Of lies, deceptions and scams: The biggest scandals of the Indian Armed Forces

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Image credit: INS Kalvari at sea trials. By Indian Navy, CC BY 2.5 in, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48541427

The leaking of highly sensitive data regarding the Scorpene submarine, designed and developed by French naval defence company DCNS, and running to around 20,400 pages, has been identified as a potential threat risk to India, if the papers end up in the hands of an enemy. On its part, DCNS has obtained a court order which restricts the paper that had published the data, ‘The Australian’, from releasing further leaked documents. The company has also implied that the leaking of the data might have occurred from India’s end, rather than France.

While the Indian Navy has since jumped into damage control mode, and is trying to ascertain the level of security threat that the documents pose, this is not the first time that the Armed Forces has been caught in a difficult position. We take a look at some of the biggest scandals that have rocked the Armed Forces:

Adarsh Scam: A 31-storey building, which was constructed in the prime Colaba locality of Mumbai, and was meant to house war widows and Indian defence personnel, was being used by politicians, bureaucrats and military officers, who over the years, had bent various rules to get flats allotted to them below the market rates. This scandal was exposed in 2010 by a newspaper, and led to the resignation of Maharashtra CM, Ashok Chavan.

Kargil coffin scam: Post the Kargil War of 1999, between India and Pakistan, allegations arose over corruption in the purchase of coffins by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government. The charges were that the Government had purchased 500 caskets from the US based company, Buitron and Baiza, for USD 2500 each, which is 13 times the original amount. This led to a loss of USD 1,87,000. While the three Indian Army officers Major General Arun Roye, Colonel SK Malik and Colonel FB Singh were named in the chargesheet filed by the CBI, the Supreme Court of India, in October 2015, gave a clean chit to the then Defence Minister George Fernandez and former Prime Minister, Vajpayee.

Bofors Scam: A major political scandal that rocked the Armed forces and the nation, the Bofors Scam relates to illegal kickbacks which were paid to Swedish and Indian government officials in the US$ 1.4 billion deal between Swedish arms manufacturer, Bofors, and the government of India, under the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This was for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns, and a supply contract of almost twice that amount. The story was first broken by an investigative piece done by Reuters, which was then followed up by The Hindu and journalist Chitra Subramaniam, who procured over 350 documents which detailed the payoffs.

Barak missile scandal: Jointly developed by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and RAFAEL Armament Development Authority of Israel, contracts had been signed in October, 2000, for the procurement of seven Barak missile systems at a total cost of USD 199.50 million and 200 missiles at USD 69.13 million. Though many groups had objected to the purchases, including the team that originally visited Israel to observe the missile’s performance and A.P.J Abdul Kalam, who was heading the DRDO then, the procurement was carried out, and as per the CBI, at a much higher rate than initially quoted by Israel. The corruption came to light when the Tehelka magazine, as part of its Operation West End tapes, showed several senior defence personnel and ministers, R K Jain, treasurer of Samata Party and close aide of George Fernandes, discussing bribes paid for defence deals, including for Barak missile purchase. The case was, however, closed in 2013, with the CBI admitting that it had no evidence to nail the accused, which included Fernandes, Jain, ex-president of Samata Party Jaya Jaitly, former Navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar and businessman Suresh Nanda.

AugustaWestland scam: The Congress led UPA Government, in 2010, signed a contract with Italian helicopter manufacturer, AugustaWestland, to purchase 12 AugustaWestland AW101 choppers for the Air Force to carry the President, Prime Minister, and other VVIPs. On 12 February, 2013, Bruno Spagnolin, the CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AugustaWestland, was arrested by Italian authorities on charges of bribing middlemen, while trying to get the deal with the Indian Air Force, and it was put on hold. The then Defence Minister, AK Antony, ordered a probe the following day. The Italian court, in 2014, named former IAF cheif SP Tyagi, stating that he had been bribed by Finmeccanica for the deal, but later, in 2015, an Italian court found that there was no evidence of corruption in the deal.

Sukna Land scandal: In 2008, military officers transferred a a 71-acre civilian land, adjacent to the military cantonment in Sukna in West Bengal, to a private real estate developer on the pretext of building an educational institution. Since it was near the military establishment, an NOC was required. Avadesh Prakash, who was serving as the secretary to Army Chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, was found guilty of influencing Lt Gen PK Rath, Commander of the 33 Corps, to issue an NOC. While, in 2011, a court martial found Gen Rath, and five others, guilty of issuing the NOC to the builder, the court martial of Gen Rath was quashed in September, 2014, as the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) did not find any irregularities in the issuing of the NOC, especially since it was on private land.

Samba spy scandal: In 1979, 50-odd persons, including two officers and six other ranks of its 168 Infantry Brigade and its subordinate units at Samba, 40 km from Jammu on the international border, were arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan at the insistence of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (MI), after of two self-confessed Pakistani spies, Sarwan Dass and Aya Singh, revealed their names. In 1994, however, Dass came out with the shocking revelation that he had falsely implicated the officials, under extreme duress. It was found out that the entire case of spying had been fabricated by the army. The revelation came after those accused of spying, spent their main years in prison, where they were subjected to torture, and their families had to live in poverty.

Army recruitment scandal: Sukhpritsingh Arjunsingh Randhawa, a retired army colonel, was recently arrested on charges of recruiting candidates into the army, at the Artillery Centre in Nashik, using fake documents. Upon interrogation, the four men admitted to have paid Rs 6 lakhs to get recruited in the Army. A total of seven people, including the retired Colonel, and an agent, have been arrested in connection with the case so far. This is just one among the many such recruitment scams that have happened in the Armed Forces.