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Saddened army chief rues taint on office

New Delhi, Nov. 4: An anguished army chief, General V.K. Singh, today said allegations that his predecessors had tweaked the system to get flats in a south Bombay high-rise near a military installation had seriously tarnished the image of the force.

Gen. Singh chose to air his anguish in an interview to news channel CNN-IBN even as General (retired) Deepak Kapoor met with defence minister A.K. Antony to explain his allotment in the Adarsh high-rise and on an allegation by Trinamul Congress MP Ambika Banerjee that he owns properties in Haryana that are so valuable that his government-paid salary could not have been enough to buy them.

“It is painful to say the least,” the army chief said. “I am extremely saddened and I think as an institution we have taken a beating. In a 1.3 million army this would be a very very minuscule percentage but any incident which affects the hierarchy in the army is a sad thing because it also tries to break a bonding that we have with our men,” the army chief said.

Kapoor, is the only one of the three former service chiefs — the other two being General (retired) N.C. Vij and Admiral (retired) Madhvendra Singh — who can still be prosecuted under the Army Act. Army rules apply to officers within two years of retirement.

Kapoor handed over the baton to V.K Singh earlier this year. Kapoor, Vij and Madhvendra Singh have offered to give up their flats in Adarsh if it is proved that the building was constructed for widows of soldiers who died in the 1999 Kargil war. Kapoor also denied that he owned assets disproportionate to his income.

Inquiries by the army and the navy, handed over to the defence ministry, have clearly said the Colaba high-rise is a security threat because it overlooks naval air station INS Shikra and military assets as it is within the “security perimeter”.

Gen. V K Singh, who took over in the wake of a scam at Sukna in north Bengal, had promised that the force would be cleansed. A retired lieutenant general and Kapoor’s military secretary, Avadesh Prakash, and a serving Lieutenant General, P.K. Rath, were indicted by a court of inquiry ordered by V.K. Singh when he was the Eastern Command chief in Fort William, Calcutta. Rath and Prakash are being tried in a court martial in Shillong.

V.K. Singh said he was particularly upset that the honour of the army chief’s office was being called to question. Officers are trusted by their soldiers to lead them into battle, he said, and the allegations of a scam were driving the morale low. The Indian Army takes casualties in Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast almost everyday.

With the names of former chiefs being connected to dubious real estate deals, there was a sense of shame among the soldiers.

“I think so because nobody knows what the truth is but when it is played out this way, obviously people will start saying there is something wrong. Here is a man whom we trusted, here is a person in whom we had faith, here is a person on whose orders we were ready to go to battle. I think it will hurt deeply,” he said.

“I think it will have a great amount of psychological impact and the second part, which is even more larger is that when people look at it and next time we have cases like this, in fact we have martyrs every day,” V.K. Singh said.

The army chief worried about the response of the public when the army asks for benefits for soldiers and for their families. “People will think anyone asking something for martyrs was doing it for personal gains,” he said.

He had begun an investigation to not only find out who were the guilty but also what was wrong in the institution. The army has recommended to the ministry of defence that it should arrange for a full-scale investigation.

V.K. Singh said the army’s investigation “will look into where things went wrong. It will not go into their motives… we want to figure out where we went wrong as an organisation.”

He wanted officers and soldiers to report irregularities without being cowed down by superiors. “I want to assure our soldiers that if they stand up against corruption, the system will support them,” he said.

“I think it is a personal mission for every officer in the army that we ensure that our values that we learnt in Indian Military Academy in the great motto of Chetwode remains practical… remains in our heart and remains uppermost in our head,” Singh said.

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