Friday, November 22, 2013


In a scathing indictment of military system of justice in general and senior serving and retired Indian Air Force officers in particular, the Gauhati High Court has quashed all disciplinary proceedings against a decorated Air Commodore who was framed on false charges of having an affair with junior officer's wife for having pointed out corruption in the construction of an airbase for Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in Assam.

The Gauhati High Court has severely criticised the role of a former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Air Command, Air Marshal S Varthman, as well as the present Commandant of National Defence Academy, Air Marshal KS Gill, for the “abuse and misuse” of the “power and machinery” of the air force in the framing of the officer who tried to stem the corruption in the airbase which was to house the frontline fighter aircraft of the IAF.

While Air Marshal Varthman has now retired from service, Air Marshal Gill was earlier posted as Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) of Eastern Air Command in the rank of Air Vice Marshal and was accused by Air Commodore Mrigendra Singh of not acting on his complaints of poor quality of work in the air base.

Air Commodore Mrigendra Singh had been posted as Air Officer Commanding Air Force Station Chabua in Assam which was to station Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters and major works of construction for this project were on. He found that the quality of work was sub-standard and complained to his superiors numerous times to no avail.

In the meantime engines of four Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft were damaged because of the substandard quality of work and this caused a loss of crores of rupees to the exchequer.

Air Commodore Singh alleged in his petition that even though there was a nexus between the contractor and the then Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, he was finally able to get the contractor blacklisted. All his efforts were allegedly not appreciated by the top brass and he was falsely accused of sexually exploiting his junior officers’ wives.

A Court of Inquiry was later instituted against the officer for and phone call records of one lady who was falsely accused of having an improper relationship were also illegally procured by air force officers.
The Gauhati high court found that various irregularities were committed by the air force before and during the course of the inquiry and that the officer was deliberately targeted.

The high court has said in its judgement that, ”The mala fide origin of the whole Court of Inquiry and the disciplinary proceedings is apparent from a cursory look at the time-line inasmuch as it was after the petitioner’s complaints that the so-called anonymous letters started materializing out of nowhere and in March-April, 2012, discreet inquiries were initiated and after the petitioner’s final complaint, in May, 2012, seeking enquiry into sub-standard construction work at the Airbase, at Chabua, the petitioner was posted to Jaipur in July and, within a week thereafter, the Court of Inquiry was convened”.

The role of the Armed Forces Tribunal’s Gauhati Bench has also come in for criticism by the Gauhati High court which observed that the AFT bench had passed orders which were “illegal” and “not sustainable in law” while granting no relief to Air Commodore Singh in a petition filed by him. 

The entire sordid affair shows how military authorities do not bat an eyelid in falsely implicating anyone who do not toe their line. It also goes to show that there is complete and utter disregard of rank or decoration or professional competence when anyone is framed with full backing of the "system". 

More sadly, the Air Force authorities did not even care for the reputation of an officer's wife and her husband, a Wing Commander, before falsely implicating her with the Air Commodore. No senior officer through the chain of command cared to interfere in this blatant misuse of power, not even the AFT, and it was only the civilian justice system which ultimately came to the aid of the beleaguered officer. In fact, the less said about the conduct of the AFT bench of Gauhati the better. Serious questions should be raised about the impartiality of certain AFT members and the manner in which they go about dispensing justice, or rather, denying justice.

Air Commodore Mrigendra Singh's case is a stark reminder to all and sundry that there has to be close check kept on the actions of senior officers who try to muzzle the voice of honest and upright officers. This officer played by the book, did not leak his story to the media and expected justice from his brother officers in uniform, but he got nothing. It is a sad day for any service when honest men are castigated while the dishonest reap the benefits of greed.

Monday, November 11, 2013


I have written extensively in the past on the lopsided manner of dispensing justice in the military, particularly in the Army. Time and again examples come forth on how, either, deterrent punishments were not awarded to those convicted of crimes of severe gravity, or, punishment meted out for certain offences was too harsh and not commensurate with the offence committed. Yet there does not seem to be any haste being shown by the Army authorities to correct these imbalances which have crept into the system and have now institutionalized themselves. The Judge Advocate General's Branch seems to be too lethargic to initiate any reforms while the Army Headquarters seems supremely indifferent to the adverse effect this can have on the morale of the rank and file.

The present case is extremely distressing. And the manner in which the aggrieved officer has had to run around pillar to post is also a matter of shame. And he is yet to get full justice.

It is imperative that the identities of the two officers involved in this case be kept confidential, at least at this stage, even though I believe that such protection is more needed by the aggrieved officer than by the one who is accused of the offence.

The fact of the matter is that this case pertains to two officers of the rank of Colonel who enjoyed friendship throughout their career right from their days in the College of Military Engineering. This friendship, secured in their youth, continued as they rose in their career and there was nothing amiss in their relationship. And then the aggrieved officer was posted to a field area and he had to leave his family back in Noida.
It was alleged by this officer that taking advantage of his absence from the station, the accused officer took undue advantage and not only established deep friendly relations with his wife but also developed physical relations with her.

The aggrieved officer contended that he found out these facts while packing for moving to another station and found the diary of his wife which contained the incriminating evidence. His immediate action was to have complained to the Colonel of the Regiment who was also then the Vice Chief of Army Staff. he was initially advised to ignore this indiscretion because of adverse effect it might have on his child. However, the officer could not accept the facts and made a formal complaint following which a Court of Inquiry was ordered by the competent authority.

The aggrieved officer contended that the Court of Inquiry found the accused officer guilty of the offence and the convening authority, i.e. GOC 1 Corps, recommended termination of services of the accused officer. However, much to the consternation of the aggrieved officer no action was taken against the accused officer and in the meantime he was approved for the rank of Brigadier by the selection board.

Since he was not promoted to the next rank despite being approved the accused officer moved the concerned bench of the AFT which gave him relief saying that since the Army had taken no action against him and his juniors had been promoted the Army should promoted him too. Inexplicable, the JAG branch did not recommend filing an appeal in the Supreme Court in this case even though they go to the SC on the slightest pretext, even when it concerns the welfare of ex-servicemen!

The aggrieved officer immediately moved the AFT in Delhi praying for justice and pointing out how grave injustice was being done to him. In the meantime, after AFT took notice of the matter the authorities awarded "Severe Displeasure" to the officer who was found blameworthy by the Court of Inquiry. Now this is ridiculous to say the least. Here is an offence where officers, JCOs and ORs have been dismissed from service for culpability yet this officer was awarded a milder punishment! What benchmark do authorities have for awarding punishments? Or do they have any benchmarks at all? Are punishments awarded on whims and fancies by persons exercising their power?

Another more serious question which is raised by this episode is whether there was a concerted attempt to ensure that the accused officer gets away and picks up the rank of Brigadier and which is why no punishment was awarded to him despite the Court of Inquiry having been completed? Also, there are reports that efforts are still being made by certain quarters to see if this officer can still pick up the next rank.

It is time for the people sitting in higher echelons to wake up and smell the coffee. Times are changing. This is the age of information dissemination at real time. News travels fast and bad news travels faster. Get a grip on affairs before things go out of control.