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Brigadier gives army a hangover

New Delhi, Dec. 14: The army is finally turning its guns on a worst-kept secret in the country: the diversion of liquor meant for the forces to civilians.

The armed force has sat up after a brigadier was found selling liquor in the open market, misusing his privileges with the service's canteen stores department. Brigadier R.P. Singh was sacked today and sentenced to nine months' rigorous imprisonment.

Court martial proceedings against Singh, who was commanding an infantry brigade here two years ago, have been completed and the officer has been 'cashiered', meaning he will not be entitled to his rank or to his retirement benefits.

Stung by the case, which comes close on the heels of the 'ketchup scandal' in which a colonel was cashiered on charges of faking encounters to claim gallantry awards, the army has decided to streamline the usage of canteen stores.

Sources said 'smartcards' will be issued to all to prevent drawing more than the allotted quota. The defence services' canteen stores department can rank among the biggest retailers in the country.

Provisions from the canteen stores department for service personnel are exempt from sales tax.

A bottle of liquor will cost nearly 25 per cent less in the canteen stores department for service personnel than it will in the open market.

Entitlements for liquor in the services vary from rank to rank. An officer of the rank of colonel, for instance, will be entitled to about 16 bottles of rum a month. At the rank of brigadier, the entitlement is higher.

The sources said the court martial against Singh tried him on a number of charges under the Army Act. Proceedings against two other officers, a major and a colonel, on similar charges are pending.

Singh was accused of conduct 'unbecoming of an officer' and 'intent to defraud'. He was charged with having used his and the entitlements of his unit to draw liquor from the canteen stores department and transport them in military vehicles to Haryana where it was sold at market rates.

As commander of an infantry brigade, Singh would have been authorising the entitlement of the troops he commanded.

The sources said a field intelligence unit of the army found bottles of liquor being moved from the unit's installations across the Delhi-Haryana border in military vehicles about two years ago.

The major and the colonel who have been charged have pleaded that they were acting on the brigadier's orders.

Several officers said they are shocked that an officer of the rank of brigadier should have defrauded the army.

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