Army chief V.K. Singh calls leak "high treason"

NEW DELHI Fri Mar 30, 2012 8:11am IST

Army Chief General Vijay Kumar Singh inspects the guard of honour in New Delhi April 1, 2010. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

Army Chief General Vijay Kumar Singh inspects the guard of honour in New Delhi April 1, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Army chief V.K. Singh scrambled to distance himself from a leak of a letter describing ammunition shortages and archaic air defences in the world's second largest standing army, the latest deterioration in his relations with the government.

Singh took the defence ministry to court earlier in the year in a failed attempt to prove he was a year younger than the army records showed.

On Wednesday, local media printed excerpts of a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this month expressing serious concerns about India's defence capabilities, triggering allegations he was behind the leak.

India's giant armed forces has traditionally kept out of the political domain, unlike in other South Asian nations, and army chief Singh's boldness has angered the political class.

Even opposition parties rallied behind the government, with some calling for the army chief to step down.

He denied having anything to do with the leak.

"This an outrage! Official communication with the prime minister, defence minister or anybody for that matter with the chief of defence staff is privileged information," the army chief wrote in a statement, mailed to media houses.

"The leaking of the letter should be treated as high treason. This cynical approach to tar my reputation has to stop," he added.

India is the globe's top weapons importer and plans to spend over $40 billion in defence this year. The letter, sent on March 12, suggested massive shortfalls in purchases and procedures, leading to the weakening of India's armed forces.

Singh's comments came on a day when the country's annual defence fair opened in the city with 580 participants from different parts of the world flying in to explore a market estimated to be worth $100 billion in coming years.

After inaugurating the fair, defence minister A.K. Antony told a media conference he had ordered an investigation. He called the leak "anti-national" but said the army chief had not been sacked.

"All service chiefs continue to enjoy the confidence of the government," Antony said.

Only a few months away from retirement, on Monday, Singh said he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to buy faulty trucks for the army, an accusation seen as another attack on the defence ministry for its perceived inaction against graft in weapons purchase.

(Writing By Satarupa Bhattacharjya)

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