The Price of Keeping Watch

Lt Col BS Goraya faces the wrath of his superiors for exposing an army canteen fraud.

RESIDENTS OF northern Jammu & Kashmir have long grown used to a river of military tankers winding their way past the icy peaks overlooking Kargil. Their destination: Leh, site of the army’s largest oil depot. In 2005, in a major embarrassment for the military, a major racket was uncovered: many “fuel” tankers were found to be carrying water, not diesel. Though several officers including a brigadier were charged with criminal conspiracy, a quick remedy — and preventive measures — was the need of the hour. The right man for the job turned out to be 43- year-old Lt Col Baljinder Singh Goraya, who, in his earlier posting had shown himself to be someone who brooked not even the faintest scent of graft — he had gone so far as to have his commanding officer booked for corruption.

Few can take the rigours of the cold desert and separation from their families for more than a few months; Goraya soldiered on for three years. The result? An efficient, pilferage-proof logistics system to fuel strategically crucial operations not only in J&K but also on the Siachen glacier. True to his principles, Goraya reported cases of corruption wherever he saw them: in 2007, truckers were found shipping empty oil barrels and wheat sacks, and taking money from both the army and the Food Corporation of India. In 2009, Goraya received the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation when he found and fixed chronic, critical inadequacies in aviation fuel supply for forward areas of Ladakh. With 18 years of service behind him, when Goraya reported to a posting in Kalka, Haryana, after his extremely successful Leh stint, the omens looked bright for him. They were misleading. Goraya has been denied promotion, has been summarily attached to headquarters and continues to face daily harassment from his superiors.

On March 14, 2009, Goraya went to the battalion’s canteen to buy some gifts for a visit to his hometown. While he got a proper bill for his other purchases, he was given a handwritten bill worth Rs 289 for a ‘BPL Watches’ wristwatch. Queries revealed a glaring irregularity — the watches were absent from the canteen’s stock registers and their sale proceeds were never deposited in the bank. Shockingly, the canteen staff told Goraya that the procedure was adopted on the orders of Col VK Shad, the Commanding Officer (CO). That very day, Goraya wrote a letter to Shad about this practice, placing the matter on record and then proceeded to go on leave. This missing bill for a watch worth a mere Rs 289 would lead to a full-blown investigation and a Court of Inquiry (COI) to examine corruption among senior officers.

Read the rest in Tehelka issue dated June 12, 2010

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