The army court of inquiry report in the shameful Sukna land case categorically points out when Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, Military Scretary visited his highness Maharaja Gaj singhji of Jodhpur with Dilip Aggarwal another ``Gentleman'' accompanied them in July 2008. Sources in army headquarters said despite repeated questioning neither businessman Dilip Aggarwal nor the military secretary Lt Gen Prakash named the ``gentleman''. The Chief of the Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor should come clean - who this gentleman was. What was his role in the entire Sukhna land scam case. Why did neither Lt Gen Prakash nor businessman Aggarwal name him ? And why is the army not trying to get to the bottom of the case. Who is Lt Gen Prakash trying to shield and is that the reason why the Chief of the Army Staff is going soft on his `trusted' aide. Former Generals want the army to come clean on the issue.
The military court of inquiry found chief of the army staff General Deepak Kapoor’s key aide Lieutenant General Avdesh Prakash, military secretary blameworthy for ``taking undue interest in furthering the vested agenda of a businessman, misusing his position of authority to pressurize the staff of headquarters 33 Corps,’’ in the Sukhna land scam. Despite the report clearly indicting top generals including Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash Military Secretary and Lt Gen PK Rath, then GOC 33 Corps, the ``soft stance’’ adopted by the army chief has come as a ``shocker.’’ A senior official in the MoD told Headlines Today that the army was trying to ``buy time,’’ so that Lt Gen Prakash can retire with just a rap on his knuckles on January 31. ``The show cause notice is just a way to postpone an uncomfortable decision and prevent other skeletons from tumbing out of the cupboard,’’ sources said.
Headlines Today is in exclusive possession of the court of inquiry report that says Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash not only suppressed information but also tried to mislead the court. The report forwarded to the Army Chief for further action says ``Lt Gen Prakash maintained that he was not aware about Mr Dilip Aggarwal’s effort to get franchise of Mayo College where as he actually accompanied him at Jodhpur to meet his Highness Maharaja Gajsinghji and also visited the Mayo College.’’ Highly placed sources in army headquarters told Headlines Today ``lying to a military court, suppressing information or misleading the court’’ is a serious offence in the army. ``Yet Gen Deepak Kapoor appears to be shielding his key aide. This will send a wrong message down the rank and file in a force where discipline is the backbone of smooth functioning,’’ a top ranking officer said. The Court of Inquiry report goes on to say: ``He (Lt Gen Prakash) flatly denied that he had any official dealings with Dilip Aggarwal while posted in this region where as Aggarwal carried had out a construction project at the Detachment IMTRAT Rear in 2006.’’ Not only that the army probe report reveals that Lt Gen Prakash denied monitoring or influencing the case where as ``call records of 20 March 2009 clearly indicate conversation with Mr Dilip Aggarwal at the time MoU was being signed.’’ The report says the land in question is literally adjacent to the Sukha Corps Headquarters and given the security scenario it was not recommended that any construction be carried out in the area.
In fact the army was keen to acquire that land due to the security considerations. But the army suddenly changed its stance. According to the inquiry report the ``influencing factors’’ included Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash’s official visit to Sukhna on October 18, 2008.
He met Dilip Aggarwal and visited the land in question along with the businessman. The military secretary referred to Aggarwal as ``his friend’’ introducing him to the Corps Commander Lt Gen PK Rath and asked Rath to ``look into the request,’’ to establish a residential school. The report goes on to say that the army did not even verify the credentials of Dilip Aggarwal or the veracity of Geetanjali Education Trust.
Worse, the report says between 18-20 March 2009 businessman Dilip Aggarwal kept asking for amendments to the clauses of MouU to suit own requirementsand kept speaking to Lt Gen Prakash and Lt Gen Rath to convey the latest to them. Paragraph 17 of the Draft MoU was the most potent paragraph giving rights to the army to terminate the MoU on security grounds but this was removed as it was not acceptable to businessman Dilip Aggarwal. The report says the MoU favoured the civilian party. The army fact finding report says large number of telephone calls were made between Dilip Aggarwal and lt Gen Avdesh Prakash during the period of signing of the moU. There were also anomalies in the MoU. Initial paperwork was for construction of a girls school but MoU was for educational institutions – schools and colleges.
`Nobody was able to explain how that happened nor the security considerations such a campus would create,’’ says the report. ``The army does not run Kangaroo courts. Due process of law is followed. But transparency needs to be ensured and promopt action should be taken in such cases,'' General Shankar Roy Choudhary, former chief of the army staff said. ``The army will have to speed up action in the case but even if the officer (Lt Gen Prakash) retires by the month end, and the army decides on action subsequently, he can be recalled from his retired life to face the punishment.
This does not in any way mean that the guilty officers will get away if they retire,'' he adds. The charges against Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash are extremely serious. The court of inquiry report has come down seriously on him for not only suppression of information but also accused him of trying to mislead the court. An extremely serious offence in the army. ``These are officers on whose single order jawans lay down their lives for the country in times of conflict. If they are not above board, how will they command respect and lead their men into war. If these officers either tell lies or get away with charges as serious as moral turpitude it will send a wrong message down the rank and file,'' a senior official said. ``Moral turpitude is a very serious offence. Such officers should not go unpunished,'' says Major General Afsir Karim, a senior defence analyst. ``The chief of the army staff needs to see that crimes as serious as the court of inquiry makes out - should not go unpunished. Simply a rap on the knuckles is no punishment,'' he adds.
Former chief of the army staff General Ved Malik feels the chief is accountable not just to his own soldiers but also to the people of the country. ``I am certain action will be taken in a timely fashion. The military secretary has been given time to respond and he has been granted this leave to formulate his respone in the matter,'' General Malik said. General Deepak Kapoor is facing severe criticism of going slow in the case. ``The court of inquiry findings are very clear. Top Generals of the Indian Army including the Military Secretary and the then 33 Corps Commander (Lt Gen Pratap Kumar Rath) not only lied to the court of inquiry but deliberately tried to mislead it. Lt Gen PK Rath concealed that Lt Gen Prakash had referred the civilian businessman to him. And the fact that the military secretary inquired about the progresss of the case thereafter. Lt Gen Prakash not only lied about not knowing about the businessman's efforts to get a franchisee of the Mayo College but also concealed the fact that he had accompanied the businessman during a trip to Jodhpur to meet Maharaja Gaj Singhji. All these are very serious charges. the army chief cannot afford the luxury of going slow on the case. It is the reputation of the entire force at stake here,'' sources in the ministry of Defence said.
``The army chief has the moral responsibility towards his force. They look up to him. And in this case with the defence minister having made statement and the media watching it very closely the army chief cannot delay the proceedings. He will have to take action against the officers found guilty. It is his prerogative based on the advise he receives from the Adjutant General and the Judge Advocate General (JAG) to decide on the quantum of punishment in the case,'' feels Major General Ashok Mehta, a former division commander. Former commanders feel that the chief of the army staff should neither be soft on the guilty generals nor should he postpone the decision. ``There is the aspect of security of the Sukhna Corps Headquarters. If the Corps commander before Lt Gen Rath felt that the land adjacent to the Corps headquarters should not be given out due to the security of the extremely sensitive area, then the officers need to explain to the nation what changed that security aspect. Was security no longer a consideration or did the threat levels come down. These are very serious lapses for which the officers have been found blameworthy.
There cannot be different yard sticks for junior officers and top commanders. If this is a serious offence and a young officer would have been court martialed for it then the same should apply even to the top officers,'' adds Maj Gen Afsir Karim. Caeser's wife should be above suspicion. But here there is talk in the corridors of South Block action is not being taken against Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash to prevent other skeletons from tumbling out of the closet. The COAS should clear the air on this and fast. Because justice delayed is justice denied.