking bribery to the lowest and the highest levels.

Since the Bofors scandal erupted in the late 1980s, India has criminalised middlemen in defence deals. This has driven them into a thriving underground economy where power, politics and money mingle to manipulate defence requirements, projections and purchases.

What has made India such a flourishing market for arms dealers is its over-dependence on imports. India buys over 70% of its arms requirements from the international bazaar, generating just 30% indigenously. This excessive reliance on foreign firms is the key reason why arms dealers are flourishing in India.

India's dream of develop-ing key military technologies through indigenous research has not taken off. The Defence Research & (DRDO) has been a miserable failure as a research agency. National projects such as the Light Combat Aircraft, Main Battle Tank Arjun, indigenous nuclear submarine etc have been years behind target and are nowhere near operational deployment. The DRDO and defence PSUs have together failed to develop defence production capabilities, forcing India to be heavily dependent on foreign imports.

Given its staggering defence budget, over six decades of democracy, and complex security scenario, India by now should have had a flourishing military-industrial complex. The complex would have been not only one of the biggest employers nationally, but also a generator of new defence capabilities and producer of cutting-edge technologies.

By keeping the private sector out, the government ensured that military production remained limited to less than efficient PSUs. These PSUs often take the easy way out and are often mere middlemen importing systems, not efficient manufacturers. The crux of General Singh's allegation is that Lt Gen Tejinder Singh offered him a bribe to clear the purchase of Tatra vehicles, which are officially supplied by the PSU Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML). But behind the Tatra vehicles is a private manufacturer that is making a profit selling it to BEML. If probed well, many other supplies by defence PSUs would show a similar pattern.

Though there have been limited efforts in recent times to bring domestic private players into the defence sector, their participation is of an extremely limited nature. The biggest Indian private player in defence has just about $500 million annual turnover, an appallingly low amount.

For decades, both India and China were among the biggest importers of defence equipment in the world. Then, they took different routes about a decade ago. Through aggressive indigenisation efforts, China has brought down its dependence on foreign equipment. Between 2007 and 2011, while India became the world's top importer, China dropped down to the fourth position from being the world's biggest recipient of imported arms between 2002 and 2006.

India's rise as an economic power has many parallels in history, like Europe of the past. But it is rising alongside another giant - China. All the wars of today and seeds of tomorrow's conflicts are here in Asia already. It would be foolish to expect India to only have a spectator's role in the fraught decades of this Asian century. To ensure that the country emerges a winner in the competitions and conflicts of tomorrow, it is an unavoidable necessity that India immediately and aggressively initiate indigenisation. That alone would be a guarantee that a middleman will not walk into an army chief's office offering a bribe in the future.
How trucks drove the Army bribe row
In 1999, millions of Indians watched as batteries of Indian multi-barrel rocket launchers unleashed fearsome barrages against Pakistani positions on the Kargil heights — clearing the way for soldiers who had come under withering fire as they sought to claw their way up the mountains.

In an explosive interview to The Hindu published on Monday, Chief of the Army Staff General V.K. Singh said the Tatra trucks that carried those rockets were substandard and sold at exorbitant prices. He added that there was no proper facility where they could be serviced.

Had audiences watched the trucks carefully, they would have noticed that the driver sat on the left — an extraordinary testament to how much a vehicle that began to be produced in India in 1986 still relies on imported equipment.

Lieutenant-General (retd.) Tejinder Singh, a former intelligence officer who is alleged to have offered the Army chief a Rs. 14 crore bribe, is claimed to have been trying to make sure they kept being bought.
The politics of trucks

Tatra's fortunes in India have been tied to Ravi Rishi, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi who went on to own the London-headquartered consortium Vectra — a multinational conglomerate with interests in everything from private aviation to luxury apartments. Mr. Rishi's crown jewel, though, is his controlling interest in Tatra — a Czech firm he picked up cheap, amid the collapse of eastern Europe's arms industry after the cold war.

Founded in 1850, Tatra supplies trucks to at least 23 militaries, among them the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. In 1973, Israel was so impressed by the Tatra trucks captured from its Arab adversaries that it began importing them, using Rumanian president Nicolai Ceausescu's cash-starved regime as a conduit.

In 1986, when India began a great wave of military modernisation, Mr. Rishi steered Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's government towards picking Tatra. Public sector giant BEML was given a licence to manufacture the trucks. In the years since, almost 7,000 have been built.

Mr. Rishi declined to be interviewed for this article. The Ministry of Defence, however, said on Monday it had not received a single complaint about the truck, a very different account to that given by Gen. Singh.
The sceptical General

Weeks after taking office, Gen. V.K. Singh stalled an order for 788 new Tatra trucks approved by his predecessor, arguing the vehicle was overpriced and underperformed. Earlier, as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Army Command, General Singh had considered the competing claims of Ural, a Russian-Indian joint venture, and had been impressed.

In 2009, highly placed military sources said Gen. Singh had informally used two Ural trucks to ferry supplies to Sikkim. His staff reported the trucks were better-powered than their Tatra competitors.

Led by Kolkata-based businessman J.K. Saraf, Ural is a joint venture between Russian firm Uralaz and Mr. Saraf's Motijug industries, which manufactures heavy vehicles at Haldia, in West Bengal. Ural did not respond to e-mail seeking its comments.

Gen. Singh, as Chief of the Army Staff, wanted to give Ural and other firms a chance to bid for the Army's truck contracts. His decision to open up bidding is what, the General's aides claim, led to the effort to bribe him. Even though Tatra did not sell directly to the Army, they argue, it still sold high-priced components to BEML — and thus had an interest in ensuring the sales continued.
Hard questions

There's little doubt Tatra components seem overpriced: a jack, for example, costs Rs. 30,000. There are claims that Indian-made four-wheel drive platforms cost Rs. 18 lakh or less, to the Tatra's Rs. 80 lakh — and that the BEML-made Tatra sells for substantially more than it is available off the shelf abroad.

Like so much to do with military procurement, though, it is unclear if the high prices have to do with corruption — or India's complex defence procurement policies.

For one, indigenisation of the vehicle has gone slowly. Last year, BEML's director V.R.S. Natarajan said the Tatra was now 60 per cent Indian-made — up from 21 per cent in 2002. BEML finally began making its own Tatra engines in-house. The truck ought, however, to have been wholly Indian-made by now, leading to allegations that BEML is wilfully importing form Tatra at high cost.

“It's easy,” said a military engineer linked with BEML, disagreeing, “to point fingers, but these are complex financial questions. BEML, for example, imports left-hand drive axles, because setting up new ones for right-hand drive would cost hundreds of crores. There's no guarantee the Army will order enough trucks for that to make sense.”

High pricing has dogged almost all Indian efforts to indigenise complex foreign-made products, because of the enormous costs of setting up production lines to manufacture low volumes.

The Ministry of Defence has long argued these investments are worthwhile despite their costs, since they help India build up long-term industrial capacities with civilian technology spin-offs.

India's next order for Army trucks — some 1,500, to be tested rigorously and purchased through a competitive process — will establish whether it is possible to get better trucks for less money. It is unlikely, though, to address the larger problems that dog the acquisition process.
Consider taking over disputed land, bldg: HC to army
Taking note of the apprehensions expressed by the Indian Army, the Bombay high court on Tuesday suggested that the defence force should consider acquiring the land at Cuffe Parade and take over the 31-storey Adarsh building. “The defence forces are empowered to acquire properties
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adjoining their facilities, use the power and see if you can acquire the land and take over the building,” the division bench of justice PB Majmudar and justice RD Dhanuka told army counsel Rajni Iyer.

“You can definitely put the building to some use,” the judges added while hearing a petition filed by the general officer commanding (GOC) of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa military areas.

The GOC approached high court seeking immediate demolition of the building structure, as ordered by the ministry of environment and forests in November 2011, citing it a grave security threat for the Colaba military station.

The army also sought orders restraining the local planning authorities – the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) — from granting any building or development permission in the area surrounding the military station without a no objection certificate (NOC) from the defence forces.

Iyer urged the court to restrain the MMRDA and other authorities from taking any further steps with respect to completion certificate and occupation certificate (OC) for the disputed building.

Counsel for the housing society responded to the plea stating that the MMRDA had revoked the OC in December 2010 and no one was occupying the building as electricity and water supply had been disconnected. The counsel also disputed the army’s claim over the disputed land and submitted that the structure posed no security threat.

The judges directed the authorities to maintain status quo. “In our opinion, everything else is secondary to the security of the nation,” the judges said.

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