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February 16, 2000
Army's Kargil inquiry indicts Brig Surinder Singh
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
The Kargil controversy refuses to die down.
An internal inquiry by the army has indicted Brigadier Surinder Singh and recommended action against him for failing to counter the Pakistani intrusions that led to the conflict last summer.
The inquiry pointed out that Brig Singh's superior officer, Major General V S Budhwar, and Colonel Pushpinder Oberoi, commander of one of the battalions at the Line of Control, also failed to act appropriately.
The inquiry, conducted by Lieutenant General A R K Reddy, chief of staff of the Northern Command, was conducted independent of the K Subrahmanyam Committee, which submitted its report early this year to the government. The army is studying Reddy's report, and suitable action will be initiated at "an appropriate time", sources said.
The report, which contradicts the claims made by Brig Singh, who was commander of the 121(I) Brigade at Kargil, is the latest weapon in the hands of Army Headquarters.
The report says there were major lapses on the part of one of the three battalions manning the LoC. Pakistani infiltrators managed to enter the area held by 16 Grenadiers, commanded by Colonel Pushpinder Oberoi, and occupied features which were supposed to be patrolled by Indian troops.
According to sources in Army HQ, the Gen Reddy Committee has nailed Brig Singh for his failure to act when the intrusions were detected. The committee says the brigadier lost the trust of his soldiers at the crucial hour. Army sources said Brig Singh has been pulled up more for his failure after the intrusions were detected.
Major General Budhwar, the controversial head of the Leh-based division and Brig Singh's superior, has also been mentioned for his failure to take co-ordinated action. But his role is not as direct as that of Brig Singh, the report says.
There were three battalions under Brig Singh to patrol 150km of the LoC in the Kargil sector. In areas held by the 16 Grenadiers, the infiltrators even managed to occupy ridges usually patrolled by Indian troops. But even after a patrol party went missing, the commanding officer failed to carry out a detailed assessment of the threat and warn his seniors of the extent of infiltration.
Brig Singh and Col Oberoi kept repeating that the infiltration would be checked in a couple of days, and this feedback misled even the defence minister, the report points out.
The other two battalions -- 4 Jat in Kaksar and 3 Punjab in Batalik -- told the inquiry committee that the infiltrators came into heights in those regions where no patrolling was normally done and there were unmanned stretches of up to 25km.
While recommending appropriate action against erring officials, the committee has recommended that field intelligence and security units be made independent of the local battalions and asked to report directly to Delhi. "This would give a better picture of the field realities to the headquarters," sources said.
The army's legal cell is now examining the report. Sources said action would be taken only after all loopholes are plugged and a detailed study is done of the Subrahmanyam Committee report.
The Subrahmanyam Committee did not hold any individual responsible for the intrusions, and instead pointed at systemic failure.
Meanwhile, Army HQ continues to grapple with the fallout of the Kargil crisis. Recently, Brig Singh petitioned the President, saying he does not expect fair treatment from his superiors. President K R Narayanan has forwarded the letter to the government without comment.
In the letter, Brig Singh told the President, "Having waited all this while, and seeing the highly prejudicial and one-sided approach against me, I am approaching the Supreme Commander." He claims that he is "now being treated so shabbily because he is saying and sticking to the truth."
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