By Maj Gen Chander Nandwani (Veteran)
Way back in 1995, I was posted as Additional Director General of Supplies & Transport in Army Headquarters. Apart from my routine responsibilities, I was also given additional charge of managing Army Headquarters (AHQ) canteen, as its Chairman. It wasn’t much of a prized post, since a retired Colonel appointed as the Canteen Manager with around 50 to 60 civilian employees working under him, was essentially accountable, for the day-to-day functioning of the canteen.
Soon after taking over the additional responsibility, I decided to pay a visit to the AHQ canteen during the lunch hour break to get a ‘Feedback’ from the employees with regard to their working conditions as also motivate them to provide better service to the customers. After patiently listening to their woes and giving ‘on-the-spot’ decisions to improve their working conditions, I made a remark that while being posted at Delhi on three earlier occasions, I had never patronized AHQ canteen, as more often than not, all the attractive consumer items including popular brands of liquor were seldom accessible to the customers. Therefore, my area of focus would be to strictly monitor the indenting and sale of such items. For this purpose, computers would be installed in the canteen and sale of liquor strictly regulated through issue of new cards after due verification of the cardholders. Further, the existing liquor cards in use would be discontinued straightaway and destroyed.
The next day, all hell was let loose against me. Big posters were pasted at every nook and corner of Sena Bhawan and South Block, making serious allegations against me. Radhe Shyam (name changed), a labourer and the union leader of AHQ Canteen civilian employees, having three buses and two flats in Delhi, threatened that there would be ‘Mass Joint Self Immolation’ by all employees at Jantar Mantar on the Republic Day (due after 10 days or so), if Maj Gen Chander Nandwani was not immediately removed from the post of Chairman of the canteen. News items on similar lines were also published in the reputed national dailies. The allegations made against me included taking of a big bribe for purchase new computers, favouring purchase of specific liquor brands, coercing women employees for sexual favours and so on. I was particularly tickled by the allegation of sexual favours and cheekily informed my wife that surely my standing in this regard was now far better than what she had imagined during past several years of our married life!!!
I was immediately summoned by the Quarter Master General (QMG), under whom the canteen functioned, and was asked to brief him on this sudden turn of events when everything was going on so smoothly before I took over the charge of the AHQ canteen. I requested for a couple of days time to make discreet enquiries. Before I could say ’Jack Robinson’, there was a note from the MOD signed by a Director level officer asking the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to comment on the allegations made against me and take all possible measures, including removing me from the post of Chairman, to avoid any embarrassment to the Govt., should the threat of ‘Mass Self-Immolation’ materialize, just prior to the Republic Day. What a joke! The matter did not end there. This note from MOD was followed by another note through which, a memorandum signed by 13 MPs and addressed to the Defence Minister, was also forwarded to the COAS, urging him to remove me from the post. This raised the hackles of the then COAS, late General BC Joshi. He called the QMG to his office and asked him to take the matter very seriously and put up a draft reply to both the notes of the MOD, for his approval. In the meanwhile an interim reply was sent to the MOD that the matter was being investigated.
My preliminary investigations revealed that a perfect nexus existed between the canteen civilian staff union leader Radhe Shyam, a few officials of MOD and a large number of politicians, to whom liquor was being supplied from AHQ canteen, on a regular basis. Of course the demand increased manifold during the time of elections. What intrigued me the most was the ‘modus operandi’ of smuggling out of such large quantities of liquor, with the Military Police and several other security agencies working in the highly sensitive areas of Army Headquarters and MOD. The actuality came to light when a disgruntled ex civilian employee of the canteen spilled the beans to me on promise of strict anonymity. I was shaken out of my bones when the truth came to light and immediately ran to the office of QMG to give him the details. He dis-believed me and decided to get the facts verified through a field security agency of the army and learnt to his horror that what I had disclosed to him was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Well this is how the system worked. The union leader had in his custody hundreds of old liquor cards of servicemen and/or ex-servicemen who had either left the station or had died. He drew choicest brands of liquor from the canteen in the names of these personnel and had simultaneously perfected a distribution system through which the liquor was delivered right at the doorsteps of the selected MOD officials and several politicians apart from other influential clients in the ministry. Surprisingly, right next to the AHQ canteen was the parking lot of VIP staff cars and some of these staff car drivers had been bought over by Radhe Shyam by giving them free bottles of rum and other lucrative canteen items such as expensive watches etc. During the lunch break when security was lax, these drivers would reverse their cars next to the canteen bulk store, wherefrom crates of liquor were loaded into the dickey of these staff cars. Radhe Shyam instructed these drivers to deliver the liquor crates at various locations after dropping the VIPs at their respective residences. Wow what an ingenuous idea! The irony of the matter is that the staff cars with the flags & star plates of Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals (including the QMG), without the knowledge of the occupants, were being illegitimately used by unscrupulous individuals for their unholy deeds. Sadly these very senior officers had unknowingly become couriers of liquor for the politicians. No wonder there was such a sharp reaction from all quarters, when I had only hinted at introducing computers to check the sale of liquor from the AHQ canteen!
The Chief on being informed of the facts of the case directed the QMG to give me full protection and total support to cleanse the system. I obtained legal advice from a leading civilian lawyer. He advised me to request for an enquiry against myself since I had taken over the post barely 10 days earlier and had nothing to hide. Thereafter, on my specific request on file, a court of inquiry was ordered by the QMG to investigate into the allegations made by Radhe Shyam, which were supported by the MOD and the MPs. The court of Inquiry proved these allegations to be false, baseless and malicious with the sole aim of having me removed from the post due to ulterior motives. To avoid several heads from rolling, the MOD and the MPs were politely told by the then COAS verbally that the matter had been thoroughly investigated by a high-powered court of Inquiry, which had opined that there was no truth in the allegations made by the union leader. Hence the matter was not being pursued further to save all concerned from grave embarrassment.
On directions of the QMG, the services of the union leader were terminated under my signatures and the whole system revamped with the introduction of computers, thus bringing to an end the sordid drama of “The Canteen Liquor Connection of MOD!”
My only regret still remains that the allegation of my so-called sexual exploits with women employees was also quashed in the bargain, thus proving the obvious!!!