Friday, July 4, 2014

M.G. Devasahayam - The Haze Of Allegations

Census 2011 data reveals that India has the largest student population in the world. This ‘great asset’ of India is increasingly coming under the influence of drugs and narcotics. There have been disturbing reports of large number of youth, particularly students in the border states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Northeast succumbing to this deadly ‘intoxication’. This is facilitated by a steady flow of drugs from the Golden Triangle of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar into Manipur and Nagaland for distribution to markets throughout the country. 

Drugs lobby have long compromised the police and para-military forces making the country’s western and eastern borders porous. Now they are reportedly penetrating in to the Indian military to achieve what they have already done in the uniformed forces on the India-Myanmar, India-Nepal and the India-Pakistan borders The incentives are very lucrative— considering the fact that one kilogram of heroin costing between Rs 70-80,000 in Pakistan and Myanmar fetches anything up to Rs 4 lakhs in India. The smuggling that takes place is in tonnes and the moolah raked is in millions. So the money is big and is very attractive to those who want to ‘live high’ while earning fixed incomes in their military career. 

Here is where the concern comes in and is reflected in the ongoing legal battle between two of the senior most Lieutenant Generals of the Indian Army—Dalbir Singh Suhag and Ravi Dastane. Recently, there was a controversy about the tearing hurry in which the appointment of the former as Chief of the Indian Army was announced by the UPA government after it was virtually voted out. Strangely enough this appointment was confirmed by the acting defence minister of NDA government the day he took charge and was re-confirmed in the Rajya Sabha, though a writ petition filed by Lt Gen Dastane against the seniority of Lt. Gen Suhag was pending in the Supreme Court. 

The Apex Court has finally come around to hearing the petition in the second week of July. It was to have been heard on May 2, but the ministry of defence (MoD) under A.K. Antony got it deferred to September which would have rendered the case infructuous and facilitated the implementation of the ‘line of succession’ drawn up by the UPA and adhered to by the NDA government without let or hindrance. In the event, Suhag would become Army Chief on 1st August 2014 and Lt Gen Dastane would superannuate on August 31. 

Dastane’s case hinges on the actions taken by General Bikram Singh who took over as the CoAS from General V.K. Singh on June 1, 2012.  It is alleged that a cabal of bureaucrats in the MoD, purportedly having links with the arms lobby and drug traffickers, is hell bent on ensuring the status quo ante. Inter alia Dastane’s writ petition points out that the MoD had put up only two names to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet to fill the vacancy of two Army Commanders in the summer of 2012. According to rules, four names should have been submitted which would have automatically included Dastane’s as well. Suhag was then under Discipline & Vigilance (DV) Ban and therefore not eligible to be promoted. Had Dastane got his rightful promotion as Army Commander then, he would have been the one in line to succeed Bikram Singh as the CoAS based on the principle of seniority and unblemished service record. 

The DV Ban imposed on Lt-Gen Suhag, then General Officer Commanding 3 Corps, was based on the advice and recommendation of the Judge Advocate General and Vigilance branches of the Army Headquarters for the command failure to take appropriate action in the Dimapur fake encounter case and the Jorhat dacoity case. While the triple-murder in the fake encounter case was hushed up, the Court of Inquiry by the Army and later Court Martial found the Intelligence Unit working directly under the 3 Corps Commander fully responsible for the Jorhat dacoity. Recovery of most of the loot from the officers of the unit by the police further proved its involvement. 

Though concealed by MoD and spun differently by the media, the main accusation against Suhag is that by not initiating stringent action he was shielding the Colonel commanding the Intelligence Unit that had indulged in the above cases of murder and dacoity. Because of this, the victims in both cases were forced to approach the Guwahati High Court for justice, which is pending. This particular Colonel faces several other allegations, the most significant of them being narcotics smuggling on the Indo-Myanmar border by abusing Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This has not been refuted so far. MoD officials have only come out with childish excuses that Lt. General Suhag was either not in station or was on leave when these horrific offences were committed by officers directly under his command. They also ensured the promotion of Suhag as Army Commander by, it is alleged, illegally overturning the DV Ban against him. This has now become the bone of contention in Dastane’s writ petition in the Supreme Court. 

As is their wont, in this case also, Army brass and MoD have been indulging in deception, falsehood and character assassination of those raising these concerns. And they are determined to bulldoze the appointment of Lt General Suhag as next Army Chief come what may. It is only hoped that the Apex Court would go into all aspects of the case and render justice. It is also time Prime Minister took charge of matters and sort out the MoD mess before it is too late. Because what is at stake is not mere national security but the nation’s very future.