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Don’t criticise CDS, service chiefs for integrity pledge. Accept corruption in armed forces

Procurement procedures in the armed forces are near perfect. So if sub-standard equipment pass through, it's either because the leadership is corrupt or it is incompetent.

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In public perception, the Indian armed forces are considered the most honest out of all government organisations. Consequently, the increasing corruption cases in the armed forces are always ‘headline news’ and cause of immense dismay. Armed forces are the nation’s instrument of last resort and must not ever fail. Corruption reflects on the leadership standards of the armed forces and affects their capabilities. If the military is dishonest with respect to money matters, then there is a question mark on its commitment in battle. As a high court judge aptly said last year, “Corruption in any department cannot be tolerated but when it comes to corruption in Indian Army, this fact substantially shakes the very confidence of the society”.

Two days after the armed forces observed the Vigilance Awareness Week, India Today published a report on 29 October with a rather embarrassing headline — “Even Ladakh not spared, construction scams force Indian Army to rope in CBI”. It highlighted rampant corruption in the Military Engineering Services (MES), which function under the Engineer in Chief of the Army. In my view, it’s the hierarchy that is primarily responsible for the prevailing corruption in the armed forces due to incompetence or lack of integrity.

As per the advisory of the Central Vigilance Commission, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and the service chiefs took the integrity pledge in well-publicised ceremonies. One can assume that the entire chain of command must also have done a similar exercise. While the essentials of the integrity pledge are already formally codified in the rules, regulations and military law, the taking of the pledge in public, seems to reflect the commitment of the hierarchy to eradicate corruption in the armed forces.

I analyse the nature of corruption in the armed forces, its causes and remedial measures.

Also read: Ordnance factories are now a ‘hurdle’ for armed forces. Corporatisation is the way out

Nature of corruption

Corruption mostly takes place in the organisations dealing with procurement and execution of construction/infrastructure projects. All major procurements are done at Command/Army Headquarters/Ministry of Defence level.

Like all government organisations, there is no direct transaction of money in the armed forces as well. For all procurement/projects, qualitative requirements are specified, tenders floated and contracts awarded to the lowest bidder. All these can be tweaked by the corrupt. Payments are made either when the order is complete or at fixed intervals in projects that have a long gestation period. Payments are made by the defence accounts department after the cost of the stores/equipment/project have been vetted by a competent authority.

Thus, the vendor actually gives credit to the armed forces/government. The people involved are the users, executive officers, approving authority, and the accounts department. Generally, there is an inordinate delay in making payments. The vendors cater for their genuine or inflated profit (depending on the degree of corruption), interest on the bank loans/money spent and for bribing all corrupt officials in the chain. So, the cost of procurement becomes exceptionally high. The user becomes a party to this system by accepting sub-standard items. Something similar happens with respect to supplies/stores/equipment/projects, which are centrally procured at the Army Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence or manufactured in the Ordnance Factories. The latter are notorious for poor quality control due to incompetence or corruption.

In my view, corruption inflates the procurement budget of the armed forces by at least 25-30 per cent. Once in a unit store, I chanced upon locally procured AA battery cells. On examination, I found that the body of cells was soft as pulp. An investigation followed. The cells were made in China and four cells cost Rs 5 in the market. The procurement price was Rs 5 per cell – the cost of the best in the market. All user units had accepted the sub-standard cells. Rs 3.75 had been siphoned off per cell.

The eggs procured for troops must weigh at least 48 grams each  and a dozen must not weigh less than 600 grams. During a sample check done by me soon after I took over as Army Commander in January 2007, it was found that eggs supplied were weighing 25-30 grams each. Forty per cent loss of weight for a million eggs per day supplied to Northern Command implied that the supply, in terms of weight, was short of at least 400,000 eggs per day. The contract had been deliberately tweaked to lower the specification. All supply depots were complicit and the administrative supervisory staff, and users were incompetent.

Consider the India Today report. The works (construction projects) budget of the armed forces in 2019 was Rs 17,000 crore. Military Engineering Services (MES) are responsible for construction and maintenance of all civil engineering infrastructure, which include buildings, airfields, dockyards, water supply and electricity. The quality of construction is so low that buildings are put under maintenance within a year, which ironically is also executed by the MES. Houses built under the Married Accommodation Project in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, had to be demolished and the ones in Kolkata, West Bengal, became ‘leaning towers’. A Rs 125 crore ammunition storage depot constructed by the MES in Kanasar near Bikaner in Rajasthan, had to be written off as it became unsafe for storage of ammunition due to substandard construction.

Also read: Army says ‘poor quality’ Ordnance Board ammo, mines have cost India Rs 960 crore since 2014

Causes and remedies

The procedures laid down for procurement are near perfect. It is the approving, executing and supervisory authorities, users and their commanders who are at fault either due to incompetence or due to their integrity being compromised. It is clear that it is a leadership problem.

The leadership development programme of the armed forces needs radical transformation. If the leaders are not corrupt, then the only explanation is that they are incompetent, which points towards a flawed appraisal system.

Rules, regulations and military law are supposed to bridge the gap between human failings and ideal standards of armed forces. However, it is the same “good but not good enough” leadership that is responsible to enforce them. Failure to do so or doing it incompetently facilitates corruption.

At the user or unit level also, there is a failure of leadership. How else can one explain their acceptance of sub-standard equipment or below-par supplies?

There was veiled criticism of CDS Gen. Rawat and the three service chiefs by some veterans for taking the integrity pledge because the integrity of the officer corps was beyond reproach. I only hope the pledge has strengthened their resolve for leadership reforms. Lastly, instead of focussing on cosmetic austerity measures, the CDS and the chiefs should focus on rooting out corruption in revenue/capital procurement, which will provide enough money for modernisation.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Corruption arises when a small group has the authority to make big contracts. Why not cash out the rations to those in peace time stations and let them buy their own rations. A substantial part of funds will go to individuals thereby bypassing the contract cum corruption network.

  2. The bastardisation of the officers are the root cause of this corruption. Even the milk supplied to the messes are diverted to feed the dog of memsaab, if an item available in market for Rs.1000 for third quality, Rs. 1200 for second, Rs.1300for first , the logistic dept will purchase the Rs.1000 and put a bill of 1200 so that no questions asked….. The Military Engineering Service is known to be Money Eating Service….. and many more…. the AN 32 ‘s supposed to carry the troops are flown with oranges from Nagpur for a bada saahib ka ladki ki shaadi… Damn… Even god can’t help indian defence ….. Hope the CDS can atleast stop the sacrilegious duty of
    a butt man cleaning utensils of an officer and washing the under linens of memsahib.( officer’s wife )

  3. Shocking to know about the corruption, poor quality of weapons, ammunition, food supply. But failed to understand why this General speaking now instead highlighting while in service. It appears all General speak only after retirement.

  4. MES is a tri-service organisation. Unless MES is taken off from Engineer-in-Chief of Corps of Engineers and placed directly under CDS, it will remain corruption infested. Engineer-in-Chief has institutionalised percentage cut across the hierarchy. Just check cut-throat auction of appointments. A major becomes a millionaire after a GE appointment.

  5. Corruption has gripped the Indian forces and now it’s not easy to handle it….. My father was thrown inside the lift pit within military hospital premises and none has any answer not even commandant was bothered of these kinds of incident and try to hide within the premises.
    When a man is not safe and life is in danger within forces premises it’s tough to believe the forces role in our country.

  6. Sir, very aptly brought out. The biggest. Source of corruption is Army Commander Special Financial Power Cell. The biggest corruption is done by the Engineer officers. They blackmail the vendors and extort money like an extornist. The. Coterie of officers from Engineers care a hoot for the Defence Procurement Procedure or the Terms and conditions of the Request for Proposal. If the vendors does not succumb to their pressure, payments are delayed or not made on flimsy ground. The biggest corruption is in the Corp of Engineers.

  7. Defence forces always be a trusted forces across world, corruption word itshelf denying moral of all the soldiers or citizens. There should be a changes
    required in terms of their procedures in MES.

  8. Everybody knows until and unless you clean up MOD nothing will happen.
    The entire top mgmt of the army also flows from it.
    Babus are sucking the armed forces dry through their cronies within the military as well.

    Until end users get final say in the procurement process nothing will happen.
    Also the forces procurement through OFB must stop. If they can compete on quality and cost good, but forced purchases must stop.

  9. We have seen corruption in all govt departments, be it Customs, excise, Income Tax, Sales Tax, Municipal Corporations, Defence forces, Paramilitary forces, Police, public works dept. Irrigation dept. Electricity boards, Railways, Civil Services, Civil Hospitals, Nationalised Banks, Universities, etc. the list goes on and on. It took its roots from day one of Independence and never looked back! Corruption has gone deep in our system. Rajiv Gandhi tried to rectify it but got bogged down. Modi wants to do it but it is a herculean task. No one knows from where to start. Whosoever dare to rectify the system are sidelined or made to become part of it. Our democratic system itself is corrupt. We need a ruthless form of governing system and a clean powerful leadership to carry out complete overhaul. Gen. Panag knows it and so is everyone else.
    But who will bell the cat.

  10. Gen Panag has mentioned about some substandard building constructions, their may be more such examples. Can he tell us if any of the builders involved in such construction were ever penalised.

  11. Once you are commissioned as an officer you take an oath. Nothing can be above or below that. This pledge was an unnecessary exercise and was unwarranted. Pledges don’t make you a saint.

  12. Very candid and thought provoking details. Trust that some measures would be put in place to control the malaise.

  13. The end user has very little say is the process. Consistently refusing to accept, (though could be done) what is “issued” has its own implications on op readiness, discipline and present other complications, the General has avoided mentioning here.
    BUt yes, there is a requirement to change the procurement process to a method other than “call for three quotes”.
    The MES, requires a relook. . For instance, with given land and ready clearances (without extra expenses) for ancillary services, the battery of quality builders like Shobha, DLF and the like will deliver better quality structures.
    I suppose changes for the better are already on the anvil

  14. Since Lt Gen H S Panag discovered anumerous corruptions in his 40yrs tenure in IA, had he manage to report and eliminate the excessive corruption? If not, why?

    Because its the top high caste Hindu-Jews elites of India that are controlling entire gov and military, just like US is sucked on by Wall Street jews. Its either you are with them(taking smaller bribe), or you are against which will cost your job, even life at time.

    Chronic Corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy are part of deep rooted India culture since it was founded by Brits Raj. It just get worst after 1947 without Brits watching over. Anyone dealing with Indians globally knew how corrupted and untrustworthy they are generally, in comparison to Germans, Jap & Chinese. Even Indian feared to deal business with sophistry Indians, that simply excel as lawyers.

    India has no revolutionary & visionary leaders to change the tide, so it will continue spiral downward until its disintegrated. Its confrontation with China will speed up its disintegration.

    Similarly for China, under invader Manchu Qing Dynasty corrupted culture for hundreds of yrs, it took revolutionary legends like Mao, Zhou Enlai & Deng XP to thoroughly root it out. But once corrupted JiangZM took power, he reverted China to ultra corruption quickly. Only when strongman Prez Xi JP appeared to root out enough corruption, could China progress again with stability.

    • Chronic Corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy are part of deep rooted culture of muslims. We are seeing it in pakistan.

    • Shameless Person of most peace lo ing religion who is leftist and riddled with rotten Chinese communism need not preach about Jews and Hindus….we know who U are…what U significance whom u represent….it’s the scum of earth like U who is just parroting the ideology rejected by the entire world.

  15. Dear Gen HS Panag

    Through out ur service u have either been known for being ill mannered to ur subordinates or for favouring ur Dish Antenna types. You could never even handle ur personal affairs well. Post retirement also rather than enjoying ur life u resort to mud slinging acts against the same organisation which fed u and ur Family for 4 decades.
    Do not sell ur soul for few crumbs …. Introspect and change for good.
    Get well soon
    Take care.

  16. One simple question: Why don’t you raised the voice then rather than getting highlights in media? It is easier said than done. Even though I am not in army I can tell that there is corruption. I would have appreciated you when you have the power and you have done something.

  17. The article makes a shocking reading. As it stands, two thirds of our huge defence budget goes for salaries, pension and perquesites. Out of the rest available for capital expenditure including purchase of weapons systems, if 25% is syphoned off by the corrupt suppliers and people within the army, it is indeed a matter of great fortune that India has still remained a safe country. Similar corruption must exist in other paramilitary forces also. In 2019 beginning, a BSF jawan got into trouble by posting a video about poor quality of Chapatis in BSF mess. The public respects armed forces and paramilitary forces for their perceived probity in their professional lives. If this hope is also betrayed, we the people can never hope to see a cleaner and more honest society.

  18. आम आर्मी जवान को लगता है पर बोल नहीं सकता।
    इंडियन आर्मी दुनियां की बेहतरीन आर्मी है लेकिन जहाँ तक करप्शन का सवाल है तो ऐसा आम आर्मीवाले को लगता है की MES की तुलना स्टेट PWD से करना कुछ गलत नहीं होगा, जवानो के लिए राशन, वर्दी इत्यादि लेने वाले अधिकारी भी क्वालिटी से समझौता कर मजे लूट रहे है। स्टैंडर्ड्स ऑफ़ टेक्निकल, फाइनेंसियल प्रोप्रिएटी का उल्लंघन होना तो आम बात है। इसके लिए वार्षिक ACR भी उत्तर दाई है स्टाफ को धन या बल से दबाया जा रही है। विजिलेंस सेल का काम ठीक से अज्ञात कारणवश ठीक नहीं है। हजारों करोड़ की चपत तो लग रही होगी क्या कोई इंकार कर सकता है ? जीरो करप्शन तो छोड़ दे 30% तक करप्शन से क्या कोई इंकार कर सकता है ?

  19. Panag is always fun to read. It is very well known across the country that Armed Forces Officers’ promotions, postings and ACRs are done on the basis of cash payments. All equipment and ammunition purchases have cuts for senior service chiefs, IAS babus, and of course the largest cut always goes to the ministers and few members of opposition to keep them quiet. Engineera in Chiefhave been clowns since the British left India. A soldier has absolutely no place or competences to oversee construction of non-military works. And the MES which is supposed to be a civilian force has been ‘infiltrated’ by the Indian Army’s uniformed officers solely for the purpose of siphoning off the budget that Panag mentioned. It is one of the most demoralised organisations due to this military mischief. Strangely only the army officers from E in C to other officers and other ranks of Army are found suitable to be deputed to the MES. No Navy or Air Force chaps it seems deserve this cushy assignment. And by the way, why do we need a CDS?

  20. If the Babus both in and out of uniform are honest the politicians can do nothing. The corruption of the Politicians is executed by the Babus and in many cases the ways to be corrupt are also shown by the Babus..
    The fact that soft batteries and under weight eggs were caught by high ranking officer, probably reflects on priority levels just as the author has blamed the corruption or incompetence.
    Never heard of a General officially complaining about big time scam other than that of the TATRA trucks.
    It would help the organization if more stories like the under weight eggs and soft batteries are brought out so the people can keep their eyes open as well.

  21. Corruption in services are well known to everybody . VIP plane procurement / Tatra Truck / Jeep purchase / Army Land grab / Store procurement / Poor quality Road by BRO / OF board supplies , even at very low level liquor and canteen supplies sell to civilians . This is truth everybody knows but to keep moral of citizens / force high / and for political benefit leadership and people like me kept mum .

    I want to know What steps General Panag has taken in his tenure when he discovered substandard supplies of battery / egg etc or like rest of us he waited for his retirement to write article in news paper / web portal .
    General develop some courage and hit straight to where you want to hit like solider ….. this veiled attack is for politicians only

  22. If corruption can happen while standoff with China in Ladakh, do pray that, what else is happening in other areas not disturbed! There is no remedy for human greed, dear General.

  23. Would Mr. Panag have encouraged criticism if he were the Chief of Armed forces? Just writing for getting publicity is not correct. Why can’t he put the points in an appropriate forum?

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