Indian land scandal spotlights military corruption
By Pratap Chakravarty
Agence France-Presse
Page 9
2010-01-23 12:00 AM
A land scandal involving Indian generals has shaken public faith in the country's massive military at a time when unprecedented sums are being spent on modernising the armed forces.

Four high-profile generals face an official investigation into charges that they gave the go-ahead for a builder to acquire a 70-acre (30-hectare) plot of army land at a throwaway price in the Himalayan resort of Darjeeling.

Deepak Kapoor, chief of India's army, said he was left speechless by the allegations against the four-star officers, including Lieutenant General Avadhesh Prasad, one of the country's eight key military advisers.

"Such aspects dent the image of the nation and these aberrations need to be corrected," Kapoor told a news conference last week, adding that they also affected military morale.

The land scandal coincided with action last month against 41 officers who allegedly sold service weapons on the black market, confirmed Kapoor, who heads the world's fourth-largest military.

Experts such as retired lieutenant general Afsir Karim fear corruption in the higher echelons could affect national security.

"The system must reform itself because corruption now seems to be an accepted form at various levels and this will hurt India's readiness, especially for any big conflict such as a war with China," Karim warned.

"Besides, corruption gets in the way of modernisation and it blunts the credibility of the armed forces."

A string of eye-popping fraud cases has damaged the institution in recent years.

An army colonel seeking military honours as a route to promotion was sacked after he was caught faking gun battles with militants by sprinkling tomato ketchup on civilians, who were made to lie still on the ground in 2003.

Press coverage earned the disgraced officer the nickname "Ketchup Colonel" and led to a military investigation into other medal seekers.

A year later, a commander was arrested after he earned the sobriquet "Brigadier Booze" for selling subsidised military liquor. In 2008 a general faced a court martial for allegedly skimming combat ration funds.

More than 7,000 court martial proceedings between 2000 and 2006 - a number of them relating to financial skulduggery - point to poor discipline, analysts say.

Corruption "is having a serious impact on the psyche of India's armed forces," argued retired air marshal Kapil Kak. He pointed to arms deals as another problematic area of military activity.

Last June, India blacklisted seven firms including artillery maker Singapore Technologies and state-run Israeli Military Industries after police accused a defense ministry bureaucrat of taking bribes.

The step froze a US$240-million Israeli arms contract and ended the army's dreams of acquiring modern artillery worth over US$1 billion from the Singaporean firm.?

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