The Directorate of Air Staff Inspections or DASI as it is popularly known is a powerful directorate. Technically, its operations were overseen by the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Flight Safety and Inspections) but the Director DASI had free access to the Vice Chief and the Chief. I am of course talking of a time when the Branch of ‘Inspector General Air Force’ did not exist. At that time, the Directorates of Flight Safety as well as the Directorate of Air Staff Inspections came under the Vice Chief of Air Staff through the ACAS (FS&I). My tale today is situated in 1978 and I was then the Director of Flight Safety as a Group Captain.
Director DASI had just come back from a fighter station after inspecting the units of the base. During the visit, one of the units had displayed a very welcome innovation; it had rigged up two small personal tape recorders to two VHF RT sets tuned to two combat training channels. The recorded conversation was then used to guide the discussion during a post-group-combat de-briefing. The innovation was extremely helpful. The Director DASI felt that the required equipment be scaled for all combat squadrons. He made this point strongly while he debriefed the ACAS(FS&I). The ACAS in his turn took the suggestion to the Vice Chief of Air Staff who liked the idea. He directed that a scaling action be initiated. That direction was duly passed down to the Director DASI.
As I have just said, the DASI was some-what of a pampered directorate; perhaps as a result of the stature of its past directors like David Bouche and Mally Wollen who tended to stand much taller than their actual five feet five. The present director took full advantage of this enhanced stature and threw a tantrum. All his staff was busy with inspection visits. He had no one to run after the babus of the MOD and Defence Audit and Accounts necessary for scaling action. Could the ACAS make some other arrangement? Accidentally, I too was sitting in the office of the ACAS when the interchange was taking place.
Air Vice Marshal Saroj Jena, the ACAS, was listening passively when the Director DASI was holding forth. His eyes twinkled and a smile played on his lips. He picked out a file lying in front of him and gently pushed it to me. The fool that I am, I picked the file up. Thus the scaling case dropped on my lap.
Back in my office, I studied the proposal and it looked quite straight forward to me. A small piece of inexpensive equipment was being proposed for procurement to bring about a qualitative improvement in cutting edge operational training. Certainly, practicing group combat between formations of high speed fighter aircraft was one on the most complex tasks of the Air Force. A one time capital expense of two thousand rupees for an unit operating 18 aircraft costing over thirty lakhs each would indeed seem trivial, and that is all the capital expense that was needed. There was in any case no proposal for any revenue expenditure.
I got my staff to prepare the paperwork for the scaling proposal. It was decided that the proposal will be only for the tape recorders. Though rightfully each squadron should also have been scaled for two radio sets which would monitor the RT Natter during combat that was to be recorded for training, it was felt that two RT Sets per squadron would make the proposal too costly and the proposal would get shot down at the preliminary stage. We thought that since the financial year was already half way through, a proposal for equipping all 30 combat squadrons with new gadgets will get shot down. We therefore proposed that only 8 out of 30 squadrons be initially equipped. Proposed scaling was for two recorders per unit and a holding of 50% reserves per squadron. That placed the initial proposal to 8 x 2 + 8 x 1 = 24 tape recorders. The price of each tape recorder was expected to be about rupees one thousand. The monetary value of the proposal was therefore about a one time expenditure of rupees twenty four thousand within the current financial year. We sent the proposal in and expected it to sail through the ocean of red tape without a hitch. We were mistaken.
I have to interrupt my narrative for a moment. In my minds eye I can see a forest of young heads amongst my readers raising their eyebrows. Why is there all this hassle for an expenditure of a mere twenty four thousand rupees? Why cant some one just order a couple of a dozen small tape recorders to be just bought and delivered? These are of course good questions, but unfortunately, that is how the cookie crumbles. Even the Chief of Air Staff could not (and can not?) authorise expenditure for the purchase of any gadget without pushing a proposal for the same and allow some bean counting clerks to consider whether expenditure of some real money is OK for some illusive intangible increase of operational or training efficiency. Any way, back to my narration!
Our proposal drew no response. No yes and no No. We waited, but we waited in vain. Ultimately, I rang up the person concerned. He hammed and hawed and then suggested a meeting. I told him that if he needed any clarification on any point he should send me a note. The telephone dialogue was inconclusive. Another set of reminders followed. Ultimately I got a note on the subject. Could I attend a meeting at the Desk Officer’s office? By protocol, such requests are improper. However, to bring a long pending minor job to a conclusion I agreed to attend the meeting. I reached the office of the functionary. He was from the Audit and Account service. There was another functionary from the same service in the room. Let me call these two gentlemen as Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee. Dum was dealing with my file. Dee was just his friend.
As I sat down, Twiddle Dee opened the proceedings taking me some-what by surprise. Sen Saab, he addressed me in Hindi. Lagta hai ki aaplog sab sangeet ke shaukeen ho gaye hain. (It seems that you all have become great fans of music!) Mister Twiddle Dee had not yet indicated his locus standii in relation to our case. To me, his opening gambit was gratuitous and irrelevant. I found it irritating. Out of politeness I answered him in the same language. Main samjha nahin. (I did not follow you.) The retort missesd its mark and Sri Dee continued his Buffoonery. All this tape recorder shape recorder – what will you do with it? The man had obviously no idea about how to behave decently with an officer way senior in protocol and perhaps also in age. The other gentleman, Mr Twiddle Dum now opened his mouth. ‘We don’t really understand why the tape recorders are required’. It was becoming difficult for me to remain calm. It was clear that these two were attempting to bait me. I decided not to expose my irritation. ‘The reasons for provision of tape recorders have been explained in great detail in the proposal. Have you read through the proposal at all?’ I kept the tone of my words as neutral as possible but perhaps a bit of sarcasm was showing through. The duo asked in unison, how will tape recorders help in improving training or operational efficiency? Were they just pretending to be dense or were they actually displaying their intellectual ability? I wondered. If you are rally keen to know, then perhaps you should visit an operational unit? I tried to be helpful. The duo was not interested in being educated. Twiddle Dum picked up the case and tried to read through one of the enclosure. Twiddle Dee paced up and down the room and then turned to me. ‘One thing is sure’, he finally said in English. ‘We are not going to sanction twenty four tape recorders to you just like that. As an experiment you can have a smaller number, say six or eight.’ With that expression, he sat down on a chair.
I was so amazed by this dramatics that I forgot to be angry. ‘This number, this six or eight,’ I asked Mr Dee, ‘where did you get these numbers from?’ Mr Dee switched back to Hindi. ‘Aap ne poochha, Bagwan ne mere jubaan pe raakh diya, our main bol diya!’ (You asked, God put those numbers on my tongue, I spoke them out!)
At long last my patience ran out. With great deliberation I closed my file, got up from my chair and left the room with my papers without uttering another word. I did not pay any heed to their pleading for a resumption of discussion behind my back as I marched out.
Back in my office I opened a new part case of the file. Wrote a long note in my long hand describing the happenings of the day and ended the note by saying:
“At this stage I left the meeting as I have not been trained to communicate with those who are in direct communication with God. My superiors may please direct me for further action.”
I addressed the note to the AOM (Air Officer Maintenance) who oversees scaling action of technical equipment for the Air Force and routed the file through ACAS(FS&I). The ACAS re routed it through the Vice Chief of Air Staff. The AOM received the file in the next day’s mail. He redirected it to the FADS (Financial Advisor Defence Services) without any further comment.
A couple of days later Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee visited my office. They carried a government order authorising the purchase of 24 small tape recorders. It did not however include a revised scaling for fighter squadrons so that units raised in the future could automatically be equipped with this item. I left the Directorate of Flight Safety soon after this incident. I do not know whether this scaling action was completed in later years. I do regret however that on that day I had fallen short of my usual standards of hospitality. I did not offer a cup of coffee to Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee.
I believe I have heard from you many such pathetically hilarious (or are they hilariously pathetic?) anecdotes. A senior officer is perhaps authorised to vaporise hundreds, or even thousands of gallons of gasoline but must seek prior approval to procure even a pencil worth one rupee!
The descendants of Lord Cornwallis’ iron frame are obviously”more loyal than the king”.
Budgetary audits and checks & balances on spending the tax-payers’ money are all very fine. What I can not fathom is why can’t every department of the government be allocated a certain discretionary (if contingency) fund for occasions such as you describe. Does the taxpayer not pay for the bureaucrats’ and defence officers’ TIME? Is discretion the privilege of only RAW and the cabinet secretariat? Rather a sad state of affairs surely.
But then… God still has
his hotline with the Babus
of Bharat Sarkar…
Only GOD knows how they operate
And what makes things happen!!
Even if (s)he does not the
responsibility is assigned there!
These tales, bring back memories of “simpler”times,to those old enough.
To those born later but still destined to do battle with the “system”, they show how it can sometimes be done without giving up ones dignity and sense of humour!
This is hilarious. Even God can speak in different voices. Or maybe our ‘Babus’ can make him do so. Never underestimate a ‘Babu’ !