Hasimara and Third Degree in 1998

Here is an amazing account I received from a retired Air Marshal recently about some of the things that happened in 1997-98 when the government cleared apparently skewed pay structures favouring fighter pilots. Deep insights into the fall-out of one of the IAF's darkest chapters. I have not yet made up my mind about whether the whole move to provide more pay was prudent or not, but this makes for a fascinating account full of first-hand nuggets by a man who was there -- any modern history of the IAF would do well to study the lessons of this regrettable episode. It's even more relevant today, especially, with another Pay Commission around the corner, and the country's first non-fighter pilot chief about to take over the throne at Vayu Bhawan. The dramatis personae are largely the men you see around at top positions in the IAF today, or recently retired. Here it is on LiveFist. Trust me, it's worth a read, even if a little vicious in parts. Make what you will of it:

"I had heard that almost every telephone in HQ EAC was tapped. There was some furious reworking of a room near Air-II’s office. A few days what appeared to be conversations of some agitated male and female voices were heard – most abusing the SASO Air Mshl DS “Mac” Basra and PS "Ben" Brar and telling each other in choice epithets, what the family illegitimacies of both were.

This was the consequence of a team led by Air Mshl Janakiraman (with Air Commodore FH Major as a member!) being confronted by AVM Mritunjay Singh, then SMSO, in the AOC-in-C’s office over the anomalies in the technical pay, which led to harsh words and the SMSO being ordered out of the AOC-in-C’s office. The team later faced a near riot in Jamnagar and also other problems elsewhere over the disparity of the flying and technical pay. It was also common knowledge that many transport aircraft and helicopter pilots had refused their flying pay because Air HQ asked each pilot to render a certificate that he was accepting the new scales and they refused.

Agra was one such large base and there were smaller bases like Mohanbari and elsewhere that the protests took place. The flights into Hasimara increased and the flow of information on ‘third degree methods’ being used by some team of officers did too.

Sareen, in his bid to stem the unrest, had ordered another team comprising AVM PK Mukherjee, Air Cmdes PCS Rautela (a technical officer), SK Jain and G Capt V Pradhan, a law qualified officer, to interrogate all suspected technical officers to find out who the ring leaders were. The team was to gather evidence by any means. This became evident when Air Cmde Jain, in one of his periodic visits to HQ EAC, told me that he ‘had kicked’ a couple of technical officers as they were “traitors”.

There were many flights of aircraft and helicopters, even one or two of EAC flying without clearance from HQ EAC, from many Air Force Stations to Hasimara. The Operations Room (Ops Room) stated they have been cleared on the direct instructions of the SASO (Air Mshl DS “Mac” Basra).

Soon after, Air Mshl Manjit Singh Sekhon was posted in as SASO. He was keen to get going (often on a tangent!) and it took many a lot of effort to keep up with him. He took it as a personal affront when the CO of the Mi-8 helicopter unit at Guwahati stated that flying from Guwahati to Shillong by night was not only dangerous but also against the Manual of Helicopter Operations. So Sekhon took on the task of personally educating the CO.

The madness over the protests in disparity of allowances continued unabated. Soon, some AE branch officers in HQ EAC were also removed at the pleasure of the President. One Air Cmde (Misra) was marched into the office of the AOC-in-C and told that the President was pleased to remove him from service. A few weeks later it was the turn of a Gp Capt Verma. The SO (a Sqn Ldr Rao) of AVM M Singh was isolated and then hounded to confess that he knew about all the ‘shenanigans’ of his boss.

A Logistics Officer was proceeded against whereas his boss (then CLMO) who kowtowed to his superiors went unscathed. A Gp Capt of the fighter stream and in the inner circle of the powers that be got away with his (chronic) romancing because he blamed the Logistics Officer, who despite wining and dining the powers that be, was punished. Another Logistics Officer (Gp Capt Rajkumar) of a nearby depot known as Brar’s blue-eyed boy, cried on his farewell. Rajkumar was subsequently caught by the Forest department smuggling (cheap) teak wood on his transfer to Delhi. He was court-martialled but his benefactor (Brar) got away scot-free despite all the wood that Rajkumar sent to Chandigarh for Brar’s house.

Soon the announcement of the next CAS was made and Air Marshal AY Tipnis was appointed to take over as the CAS on 31st December 1998. The IAF was heartened to see that the CAS selected a Aeronautical Engineering (AE) officer, a transport aircraft pilot and a helicopter pilot as SOs. Air Cmde Bhavnani had earlier replaced Air Cmde ‘Pudding’ Ahluwalia (reportedly because of differences of opinion with the retiring CAS’s wife), not before Pudding got the prized post of AOC, Gwalior. There was relief that Air Chief Marshal SK Sareen and more his wife were retiring but also some talk that the MoD ‘fixed’ the wrong Chief (Admiral Bhagwat). The fissures created by Sareen’s policy of differential flying and technical pay (with advice from his AA, Pudding) must have delighted the PAF!

The entire furore about the disparity in allowances started to dissipate in EAC when Air Mshl Brar was posted out and Air Mshl KN Nair was posted in as AOC-in-C."

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