AN ARMY Court of Inquiry against a Brigadier, who commanded the largest independent infantry brigade in Bhuj, Gujarat, on allegations of “extraordinary liaison with influential civilians, bureaucrats and politicians” has blamed him for making “wrongful gains” by misusing his position.
The Indian Express has accessed the Court of Inquiry report, which was finalised recently with the General Officer Commanding Jodhpur Area, Maj Gen C P Mohanty as the presiding officer and Brig H K Pokhriyal of Ahmedabad-based 11 Infantry Division and Brig Viney Handa, Commander 769 Independent Air Defence Brigade, as members.
The inquiry has found Brigadier R S Vashistha, former commander of the Bhuj-based 75 Independent Infantry Brigade Group, and currently posted in Mathura, to have “used his official position to do favours to local influential civil population on quid-pro-quo basis, probably with a view of post-retirement gains”. The 75 Independent Brigade is an important Army formation, responsible for the defence of the entire Kutch region as also for taking any major offensive action.
The inquiry report has revealed that the admission of children of local influential civilians of Bhuj was used as leverage to get favours. The report states that in violation of rules, a large number of children of civilians were given admission in Army Public School (APS) Bhuj at the sole discretion of the Brigadier by way of verbal directions, sending of letters and chits, etc. through his personal assistant.
While the percentage of wards of civilians at the school is permitted at 10 per cent of the total number of students, the number was as high as 23.74 per cent at APS Bhuj, which further increased to 36.20 per cent by March 2016. The inquiry says that “in spite of clear directions by higher headquarters to reduce percentage of civilian students, the same was not followed by Brig Vashistha and hence it would not be out of place to mention that the quid-pro-quo system of obliging civilians to take benefit in any form cannot be ruled out as there cannot be any other motive of deliberately violating the rules and instructions of higher headquarters”.
The inquiry also delved into allegations of amassing disproportionate assets against the officer. The names of Bhuj property dealers have also cropped up and it was also found that the wife of the Brigadier had formed an educational trust, Raj Rani Educational Charitable Trust (RECT), with the property dealers and developers as members. It has also been found that the purchase and sale of several properties in Kutch and Greater Noida have not been declared by the Brigadier as required by Army regulations.
The court has recommended a thorough investigation by a “competent agency” dealing with financial irregularities to find out more about the dealings of the Brigadier and his wife. It has found that the trust floated by the lady with property dealers and their family members as members, applied for land for a number of projects in the Kutch area. Information gathered by the inquiry from the collector of Bhuj revealed that the Brigadier’s wife had applied for government land in Pragpur, Mundra Taluka, for auto repair and servicing at a cost of Rs 17.5 lakh while as per her Income Tax returns, her annual income for the three preceding years was only Rs 670, Rs 981 and Rs 1,10,252 respectively.
Besides, the trust of the lady also applied for allotment of 10,092 square metres of government land in Bhuj tp set up a middle school. Another application was made for allotment of 5,030 sq m of government land in Bhuj to set up of a primary school. Both the applications were in the final stages of allotment when the inquiry took place and were at a cost of Rs 1,26,15,000 and Rs 62.87 lakhs, respectively.
The inquiry report states that with no sources of income and with only Rs 932 in its bank account, the trust is required to pay the government Rs 1,99,02,500. When asked about how the payment would be made, the Brigadier replied to the court, “trust will manage the payments”. The inquiry report has categorically said that it is evident that the money would be paid by the property dealers who are trustees or through unrevealed sources of income and that needs to be investigated.