The allegation by Lt General PC Katoch (retired), a veteran officer of the Special Forces (units which are under the direct command of the Indian military and specifically organised, trained, and are equipped to conduct and support special operations) comes amidst Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar seeking a report on the short supply of medals that has forced soldiers to buy duplicate ones from the market.
The medals are awarded for various achievements, including bravery, distinguished service among others. Katoch, quoting sources, says, "While those medals awarded at investiture ceremonies were available, lakhs of others awarded over the years are not."
"This includes those given for completing a certain number of years in service, serving in difficult areas or taking part in various operations", says Katoch, adding, "The situation has been such that only a handful of medals have been officially issued over the last 7-8 years while over 10 lakh medals are pending."
Says Katoch, "Defence Minister Parrikar should also for figures of how many medals were dispatched by post to soldiers, say, in the last 10 years long ‘after’ after they had retired from service. The numbers would likely shock him."
Insisting that "the Medal Section is quite capable of obfuscating the real figures", Katoch says, "According to an unnamed source in the Ministry of Defence, non-availability was due to some financial constraints. This is nothing but a weak bureaucratic cover up especially considering the crores of rupees from the defence budget that gets surrendered each financial year."
"One favourite place for purchasing duplicate medals is Gopinath Bazar in Delhi Cantonment", says Katoch, adding, "The difference between the original and the duplicate is that the name of the soldier and his service number is engraved on the rim of the original medal."
According to Katoch, a soldier buys a duplicate medal because wearing it "on his chest that adds to his ‘izzat’. He does not favour his chest bare without the medals due to him and – consequently less medals compared to his contemporaries."
"The problem of giving the medals to soldiers’ years after these were awarded is endemic and the actual issue is institutionalized corruption", believes Katoch.
Pointing to why Ministry of Defence officials reject providing medals, Katoch recalls, "when the Government of India decided to award the 50-year Independence Medal to all security forces (Armed Forces, Para Military Forces, Central Armed Police Forces and Police personnel included), the overall contract worked out to some Rs 100 crore, even though the duplicate was available in Gopinath Bazar for less than half that price."
"Awarding the contract itself took considerable time because vendors were being hunted who could pass on Rs 20 crore under the table before the agreement was inked", Katoch says.
"It is also very likely that the same vendor or vendors, who produce the actual medals, also makes the duplicates. This can be easily verified from the shops selling duplicate medals", suspects Katoch, adding,
"Obviously, delayed delivery of actual medals boosts the sales of duplicate medals. After all, the vendor has to somewhat make up, if not completely, the bribe paid while securing the contract for delivering the actual medals."