Witch-Hunt in Sukna-Based 33 Corps When Doklam Stand-Off Was On
A Lt Col reportedly questioned the diversion of limited funds for personal use by some senior officers.
Even as the army was busy mobilising its Sukna-based 33 Corps along the India-China border in the backdrop of the Doklam stand-off, a few senior officers are said to have slowed down the process as their attention was deflected by their moves to “fix” a Lieutenant Colonel who had raised serious questions of corruption and other improprieties.
The questions the Lt Col reportedly raised related to alleged diversion of limited funds for personal use by some senior officers, violation of strictly laid-down procurement policies and guidelines, and misuse of army vehicles.
The Quint’s sources reveal that in an unprecedented move, some senior Corps officers instituted two inquiries against the Lt Col, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, including a sexual harassment case that was subsequently withdrawn by the complainant.
Frivolous Sexual Harassment Complaint
Faced with such opposition from his seniors, the Lt Col filed a defamation suit early this month in a Kolkata city civil and sessions court against the “frivolous” sexual harassment complaint filed by a lady Captain in March 2017 and sought Rs 25 lakh in damages. In an order on 28 August, the high court directed that summons be issued to the lady officer.
In his formal response to the 33 Corps’ internal complaint committee on 28 March 2017, the Lt Col described the sexual harassment charge against him as “unfortunate, misconceived and malicious”, adding that the “whole and sole intention of the complainant is nothing but an attempt to malign me” and cause damage to “my image and reputation”.
In her hand-written complaint to the commander of the 33 Corps, dated 9 March 2017, the lady Captain, who joined her unit on 8 January, made allegations such as being made to “sit in his office in front of him without any work”, “proposed to be photographed by his mobile phone” during a function of the Corps and that she was “being burdened with work”. She added that she did not “feel comfortable working with him” and that “his conversations and talks at mess also creates (sic) a negative atmosphere in front of mess staff”.
In his reply to the army authorities, the Lt Col referred to an obvious contradiction in her complaint, pointing out how she had claimed that “she was made to sit in front of me without any work” and subsequently “mentioned that she was burdened with work and made responsible for the work without learning it”.
Refuting charges that he had tried to photograph her “multiple times”, the Lt Col asked the military authorities whether it was “inappropriate to treat a male young officer and a lady officer par in the India army and expect officer-like qualities from an officer irrespective of his/her gender”.
Lieutenant Colonel’s Rebuttal
Denying that he had told the lady Captain to accompany him to check the guest room in the late hours of a particular evening, the Lt Col wrote in his reply that “my Commanding Officer had called me on my office telephone around 10:30 to 11:00 pm and had directed me to go along with (the) Captain to check the guest rooms at three military units at… (XXXX) station that were proposed to be booked for senior-officer-guests”. The army has no rules that prohibit a lady officer from being assigned valid military tasks in the evening hours.
Stating that the lady officer would “interact with and obtain tasks from the Commanding Officer directly and on daily basis”, the Lt Col’s response claims that she “seemingly had very good terms with the first lady of the unit”.
According to the Lt Col, what may have motivated the lady Captain to file a sexual harassment complaint was to pre-empt administrative action for “opening the tender box pertaining to an IT-grant project, where-in she had opened the technical and commercial bids in one go, that is against the laid down procedures”. The Captain’s action, he wrote, had led to the “failure for the second time” of the tendering process.
The army’s acquisition rules say that commercial bids of a tender cannot be opened and declassified unless the board for the technical evaluation committee is completed and approval of the competent authority is obtained in writing.
On other occasions, the Lt Col wrote, “since the CO happened to be her ACR initiating officer, she preferred to be dealt by him only, bypassing the rest of the laid down official channel”.
Lady Captain’s Surprising Retreat
Surprisingly, after only three sittings of the internal inquiry committee, instituted in March-end, the lady Captain retracted her complaint in the first week of April and a reconciliation was proposed. She sought a better transfer to another Sukna unit on 30 July. Around this time, anonymous letters, in Hindi, were received by the Corps headquarters in Sukna, alleging that the CO was indulging in “illegal sale of army canteen liquor to West Bengal police personnel”.
Meanwhile, as the 33 Corps was ordered to mobilise in view of the India-China face-off in Doklam, the Lt Col filed the defamation suit in the Kolkata court. This bristled the 33 Corps’ then General Officer Commanding Lt Gen SK Jha who held a meeting on 12 August attended by the lady Captain, the presiding officer of the internal complaint committee (a lady Major) and a Brigadier.
Lt Gen Jha, sources said, “encouraged” the lady Captain to file another complaint so that a second Court of Inquiry (CoI) could be instituted against the Lt Col. When the proposal for the second CoI was turned down by the Judge Advocate General’s office, the top brass of the Sukna-based Corps decided to quickly transfer out the Lt Col who was given only 10 days to pack his bags and ship out. Pressure is being exerted on the officer so he moves out even as most trains in the region stand cancelled due to floods.
An emailed questionnaire to the Chief Public Relations Officer of the Eastern Command, Wing Commander SS Virdi, seeking the army’s response on specific issues arising out of the case went unanswered.
(The story will be updated as and when the CPRO responds to The Quint’s questionnaire.)
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