Lt.-Gen. Avadesh Prakash, one of India’s highest ranking army officers, was just days from retirement when he was ordered to face a court martial recently over his alleged involvement in a controversial land deal. It is the latest in a series of corruption scandals to engulf India’s defence forces in the last few years.
Prakash is accused of abusing his position so a close friend and developer, Dilip Agarwal, could buy a 30-hectare parcel of land next to the headquarters of the army’s 33 Corps in West Bengal at a bargain-basement price. The scandal first came to light last year and Prakash was found guilty by a military court of inquiry in December. Though Lt.-Gen. V.K. Singh, the court’s convenor, recommended Prakash be fired, India’s army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor decided that only light “administrative action” was warranted. As criticism grew that Kapoor was being too soft on Prakash, the defence minister, A.K. Antony, pushed for tougher disciplinary action against Prakash. Kapoor reluctantly agreed to a court martial for the three-star general: “The minister’s advice to [the] army chief amounts to being a direct order,” explained an unidentified official to the Times of India.
This is just one of the scandals to grip the 1.1-million man military force, in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar replacement of aged weaponry. There was the commander fired for selling subsidized alcohol on the black market, and the “ketchup colonel” who faked photographs of successful battles against militants, thereby winning promotions, by pouring the red sauce on civilians. Then last year, it was revealed that the silent “reconnaissance vehicles” purchased for covert missions behind enemy lines were in fact nothing more than golf carts used at exclusive military courses.
When asked why the military was beset by so many corruption charges, Kapoor, who will be replaced by Lt.-Gen. Singh on March 31, refused to call them part of a systemic problem. Instead, he called them merely “individual acts of misdemeanour.”