Sunday 27 May 2012

The ‘Parachute Precedent’ for self-serving clean chits (Sunday Guardian)

A.K.Antony with General V.K.Singh (left) at a farewell dinner in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI
fficials and their political masters in India are satisfied with "wampum", the gifting of baubles and trinkets, usually expressed verbally, as when Barack Obama made a few noises about India "deserving" UNSC status, only to forget about the matter once he left the country. So it is small wonder that Defence Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony is offering wampum to General V.K. Singh when the warrior marches away into the sunset years of retirement. The Defence Minister will be hosting a banquet (no doubt celebratory) "in honour of the retiring Chief of Army Staff". Not to be outdone, so will President Pratibha Patil, who exemplifies the sort of Indian that her benefactor Sonia Gandhi prefers to others such as Vedic philosopher Karan Singh. He would do better to take more seriously the several charges of misfeasance that General Singh has sought an investigation into. This includes the purchase of overpriced parachutes by the Special Frontier Forces some years ago, from an unknown company that appeared out of nowhere.
Interestingly, the very agency whose personnel were alleged to have connived in the purchase, the Cabinet Secretariat, gave itself a clean chit and refused to accept the COAS' request for a credible probe. Next, we will have A. Raja "investigating" the charges against himself, and giving himself a clean chit, following what may be termed the "Parachute Precedent". Friends of Avdesh Mathur, the officer who headed the Aviation Research Service till recently, say that he made several efforts to get initiated a genuine probe into several murky transactions in that crucial wing of the government, but was ordered to desist by a senior official in the PMO. Did Mathur actually make such an effort, or was he too among the throng who ignore misfeasance in order to either join in the loot or enjoy a peaceful retirement? If he did make an effort, who was the official in the PMO who asked him to withdraw his request for an enquiry? We will never know, just as we will never know the truth about the SFF's pricey parachutes. Those responsible are protectees of the highest levels of effective governance in the country, levels that Antony or Manmohan Singh are powerless to bring to account.
Not that such a system of exoneration is unknown within the country. After all, the Vigilance Departments of PSUs function under the CMD, who is usually the individual eventually responsible for much of the graft "investigated" by these selfsame departments. Small wonder that only a few minnows get snared, while the sharks usually get away, except for the short period when media scrutiny falls upon them.
The Northeast is seething mainly because of the level of corruption there, which is of Laluvian standards.
A quick check of any single state — let us take Arunachal Pradesh — would show that many "completed" schemes exist mostly on paper, and that while outlays have been huge, results have been meagre. Sadly, none of this seems to be worthy of attention by the Planning Commission. If that agency were to confine itself to a study of the gap between output and expenditure, it would justify its existence. While administrations in other countries speak of tangible achievements — for example, Barack Obama mentioning jobs created — in India, the only figures that get released are usually those of expenditure. The spin is about so much spent under Scheme X and this much under Scheme Y. Just what actual benefit Scheme X or Y has resulted in to the people it was allegedly designed to help remains a secret, because in fact, substantive results from financial outgo is minuscule.
Those indenting for the pricey parachutes may have figured that the SFF will remain a non-operational (in terns of actual combat) force for the next 50 years, as it has remained during the previous half-century, and hence that there is no real risk in going ahead with purchases that are alleged to be dodgy. However, circumstances change, and 1962 showed up the folly of Jawaharlal Nehru's delusion that India and China would "never" go to war with each other. Not only parachutes, but in a host of billion-dollar (and multiples) weapons systems, the UPA is equipping our armed forces to fight the wars of the previous century. Smart systems, missiles and high-intensity warheads are essential, and these have to be made locally rather than imported. The country is paying a huge price for ignoring the few such as General V.K. Singh who are sounding the alarm about a system designed less for defence than for kickbacks.

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