As corruption goes towering in the India army, a serving general on his path to becoming the deputy chief of army staff is about to face a court martial on financial irregularities.
The former Commander of 33rd Corps of the Indian army, Lt Gen P K Rath will face a court martial starting August 30 for his role in issuing a no-objection certificate to a private realtor, Dilip Agarwal, for building an educational institution on a 70-acre piece of land adjacent to the Sukna military station in West Bengal, Defence Ministry sources said in New Delhi on Friday.
The General had earlier challenged the move in the Delhi High court which was dismissed.
Orders for convening of the court martial have been issued after the Summary of Evidence (SOE) held against Lt Gen Rath recommended the continuation of disciplinary proceedings against him while the Court Martial will be headed by a three-star General, senior to Rath.
The 33 Corps, headquartered in Sukna, was facilitating underhand commerce in a corridor it is tasked to protect militarily. The area of responsibility of the 33 Corps is on the China front and includes territory in Sikkim, north Bengal and Bhutan. However the Officers Commanding and the Military Secretary, Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, in charge of posting the officers and troops, not only ignored security concerns in allowing a commercial project on land adjacent to its headquarters but also actively facilitated Agarwal’s venture.
They bent rules, altered policies, escorted the realtor, ignored the higher (Eastern) command, tailored formal agreements to suit the deal and put pressure on juniors to hurry it through while they kept suppressing evidence, the Court of Inquiry had found. All the while, the Military Secretary was in constant touch with Agarwal. Lt Gen. Prakash introduced Agarwal to Lt General Rath, the then 33 Corps Commander and deputy chief-designate (now the appointment has been cancelled), as a family friend, the court of inquiry said in its report forwarded to army headquarters.
Agarwal used to visit the Military Secretary in his house in Delhi. Agarwal and Lt Gen. Prakash were likely to have met when the military secretary served as commander of the Indian Military Training Team (Imtrat) in Bhutan, within the 33 Corps’ area of responsibility.
Agarwal issued a media release in Siliguri on December 31, 2009 in which he said: “The question of an ‘army land scam’ does not arise. The land never belonged to the army and the controversy is unnecessary.” However, toeing Agarwal’s line, a day after the show-cause notices were issued, Army Headquarters officials said that they did not know why the then Eastern Army commander and now Army Chief had recommended such strong action (“termination of service”) against the military secretary and Commander 33rd Corps.
The controversy also relates to a “tea tourism” project to build villas and malls in an estate surrounded by army units. When construction was stopped, an “education” project was proposed to get around the ban. The Court of Inquiry found that Agarwal had floated the Geetanjali Education Trust registered in Ghaziabad in 2001. “It has not functioned in a true sense and has constructed no school or college so far,” the report said. Agarwal was “reluctant to part with information regarding his companies”. Yet, the 33 Corps Headquarters entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with him after deleting “Paragraph 17″ of the draft. The report describes this clause as “the most potent” paragraph because it gave rights to the army to terminate the MoU “on security grounds”.
In their review of the case, the investigators reported that the Chumta Tea Estate spread over 2,711 acres was on a 33-year lease from the Bengal government. It is inside the Sukna military station and is surrounded by army units. Of this land, nearly 72 acres were barren and was handed over to the Bengal government. The Bengal government in turn offered it on lease to four firms (Mata Vaishnodevi Mercantile Pvt Ltd, Sheetla Vyapaar Pvt Ltd, Akshara Vanijya Pvt Ltd and JF Low and Co Ltd) represented by S. Bajoria. “The barren portion of 71.55 acres is enclosed like a lobe within the tea garden, with one side literally bordering the (33) Corps Headquarters,” the CoI report said and pointed out that “the sensitivities of the Siliguri Corridor also necessitated that no civil construction be permitted in the close proximity of the Corps Headquarters”.
In February 2008, the army discovered in newspaper reports that the barren land was being developed for “tea tourism” and would include a film city, villas and malls. The then Commander of 33rd Corps, Lt Gen. Deepak Raj, informed the Eastern Army Commander and told the Bengal government’s Chief Secretary that all construction on the land must be stopped. The Bengal government agreed and gave the orders accordingly.
“The army’s objections to civilian construction on Chumta Tea Estate were based on security implications, arising out of proximity of the site to corps headquarters and Ascon (the army’s dedicated telecommunications network) node,” the CoI report said.
In July-August 2008, Agarwal went to Bajoria and with him proposed building a girls’ school at the site while on December 29, 2008, Lt Gen. Rath, who was then the 33 Corps Commander, received a request for a “no-objection certificate” to establish a residential school with a franchise of Mayo College.
The next month, Agarwal and Bajoria met Rath. Rath forwarded the proposal from Agarwal with a note “Please examine, a new angle project we may consider” to the administration in charge, Brigadier (now Maj. Gen.) Sen.
In between, in October 2008, former Military Secretary Prakash visited Sukna on an official trip and met Agarwal. He introduced Agarwal to Rath and Lt Gen. Ramesh Halgali, who was Chief of Staff of the Corps, as a friend. In July 2008, Prakash and Agarwal were said to have met Gaj Singh of Jodhpur.
This set the ball rolling till the MoU was signed in talks between March 18 and 20, 2009. In those three days, Agarwal and Lt Gen. Prakash were in constant touch, according to telephone records called by the investigators who describe this connection as the “influencing factor”.
The then Eastern Army Commander, Gen. V.K. Singh, grew suspicious and called off the deal. He convened the Court of Inquiry on September 30 which finally came up with the conclusion that the generals were proved guilty and recommended disciplinary action against them. The findings of the CoI were dispatched to JAG branch and Adjutant General’s branch and JAG branch also agreed with the recommendations of the CoI of the Eastern Command but it highly irked the then Army Chief General Kapoor who straight away approached the Defence Minister but to no avail. He finally managed to convince the Defence Minister Antony to handle the matter his way and on Monday, transformed orders of disciplinary action into Administration action while the then Commander Eastern Command was not satisfied with this climax of the case and thus after becoming the Army Chief he ordered the re-opening of the case.
-via The Telegraph – Calcutta.