Former Army officers loot retired soldiers, exchequer under watch
By N C Bipindra - NEW DELHI
Published: 15th Sep 2013 08:09:11 AM
Already stung by scams in procurement of military hardware, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) now stares at the prospect of an over Rs 1,000-crore fraud in its retired personnel welfare organisation, where senior Major Generals have over the past eight years overseen the swindling of public money, all in the name of their resettlement measures.
The matter, which is already in the knowledge of the highest levels in the government, including Defence Minister A K Antony, is now going before the Delhi High Court through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which is likely to explode on the face of the powers that be, as the affected parties are several lakhs of ex-servicemen and the taxpayers.
The PIL, filed by advocates Arvind Singh and Vipin Raghav, has been admitted by the Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Pradeep Nandrajog on September 4 and eight-week notices sent to the respondents, which include Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth and Defence Secretary R K Mathur, along with the Finance Secretary, Labour and Employment Secretary and the Director General Resettlement Major General Pramod Behl.
The scam relates to the resettlement schemes that the Directorate General of Resettlement had launched for ex-servicemen under which the retired officers were allowed to start and register their security agencies, coal loading and transportation agencies and national highway toll plaza management agencies and to recruit retired soldiers for their manpower requirements.
In what has come as a shocker, as per documents made available to The Sunday Standard, in the last eight years since 2005, the swindling of the retired soldiers’ money and the government exchequer has been carried out by some select retired officers, in obvious knowledge of the Directors General of Resettlement of the period.
The Directors General of Resettlement mentioned in the PIL include Major General V S Budhwar, Major General K S Sindhu, Major General Harwant Krishan and Major General S G Chatterji, who are all retired now, and have conveniently entered the coal loading and transportation scheme of the directorate that they headed previously.
The documents relating to the scams show serious malpractices and swindling of money belonging to the retired soldiers and the national exchequer by faking recruitment of ex-servicemen and collecting salaries in their names, but without employment in actual; forging documents to show deposits of provident fund contributions of each of their recruits, but in actual pocketing the amount; and preparing forged, fake challans of service tax deposits.
“My estimate is that the scam goes much beyond the eight years for which I have submitted documents to the court and the swindle is worth over Rs 1,000 crore minimum and may go up to Rs 5,000 crore according to estimates of some whistle-blowers,” advocate Arvind Singh, who has filed the PIL on behalf of the whistle-blowers, told The Sunday Standard.
Reading out from documents collected by the whistle-blowers and his team of independent investigators, Singh noted that the three businesses of security, coal and toll plaza were the most sought-after by retired officers, as the salaries fixed for the ex-servicemen recruits is at least three times what is received as remuneration by other individuals, these being unorganised sectors.
“The agencies are allowed a maximum of 300 ex-servicemen to work as security guards for a four-year period and their salaries have been fixed by the Directorate at Rs 25,000 a month. However, the agencies do not recruit the ex-servicemen and instead only produce a list of 300 of them to the public sector undertaking to raise salary bills. They recruit non-ex-servicemen instead and pay them salaries three times less and pocket the two-thirds amount,” Singh said. He also pointed out to several hundreds of fake Service Tax counterfoils of some of these agencies, apart from fake provident fund challans.
There were irregularities in the registration of about 3,000 security agencies by the Directorate, where it came to light during investigations that several retired officers had more than one agency registered in their names, whereas the rules allowed for only one. Also, there were several retired officers using the same registration number to avail benefits in different sectors, though the rules specify that they could do so only under one scheme of the Directorate (see box).
“Though there have been complaints in this regard with MoD, made by whistle-blowers in 2010, there has been no action taken till date and the fraudulent practices are continuing. A probe ordered in June 2011 has submitted its report, based on which only an office memorandum listing guidelines for working of these schemes were issued, but no punitive action taken in the last two years. That’s why we have filed this PIL,” Singh noted.
About 60,000 soldiers retire from the three armed forces annually and there are nearly five lakhs of them enrolled with the Directorate seeking an alternative employment post their retirement at a young age of 35-40 years.
-The Sunday Standard