Antony's dictat

The recommendation by defence minister A K Antony to court martial two Army generals and to punish two other generals for their alleged involvement in a land scam is clearly aimed at taking the sting out of a corruption case that could potentially prove embarrassing for the UPA government.

But Antony’s act of deliverance may not in itself redeem the Army from a growing public perception that all is not well with the institution. The virus of corruption has crept deep into the institution and superior officers have come under the corruption cloud from time to time, including in contracts for hardware acquisitions. The land scam, for which three lieutenant generals and a major general will face disciplinary and administrative actions, is a rare opportunity for the UPA government to clean up the armed forces which are extremely reluctant to make any earnest commitment to free themselves from corrupt practices.

The barren stretch of land spread over an area of 72 acres in Sukna in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district was in the process of being handed over to the Army by the state government. Technically, therefore, the Army had a say in any privately-driven development project on the land in question. The generals, primarily Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, allegedly bent rules and procedures to ensure that a realtor, believed to be his relative, got possession of the land close to the headquarters of the 33rd Corps. They also allegedly lobbied hard for the Mayo college brand name for a school which the realtor wanted to set up. On the face of it, this might appear to be a chicken-feed scam when compared to some of the highly controversial deals made during the Kargil war and sundry other tainted acquisitions the three defence services have made in the past. These have tarnished the image of a fighting force, reputed to be one of the meanest on the battlefield.

A minister of impeccable integrity, Antony’s attempt to clean up the Augean stables is a signal to the three armed services that the government will not allow corruption to wreck the defence forces, especially a bloated Army, which must have competent and professional leadership. India’s military management has a poor track record. Successive governments have erred on the side of caution over the desirability of seeking transparency and accountability in the armed forces. Time has come to address these issues.

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