The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Coup at 11th hour
- Nepotism charge as Pranab promotes

New Delhi, Aug. 1: Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee last night promoted two major generals of the army to lieutenant generals, accommodated them in additional posts and has immediately run into allegations of nepotism from senior officers at army headquarters.

The papers to promote the two officers were processed in a hurry at the last hour because one of the two lieutenant generals, Utpal Bhattacharya, would have retired today as a major general. His promotion to lieutenant general gives him at least two more years in service.

The other officer is Lieutenant General Ashok Saini, who is marginally senior to Bhattacharya. Saini would have been due for retirement as major general at the end of August.

Asked for the defence minister’s version, sources in his office said: “There is nothing unusual about people being promoted at the last minute. These officers were empanelled for promotion a long time ago. Wherever vacancies are available, administrative adjustment is made to accommodate ranking officials. We are not playing favourites and are simply trying to retain meritorious officers in the service.” A source close to the defence minister said allegations of malpractice were being levelled because some generals from among the army brass were lobbying against one of the officers.

The major generals were promoted and accommodated in posts that do not carry the gravitas and urgency of crucial posts such as the vice-chief of air staff and deputy chief of air staff that are held by air marshal (equivalent to lieutenant general) rank officers in the air force.

The vice-chief of air staff is directly responsible for all air operations, an office that pulls considerably more weight than that of a director-general (environment). In an unusual departure from convention, the government has failed to name a vice-chief for the air force after Air Marshal S.K. Malik laid down office on July 29.

Lieutenant General Bhattacharya has been accommodated as director-general (environment) and Saini as director-general (Employees Contributory Health Scheme). The posts were with two separate research organisations under the defence ministry but have now been placed at the disposal of Army Headquarters.

The immediate response among major generals and lieutenant generals at Army Headquarters has been one of disgust. They allege that one of the officers is related to a senior politician.

Army Headquarters has been pleading with the government to increase the number of lieutenant general rank posts to about 150 because the service was losing competent senior officers at a fast rate even after they were cleared for promotion. There are 64 lieutenant generals in the army, which has projected a need for about 120 in the three-star general rank.

Sources in Army Headquarters cite the examples of two major generals who were forced to retire in the last three months because no post was available to accommodate them ' Major General R.K. Singh, who was major general (general staff) at Eastern Command and Major General Kunal Mukherjee, who was additional director-general (weapons and equipment).

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