The sting goes deeper… to unravel further stink

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hiltopAfter a September 2014 Tehelka sting operation exposed corruption in the Assam Rifles, the director-general of the paramilitary force, RK Rana, instituted an inquiry into the matter. Accordingly, the key primary prosecution witnesses — CC Mathew, a contractor, the authorities of the Malayalam television channel Mathrubhumi which broadcast the exposé and a senior Tehelka journalist Shyju Marathumpilly were asked to appear before a Court of Inquiry at the Assam Rifles Command Headquarters. However, only the Tehelka reporter presented himself to testify before the Court of Inquiry. The Assam Rifles gave Marathumpilly complete protection in view of threats to his life.

The Court of Inquiry sought the original videos of the Tehelka sting, which were duly shared with it. It was only after Tehelka handed over the complete set of raw footage of all the officials demanding and/or accepting bribes that the Court of Inquiry began to seriously examine the case. Subsequently, it was found that the malpractice of siphoning off of the Assam Rifles funds to the tune of several crores of rupees had been going on for a while. It became clear when the bank statements and telephone calls of the Assam Rifles officials, who were named as accused in the case, were reviewed.

Although the Assam Rifles initially tried to give the cold shoulder to the Tehelka exposé, the presentation of evidence before the Court of Inquiry forced the paramilitary force to accept the illegality of the actions of some of its officials and the extent of the rot that had set in.

Maruthumpilly recorded his statement when the Summary of Evidence proceedings began on 1 March in Nagaland. (The other witnesses were also asked by the Military Court to present themselves for the recording of their statements.) Based on the report prepared about the findings of the Court of Inquiry and the Summary of Evidence, disciplinary action, including, in some cases, court martial, was ordered against all 14 accused officials.

An analysis of the malpractices in the Assam Rifles makes it amply clear that anyone with a suitcase full of money could walk into a military facility and ask the officials present there to grant them favours. It goes without saying that since there would be many who might willingly acquiesce or compromise, national security is at an immediate risk. The consequences of their actions on national security does not seem to weigh on greedy minds.

Here, it must be pointed out that some of the officials who were identified in the Tehelka sting operation occupy top positions in the paramilitary force and wield considerable power and influence. Therefore, their actions tantamount to abuse of power and position. Having said that, the court martial of a few officials may not put an end to the cancer of corruption, which threatens to eat into the vitals of India’s armed forces.

From the hostile reactions of some civilians who are part of the racket, it is evident that taxpayers’ money, meant for use by the Assam Rifles, was being diverted for pecuniary gains. Contractors seem to be making a killing by ignoring the guidelines and procedures laid out for settlement of bills. There is an urgent need for the Assam Rifles to not only streamline its operations but also put in place certain standard operating procedures (SOPs) in order to reduce the scope for any wrongdoing.

Tehelka hopes its sting, codenamed Operation Hilltop, will serve as a warning for anyone who abuses their powers to plunder the public exchequer. Yet, there is no gainsaying that the corruption exposed by the Tehelka sting is only the tip of the iceberg as the illicit deals between contractors and officers in uniform continue to pose a threat to national security. Also, it is hoped that the Tehelka sting will offer a reality check for the authorities concerned to stem the rot.

Tehelka did what it could and should have. Now the ball is in the court of the Assam Rifles to clean up its Augean stables.

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