Admiral D K Joshi resigned as Navy Chief Wednesday following a spate of accidents that had raised serious questions about the safety record of the force, becoming the first armed forces chief to quit since Independence.
The resignation came hours after an accident on board the INS Sindhuratna submarine in which two officers were feared killed after one of its compartments was filled with smoke during a sea trial Wednesday morning.
Sources said Defence Minister A K Antony summoned Joshi seeking an explanation for the latest incident and Joshi is believed to have offered to resign, taking moral responsibility.
Following the meeting, Antony met the Prime Minister and the President to apprise them of the matter. By evening, the ministry said it had accepted the resignation and made a public announcement after informing Vice Admiral R K Dhowan he would be taking charge with immediate effect pending the appointment of a regular chief over the next few weeks.
“I have the honour to refer to recent incidents/accidents during the past few months that have impacted the professional image of the Navy. While the government has continued to repose its fullest trust and confidence in the service, I consider my continuation as Chief of the Naval Staff as untenable,” Joshi wrote in his resignation letter.
“In the interests of accountability, I therefore accept fullest moral responsibility for the above mentioned accidents/incidents and hence I have…to resign from immediate effect (sic),” he said.
Sources said it was not just the Navy’s safety record but even the handling of the accidents had come under a cloud. More than 500 officers were suddenly ordered to be transferred by the Navy Chief last month in what was termed as a “transfer tsunami”, leading to strong displeasure among the cadre, and several captains of warships that had faced accidents were removed, changing the entire future senior hierarchy of the force.
In the months before Joshi’s resignation, a deep wedge had emerged between him and the defence ministry, triggered by the accidents but also relating to what is said to be a lack of communication by the force headquarters with its civilian counterparts.
Sources said several factors had led to a growing dissatisfaction with the top officer. The defence ministry had been disappointed that the Navy was not accurately sharing details of the several incidents that had taken place on board warships.
While the norm has been that major developments – incidents at sea or personnel issues – are reported to the ministry, information was allegedly blocked under Joshi and on many occasions, the first information received by civilian officials was through media reports.
Reports on several major incidents, which were marked to be shared with the ministry as per standard protocol, had also been allegedly suppressed by the Navy Chief’s office.
The handling of the accidents had also not gone down well with the defence ministry which felt the navy was trying to downplay the incidents as “hype” by media and was taking corrective action only after the matter became public.
However, some Navy sources sought to defend Joshi saying the accidents could be explained individually and blamed on material failure, defects, human error and factors beyond the control of the Navy.
They said over the past few years, the Navy has been stretched beyond its limits with additional patrols and Coast Guard missions being commissioned. In one explanation to Antony, Joshi had said the rapid expansion of the fleet was causing manpower issues.
The argument was that while several new platforms had been inducted, the finance ministry had not accepted a concurrent increase in manpower, leading to resources being stretched and officers with lesser experience taking charge, specially on the technical side.
JOSHI vs ANTONY
Exchanges in the run-up to Navy Chief’s resignation
Nov 20: After Aug 14 Sindhurakshak sinking, Antony says responsibility of Navy to ensure assets operated correctly and “not frittered away”.
Dec 3: Joshi says safety record “not all that bad” compared to other navies. Says incidents “isolated, separate cases”.
Feb 6: Antony says he cannot provide “100
per cent satisfaction certificate” to Navy.
Feb 10: Antony calls Joshi seeking explanation for malfunction on board INS Vikramaditya, third time he was called to explain such an incident in weeks.
Feb 26: Joshi called by minister to explain Sindhuratna incident; he comes prepared to quit, hands in papers.