Monday, August 29, 2011


It would have been hilarious had it not been so infuriatingly stupid. The story which I am about to recount shows how certain officers in our Army, right through the spectrum of seniority, are not only ignorant of military laws but are also brazen enough to go about showing it for all to see. Not realising, therefore, that the times are changing and the average Jawan is not a class 5 pass out anymore.

As you will make out by seeing the accompanying documents, this story is about Sapper Lenin Chakraborty, serving in a engineering regiment, who was put through a summary trial and sentenced to 14 days RI for taking part in auditions of 'Indian Idol' while he was on leave.

There are some Army instructions on taking part in reality shows on television and it was quite evident that the Sapper would have to be disciplined for not having informed his superiors and taken their permission before embarking in the talent contest.

However, in an act which can be called a 'legal suicide', the unit of the jawan first punished him without specifying the exact law which he had violated, thus giving him an opportunity to go to the Armed Forces Tribunal in appeal. Then, it proceeded to tie itself in more knots by writing a letter to the Jawan warning him about his seeking legal redress without permission for superior officers and then directing him to withdraw the petition within a specified period of time.

That such an order is illegal in the eyes of the law goes without saying.

Perturbed by the punishment meted out to him, and perceiving it to be wrong, Sapper lenin, wrote to the Colonel Commandant of Bengal Sappers, Lt Gen Gautam Bannerjee, for redressal of his grievances. Now, this gave an opportunity for Lt Gen Bannerjee to give a piece of his mind to the young soldier on matters of military discipline and the cardinal mistake that he had done by writing to a senior officer.

Then he compounded the matters by pointing out that Sapper had been punished for his "arrogant behaviour" and that he "indicated signs of being AWL (absent without leave) while on leave". Now that is as good as it could get for the legal remedy available to the erring Sapper. Arrogant behaviour can hardly be a cause for a Summary Court Martial and the law would be hard pressed to find a clause in the Manual of Indian Military Law which permits court martial of a jawan for "indicating signs of being AWL while on leave".

Not surprisingly the Sapper seems to be getting some sympathy from the tribunal and the Army is on the receiving end.

What all this brings to fore is the fact that military officers are quite ignorant of law. And in the changing environment where recruits are graduates if not post-graduates, especially in technical arms and services, such ignorant officers end up harming the service rather then helping in imposition of discipline.

The case of Sapper Lenin Chakravarthy should serve as an example for all those who take such cases lightly. In fact, it should be made into a precis and disseminated to all units so that the Commanding Officers can learn what not to do in a situation like this.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Frankly, it was quite expected. HQs Western Command has not replied to a RTI application filed by me asking how and why has the vehicle registration plate been removed from the staff cars of the GOC-in-C and replaced by a plate saying WESTCOM 1 and WESTCOM 2 respectively.

I would certainly be taking the application to the logical conclusion and will exhaust every means available to eclicit a response, but that is besides the point. The moot point is why should the official car of the Army Commander be adorned with such a plate in utter and complete contravention of law? Is this going to percolate down the chain of command? Are we going to have Corps Commanders too going around with KHARGA 1, WHITE KNIGHTS 1 and Divisional Commanders going around with BLACK ELEPHANT 1, ACE OF SPADES 1, COCKEREL 1 and what not?

There are flags, star plates and pennants which adorn vehicles of officers of flag rank. These are meant to inform the observer about the rank and position of the officer travelling in it so that suitable compliments can be paid. What else is needed? The Army Commanders vehicle already has a very distinct flag with Ashoka emblem, three stars and formation sign on it apart from the star plate which has three stars on it. If someone still does not recognise the vehicle then clearly something is wrong with his or her eyesight and adorning the vehicle with WESTCOM 1 is not going to help.

Next, some eccentric commander would want to have stars on the sides of the vehicle also because there are no such distinctive feature there. And not to forget the top of the car AND the bottom for whoever is looking!

Surely there are more important things which should be occupying the mind of a formation commander then just adorning his vehicle with heraldry?

There have been some examples of funny displays in days of yore. But those have not been in any violation of law. There was one Brigade Commander who used to have the star plate displayed on the forehead of his horse when he went riding. Another Brigadier I know had a Jawan running after his horse bearing his pennant! Having a star plate on the golf cart is not even worth discussing here, it is so common.

But violating the Motor Vehicle Act is something else. No one has the right to so that. These staff cars bearing WESTCOM 1 and WESTCOM 2 should be challaned by the traffic police as they break the law with impunity. The Panchkula Police and the Chandigarh Police will soon have to answer some uncomfortable questions even if the Western Command chooses to remain silent. The media will be on the lookout.