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Top Secret

Smooth Sail to the Top

Despite being severely indicted for procuring substandard material for INS Gomati in 1995, these officers have today made it to the top ranks of the Indian Navy by concealing facts from the promotion board. Ajmer Singh reports

In Troubled Waters: INS Gomati
INS Gomati developed a snag while in foreign waters in November 1995. The snag, due to the failure of a component called chiller, occurred within 175 hours of the fitment test. The chiller used in the AC Plant of warships was to last a lifetime.

On the return of Gomati, an operational defect report was raised and an inquiry instituted by the HQ Western Naval Command. It established that the newly-procured chillers were substandard. The Board of Inquiry (BOI) also indicted a number of senior officers in this regard. However, instead of taking action against these officers, a cover-up operation was launched to promote them. Following the inquiry naval authorities ordered that letters of severe displeasure be issued to the indicted officers. These officers included Material Superintendent (MS) (Mumbai), Commodore (cmde) VS Mathur (now vice-admiral and posted as controller of logistics), Controller of Procurement (COP) Capt K. Raina (now rear admiral) and Joint Controller of Material Planning (JCMP), Mumbai, Capt SA O’Leary (now rear admiral).

This being a serious case, it was also ordered that notation of this occurrence be made in the Confidential Report Dossiers (CRD) of the officers concerned, to be taken cognisance of by the personnel branch while positioning the officers and also by Promotion Boards. This fact was, however, concealed from the promotion board and this resulted in the tainted officers being promoted to the rank of vice-admiral and rear admirals.

No disciplinary action was initiated, and there was a deliberate delay of over three years in processing the inquiry. Even Judge Advocate General (JAG), Navy, directed that accountability be fixed for the serious lapse: “The board of inquiry had clearly established the various acts of commission and omission on the part of the service officers and civilian officers which resulted in financial loss (more than Rs 10 lakh) to the government. It is, therefore, a fit case to recover these losses occasioned due to the negligence of these personnel from their pay and allowances.”

Erstwhile Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Sushil Kumar’s orders about recovering 25 percent of the total loss incurred by the State from the indicted officers were also negated in violation of rules by none other than his successor Admiral Madhvendra Singh.

Admiral Madhvendra Singh (left) with Admiral Sushil Kumar (centre)
No disciplinary action was taken and there was
deliberate delay in
processing the inquiry
In order to protect the indicted officers, the naval authorities decided not to recover the money suggesting that if money is recovered it would mean that the officers are being blamed. They recommended that the entire loss be borne by the State. This move was initiated in November 2003 by Controller of Personnel Vice Admiral K. Bharathan.

Documents accessed by Tehelka reveal that on February 10, 1999, Chief of Materials, Vice-Admiral AS Krishna wrote a note saying that letters of severe displeasure be issued to the officers by the chief of naval staff. Krishna stated that MS, Mumbai, should have discontinued the meeting to finalise the tenders once it was brought to light that the quotation received from M/s Sagar Engineering, the company that supplied the chillers, did not conform to the technical specifications. There was tampering of the quote by M/s Sagar Engineering and it was accepted by the procurement agencies. Before this in August 1998, Director, Personnel Services, Commodore Narendra Singh Malik had also recommended issuance of letters of severe displeasure to the officers. After this, the then cmde, Sukhjinder Singh’s, opinion was sought. “The defects in the chillers were noticed during ins Gomati’s sailing, pursuant to which BOI convened on January 25, 1996. As on today no disciplinary action against service personnel can be initiated in view of the limitation provided in Section 79 of the Navy Act… This long delay in the completion and finalisation of BOI has ultimately resulted in erring service personnel getting away scot-free as no disciplinary action could be initiated in view of the limitation period,” he stated.

After this on March 9, 1999, Chief of Personnel, Vice Admiral OP Bansal ordered recoveries and asked promotion boards to take note of it while promoting officers. In April 1999, the then Naval Chief Admiral Sushil Kumar ordered recoveries. The recoveries, however, were not made and the record not placed before the promotion boards.

The naval authorities in response to Tehelka’s questionnaire took refuge in JAG’s recommendations. “The case had become time-barred, no censure letter had been issued to any individual involved in the procurement process.”

As regards the officers considered for promotion in the year 2004 the naval authorities said “no vigilance or disciplinary case was pending against them”. “It is clarified that even otherwise a letter of censure does not debar an officer to be promoted to a higher rank. Ever since it was established that there was no nexus and consequently malafide intent on the part of any individual in the said procurement, a decision was taken that loss be borne by the State and process initiated for loss (Rs 10 lakh) to be approved by the competent authority.”

The documents accessed by Tehelka tell a different story and expose the serious negligence and nexus with private firms.

The report reads: “There was a probable deliberate mix-up between the specifications of the AC Plant Chillers for the opv and Leanders/Godavari class of ships with a view to favour a particular firm in awarding the contract.” The report mentions tampering of documents by the firm which was overlooked by the committee to grant undue favours. One of the notes reads: “Strong possibility of a nexus between the firm and the various individuals as well as that of illegal gratification exists.

“The Navy should have procured chillers through original manufacturers Voltas as Proprietary Article Certificate procurement and not through local purchase.”

The naval authorities failed to clarify that if the case became time-barred then why was no responsibility fixed? Also, as recommended by JAG, why were the guilty not punished and why were recoveries not made? The naval authorities also evaded queries regarding non-endorsement of these facts in officers’ confidential reports.

July 30 , 2005

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