New Delhi: The Army Chief has accepted that when a bribe was offered to him for 14 crores, he should have done more than just informing the Defence Minister. General V K Singh has said that he was offered the kickback in 2010 by a retired defence officer if he cleared a sub-standard consignment of trucks.
"I think it would have been better had I complained against him. The way it was said, I could not understand what he was saying," said General Singh, who claims the retired officer told him, "Everyone takes it, what is your problem?" General Singh has not named who offered him the money, or what company he represented.
In an interview to The Hindu newspaper, the General said that the offer was made to him six months after he took over as the Army chief. The Congress and the BJP have both asked why he did not file a police case against the alleged bribe giver. "It was not like he was giving me bribe in my hand. This was an indirect method and that is why no arrest was made," was the General's explanation.
The Defence Minister has reportedly ordered a CBI inquiry into the Rs. 14-crore bribe. The allegations have been seized by the opposition to attack the government in Parliament. Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were adjourned, with the opposition demanding an explanation from the government.
Earlier this month, amid a huge controversy over whether the Army's intelligence wing had bugged offices in the Defence Ministry, a press release from the Army blamed Tejinder Singh, who retired as a Lieutenant General, for trying to create a rift between the government and the Army chief. Tejinder Singh had also served as chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency. The Army chief said he had been interrogated earlier about purchasing off-the-air interceptors without required clearances. The Army's statement added that Tejinder Singh had offered bribes on behalf of a company named Tatra and Vetra, which supplies vehicles to the Army.
"I do not think VK Singh has said that I made or did not make this sort of offer," said Tejinder Singh to NDTV today. General Singh was allegedly offered the bribe to sanction the Army's purchase of a new consignment of vehicles from the same company. He also said that he would initiate "legal action against the people concerned".
The retired officer who has denied the charges has also been allotted a flat in the Adarsh Society, a high-rise building in Mumbai whose apartments were intended for war veterans and widows, but were instead given to politicians, bureaucrats and defence officers. Tejinder Singh told NDTV that he met with the Army chief once after he retired, but said he would disclose the circumstances of that meeting later.
The government and the chief will now have to answer whether the company was blacklisted once the bribe was offered, and why it has taken so long to commission a formal inquiry.
Top Army sources have told NDTV that the man who allegedly offered the bribe to the army chief objected to the open tender for trucks because that could have hurt Tatra's monopoly.
But, the Defence Ministry today they haven't received any compliants against Tatra. "We have never received any complaint from the armed Forces," Joint Secretary (Land Systems) in the Defence Ministry Rashmi Verma said. She was asked to comment on the performance of these trucks and whether the forces ever complained on their serviceability and availability of spares in light of Army chief's remarks. Ms Verma said that trucks now are bought on the basis of competitive bids.
The Congress today suggested that the Army chief's own actions were wanting. "If someone offered him a bribe, as a government servant, he should have filed a case against the person under the Prevention of Corruption Act," said the Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
The Congress-led coalition at the Centre has been entangled in a maze of financial scandals, with the opposition accusing it of serving as a "government of scams" and of creating an environment that lends itself to graft as the Standard Operating Procedure.
In January, General Singh became the first serving military chief to take the government to court. He wanted the Defence Ministry to accept that he was born in 1951 and not 1950 - records with the Army list both years. The Defence Ministry had refused the General's claim, stating that he had accepted many promotions on the basis of his seniority as established by the documents that showed he was born in 1950. The chief withdrew his petition in the Supreme Court after the judges, through their remarks, indicated they would not side with his claim. He is scheduled to retire at the end of May.