New Delhi, Oct. 28: The charge of the “booze brigade” in the Indian Army has led investigators to probe the army’s slush funds.
A court martial due to begin next week in Jabalpur is set to throw up questions for the first time on how officers have found money for jam in military intelligence funds.
Two brigadiers who were initially alleged to have helped a superior officer filch army rum are now in the dock. The officers have been indicted by a court of inquiry for siphoning cash out of the treasury of the army’s Military Intelligence (MI) wing.
Cash allotted to such a head comes largely from non-public funds and are rarely audited. They are meant chiefly for MI officials to buy information and maintain sources of intelligence. In operational areas — such as in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast — human rights activists have alleged that the army misuses these funds.
But when the army itself gathered evidence against brigadiers Rajeev Devikar and Rajender Singh Rana, there was little to indicate that the probe would lead to a leak in its hush money coffer. The court of inquiry began after the two officers were suspected to have been accomplices of their superior, cashiered Major General Gur Iqbal Singh Multani.
Multani, who was the commanding officer of the Bareilly-headquartered 6 division, was stripped of his rank and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment by a court martial last year. The case against him opened up accidentally when truckloads of army booze were intercepted while they were being despatched to his hometown in Punjab.
In subsequent questioning, Multani confessed that he was not alone in the business. He had also taken money from four brigadiers who were his juniors.
Two of the brigadiers — D.S. Grewal and Ilangovan — were court-martialled earlier in the year. Grewal was indicted but Ilangovan, who took the plea that he had loaned money to Multani, was let off.
Now it is the turn of brigadiers Devikar and Rana who will face a court martial presided over by Major General R.K. Sanan of the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Jabalpur.
Evidence gathered against them have led the army’s prosecutors to believe that Devikar, who was commanding officer of the 71 Mountain Brigade based in Shahjahanpur, and Rana, commanding officer of the 6 Mountain Artillery Brigade, had accessed funds meant for field officers of the MI wing under their command.
The amounts involved are not really huge — Devikar is alleged to have taken Rs 1.30 lakh and Rana Rs 60,000 from the till between February and June 2005. But it is the access to the secret funds, and the ease with which they have been able to manipulate the system, that has army headquarters concerned.