First page news again – and for the wrong reasons yet again. “Army golf clubs a bogey : CAG” and “Army of golf clubs eat up defence land” are only some of the scathing headlines in the morning dailies today. Apparently the Army is running over 97 ‘Illegal’ golf courses across the country. Of course, to a sensation seeking public fed by an ever obliging media, it is yet another ‘scam’ in the series – from Ketchup to Adarsh. So it is all the more plausible, and the impression given is that someone somewhere is sitting on piles of money made through running illegal golf courses on defence land. Who has the time to read the details, and moreover who has the understanding to be able to read between the lines to discern between actual corruption and mere violation of norms.
The major ‘irregularities’, as one can make out from the newspaper reports, are that golf is not a ‘recognized’ or ‘authorized’ sport as far as MoD is concerned, therefore use of defence land for its pursuit is not in order. Secondly, these golf courses have been designated as ‘Environment Parks and Training Areas’ to hoodwink the system. Thirdly, that these so called training facilities are being also utilized by civilians, veterans and even foreigners in some cases. Fourthly, that private societies have been formed to run these, money is being charged for use of facilities, and the proceeds are not being deposited into government treasury as earnings arising from use of defence land. To my mind, the entire episode is not about corruption or misappropriation, but about foolhardy bluster combined with a lethargic affinity to shortcuts. The latter is often a product of the panic to do something fast enough to show results within short tenures, combined with ignorance of procedures and reluctance to try and find out about them .
Firstly, playing golf is obviously not an ‘illegal’ activity. Therefore, even if it is not a ‘recognized activity’ by the MoD, why hasn’t action have been initiated to have it so included long ago? It is not as if it requires an amendment in the constitution. It would, however, be a laborious and complex process which would require the prudence and perseverance, farsightedness, and ability to see beyond tenures – to work towards organizational interest at something for which one may not ultimately get the credit. Also, somewhere there might be a niggling feeling of guilt – golf, after all is not a ‘troop game’. Therefore, rather than doing the harder right, the easier wrong is resorted to. If golf courses are not authorized, lets just shut our eyes tight and imagine these are environment parks instead. And assume that everyone else, the CAG, MoD and media, will play along in this make believe mumbo jumbo.
Such tendency, to my mind, arises from the military virtue of unquestioning obedience, of finding a way or making a way to ensure whatever the commander ‘desires’ happens – no matter what – combined with the usual military preference for action and disdain for bureaucratic procedure hampering such action. Remember the golf carts purchased ostensibly to transport patients in hospitals, or as recce vehicles? So if the desire is to establish a golf course, we ‘make a way’ by such shenanigans as pretending they are something else, to make sure the orders can be implemented. Not only is the alternative of processing a combined case to get an approval once and for all more cumbersome, it would also result in the setting up of such a golf course long after the tenure of the person who undertakes such a task. Yet another military belief – that it is ‘OK’ to bend rules for the ‘larger good’ and as long as such bending does not result in any direct personal gain. Unfortunately, we are no longer living in the era of the insulated isolated cantonment where ‘CO Sahib ka hukum’ could override anything else. We are living under constant scrutiny from various quarters, with the slightest transgression of any kind being highlighted. And of course, in the public eye there are no distinctions between a transgression undertaken for lining someone’s pockets, or such transgressions as renaming something in order to circumvent regulations, even though the latter is undertaken for the collective benefit.
A point which has not been mentioned in the newspaper reports, and possibly in the CAG report too, is that the land being used for golf courses is not earmarked for any other use. Of course, the CAG or the MoD couldn’t care less that if the land is left unutilized. Used as golf courses, not only is such land maintained and gainfully utilized, it is also protected from encroachment. However, unless the laid down procedures are followed, such utilization is unauthorized, and open to scrutiny. And of course, the connected financial transactions also assume an illegality that needs regularization.
It is therefore, about time that such anomalies are rectified and the existing facilities regularized. One hopes that is what will be the course (no pun intended) adopted – and not a knee jerk reaction of closing down the facilities or resorting to further futile smoke and mirror tricks to perpetuate them under other guises.