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Probe in Indian Army recruitment scam finds candidates in defence academy who paid ‘bribes’ to get in

CBI Handed Probe Into Army Recruitment Scam, Books 17 Officers And Personnel For Alleged Bribery & Irregularities In Admissions To National Defence Academy (NDA), Officers Training Academy (OTA).

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An internal probe by the Army revealed that at least two candidates made it into the prestigious Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai, and another cleared the Service Selection Board (SSB) of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in December 2020 through corrupt practices, ThePrint has learnt.

The investigation, sources in the defence establishment said, also revealed that a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) managed to become an officer in the Grenadiers regiment after paying close to Rs 10 lakh to the main accused, a Lieutenant Colonel rank officer.

The alleged scam is believed to involve several serving personnel, including five Lt Colonel rank officers and two Majors.

The probe began last month after the Army’s Military Intelligence wing got a tip-off about the alleged payment of bribes to clear rejected officer candidates during their review medical exam at the Base Hospital in New Delhi, sources told ThePrint.

The Army investigation led to the identification of some of the accused. However, the Army chief, sources said, suspected that the scam may run deeper and directed that the case be handed over to the CBI, which filed an FIR in the matter Monday.

“The Army first did an internal investigation and found that there were many others who were involved, including serving officers and their family members. Having realised that the scale could be higher, the Army chief decided to hand over the case to the CBI so that a proper investigation could be done and this case be made an example of,” a source said.

Based on this direction, the Additional Directorate General, Discipline & Vigilance, Adjutant General’s Branch in the Army Headquarters, wrote to the CBI on 13 March, giving full details of the alleged scam. The case, the officer said, “involves wider network of service personnel and civilians”.

“To take this case to the logical conclusion, the case is being shared with CBI. The same will ensure that culprits do not go scot-free,” the Army note to the CBI said.

The CBI Monday booked 17 Army officers and personnel — including a Lt Col, Major, Naib Subedar, and Sepoy — and six private individuals, among others, for alleged bribery and irregularities in recruitment of officers and other ranks through SSB.

In a statement, the CBI said it had conducted searches at 30 places, including the Base Hospital, Delhi Cantonment, other Army establishments, and civilian areas covering 13 cities — Kapurthala, Bathinda, Delhi, Kaithal, Palwal, Lucknow, Bareilly, Gorakhpur, Visakhapatnam, Jaipur, Guwahati, Jorhat and Chirangon — and recovered several “incriminating documents”. The documents are being scrutinised as the investigation continues, the CBI added.

The aforementioned source said the allegations will lead to a lot of noise against the force, and questions on the recruitment format, but added that Army chief Gen M.M. Naravane “felt that a firm example should be made of all those who took part in this corrupt practice”.

The accused

The Army’s internal probe led to the identification of Lt Col. MVSNA Bhagwan of the Army Air Defence as the alleged mastermind of the scam. Lt Col. Bhagwan is currently on study leave in Visakhapatnam.

Naib Subedar Kuldeep Singh, posted at the Base Hospital, Delhi Cantonment, is believed to be the main middleman who scouted for candidates willing to pay money for selection through the SSB.

Naib Subedar Singh is accused of seeking assistance from Lt Col Bhagwan for SSB exams “in lieu of money” and “touted aspiring candidates” to him, according to the Army probe.

Along with him, the Army has identified Major Bhavesh Kumar, Group Testing Officer, Selection Centre North, Kapurthala, Lt Col Surender Singh, 31 SSB Selection Centre North, Lt Col Y.S. Chauhan, 6 Mountain Division Ordnance Unit, Lt Col. Sukhdev Arora, Directorate General Recruiting, New Delhi, and Lt Col Vinay, Group Testing Officer, Selection Centre South Bangalore, as “facilitators”.

Besides them, the Army has identified Lieutenant Navjot Singh Kanwar of 12 Grenadiers for “fraudulently” clearing SSB for SL (Special List) Commission, a way for NCOs to become officers.

Others accused are Cadet Hemant Dagar, SSC (Tech)—53 OTA, along with Cadet Inderjeet NCC (SPL) Entry—47, OTA.

Havildar Pawan Kumar is accused of paying money to get his son Neeraj Kumar to clear the SSB. The son cleared the SSB at the NDA in December 2020.

The CBI FIR mentions more Army personnel as accused, including Major Amit Fagna of 422 Field Hospital Delhi Cantonment.

Modus operandi

Sources said the scam revolved around clearance of candidates rejected temporarily by the medical board. One of the accused, Havildar Rajesh Kumar, Independent Recruitment Organisation, Delhi Cantt, used to collect a list of such rejected candidates and divulged the merit list prematurely.

It is suspected that payments for these transactions used to be made through cash and UPI to family members of the accused, including parents.

Military Intelligence, sources said, managed to track down several UPI payments and also video footage of “packages being exchanged”.

The CBI FIR says Major Bhavesh Kumar allegedly accepted bribes for 10-11 candidates, while Lt Col Surender Singh is alleged to have “accepted bribe for selection of 10-15 candidates”.