Rare gesture

The resignation of Admiral DK Joshi, owning up moral responsibility for the series of warship and submarine accidents in the Navy in the last few months, is a rare and welcome gesture.

The immediate reason for the resignation was a fire on board the submarine, INS Sindhuratna, which claimed the lives of two officers and injured seven sailors. The Navy has been plagued by accidents and  they involved different types of vessels. The most serious incident was the sinking of the submarine INS Sindhurakshak in the Mumbai harbour last year after an explosion, in which 18 crew were killed. The abnormally high incidence of accidents has caused concern in the government and among the public. The personnel of the forces would also be seriously concerned.

Joshi’s resignation has strengthened the idea of responsible office in public service. The tradition of public servants’ resignations in acceptance of responsibility for a lapse under their watch has disappeared in the country. The entrenched habit is to blame others for even one’s own failures. Joshi’s position had become difficult too as the accidents continued even when discussions the highest levels  were held on how to avoid them and steps were being taken. The defence ministry had expressed its displeasure over the loss of national assets. Admiral Joshi said as late in December that the Navy’s safety record was not “all that bad,” and yet another incident soon after the statement made his position  untenable. But it should be noted that the responsibility for the failures is not limited to the service chief. It extends morally to the higher echelons in the ministry and goes down in substantial and operational terms down the line in the service.

The recurring accidents and the resignation should lead to a more serious examination of the reasons for the mishaps. It should cover material and equipment related problems and human issues. There cannot be any laxity  at any level on any aspect because national security is involved. There are complaints that modernisation and upgradation processes are lagging. The Navy’s operational levels, including that of the submarine fleet, are much below the optimum. It has also been observed that many of the recent accidents in the Navy have occurred in the western sector. There is always a routine enquiry after each accident. But there is the need for a more comprehensive study and effective steps to stop the run of mishaps.

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