General Bipin Rawat will be remembered for launching a campaign against corruption within the military establishment, even as he stood up to the arrogant Chinese on the Doklam plateau and in Ladakh. He used to remark that the Indian armed forces were all about respect, not money.
He pressed the Indian Army to seek the CBI to investigate allegations of corruption in the sub-standard building of the Married Accommodation Project (MAP) in Meerut and the Salaria Officers’ Enclave in Delhi by Military Engineering Services as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (MES). The overall cost of MAP phases I and II was 6,033 crore and 13,682 crores, respectively. He chastised the MES’s top officials for faulty construction, telling them that Salaria Enclave looked more like a bombed-out Syria than New Delhi, with sub-standard materials utilized for officers’ and jawans’ quarters.
Being the chief, he implemented big reforms in military canteen purchasing as army commander, much to the chagrin of retired generals, by capping automobile purchases at $12 lakh. When he discovered that senior military commanders were using the canteen to save money on luxury cars like Mercedes and SUVs, as well as top-brand single malt whiskies, he withdrew these goods from the list, claiming that a regular officer or jawan couldn’t afford them on their current pay. The veterans despised him for putting a cap on foreign liquor sold in canteens and only allowing Indian-made foreign liquor to be sold there, but General Rawat told them that if they had so much money, they should buy Mercedes or Blue Label whiskey on the open market rather than putting a dent in the Indian exchequer. He made sure that sub-standard products did not make their way into the military canteen via the grease channel for the jawans.
Another issue with which he clashed with his peers was the exploitation of disability pensions, notably by top officers in the three agencies. General Rawat discovered that senior officers were purposely downgrading their medical category before retirement in order to not only collect disability payments for themselves and their children, but also a tax-free pension. He informed his then-defense minister, Nirmala Sitharaman. In many cases, he discovered, a general, air marshal or admiral was receiving a higher pension than his pay by taking the disability pension path. While he was all for helping the truly injured who had lost limbs in war or rebellion, he was completely opposed to the abuse of disability benefits. Perhaps this is why, despite having a steel rod fitted inside his ankle as a result of a catastrophic injury sustained during surgery, Gen Rawat never sought disability pension.
General Rawat is no longer with us, but the reforms he instituted within the military to make them more accountable cannot be reversed, as they are urgently needed.
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