The hungry Indian army

Each time I say anything about the Indian Armed Forces, there is objection about tarring the whole army with the same brush. Yes, they say, there are scams. Yes, they say, some soldiers are bad. We talk about the spirit, about warfare, about the ability to fight, the quality of arms. What happens if a basic requirement like food comes under the scanner?

Soldiers who are supposed to be fit are being given food supplies that are well past their expiry date, to the extent of two years. Contracts are given to favoured companies without a thought to the quality and quantity of the product. Here is a part of the report from TOI:

Tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the latest CAG report paints a dismal picture of the Army's procurement and supply of dry rations (rice, wheat, dal, sugar, tea, oil, tinned items) and fresh rations (vegetables, fruit, meat, milk), undertaken at an annual cost of Rs 1,440 crore.

As per CAG, the main villains of the piece are Army Service Corps (ASC) and Army Purchase Organization, all under the benign gaze of Army HQ and the defence ministry.

It is a fairly high-level scam obviously and the person suffering is your humble jawan. Advertisements lure young people to enlist in the army and do something for the country. Many join because of employment needs and not because they have this great desire to serve the nation. I am sorry, but that is the truth. In the course of the training, they might feel a sense of bonding with their fellow soldiers and the camaraderie and aggression instilled does often end up giving them a sense of higher purpose. This is good. However, together with the discipline of the hierarchy comes the powerlessness of those in the lower cadre. They might accept it where they know their place and are expected to take directions, but what about not getting the right food?

If you want the citizen to respect the army, then it has to respect itself. Such respect is possible if it at least does not scrimp on something as basic as sustenance. We all know about liquor and how it is sold in the market by officers. This sort of corruption can be ignored, especially if we will be shot down with the precious query, “Isn’t it rampant in other fields?” But you cannot expect soldiers to be healthy and ready to fight if they are underfed or, worse, being fed with food that could turn out to be outright spoiled all because some officer has got kickbacks on atta, dal, eggs and chicken.

And since we are told we must be thankful that terrorists have not reached our doorstep because of the army, may be ask the defence ministry why it is putting the lives of the Indian citizens at risk by placing our safety in the hands of hungry soldiers? Will human rights organisations fight for the rights of these soldiers and the health ministry conduct an independent check on the state of their wellness?

Or will attention once again be diverted to the ‘larger issue’ of the threat yapping at our borders?


  1. Farzana, for once I agree with you. It is the poor frontline soldier who is bearing the brunt of the greed of these criminals in uniform. Whether it is expired rations, substandard clothing, or obsolete equipment, a few people make their quick buck and put the soldiers at discomfort and the nation at risk. And such conduct within the Army is more jarring, not because the individuals are any different from those forming the corrupt organisations outside it, but because it has an organisational culture which puts great emphasis on the wellbeing of subordinates and values such as integrity and loyalty. And since most of the tasks routinely undertaken by the grassroots level soldiers and officers are unpleasant and difficult, it is this organisational culture which sustains the organisation and ensures it continues to function effectively. Take away these values and the organisation can not continue to function effectively for very long. That is why the armed forces have no option but to practice Zero Tolerance For Corruption .

  2. Rohit:

    Thanks! I would apply the same standard at least to all public sector undertakings. Since the deals are outsourced, I am afraid it could possibly result in an outsider having to bear the onus of being corrupt.


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