New Delhi, Aug 14 : A three-volume work on the Northeast published by the Indian Army last year is under scrutiny over the money spent on the exercise. In reply to an RTI application by The Indian Express, the Army revealed that the pictorial volumes had cost it Rs 93.15 lakh, possibly the highest ever amount spent on a publication project by it.
Author Kunal Verma, however, pointed fingers at the change of guard from General V K Singh to General Bikram Singh, saying “Phase Two” of his project had been put on the backburner since the former Army chief demitted office on May 31. Verma’s father, Maj Gen (retd) A K Verma, was among those who filed a PIL in the Supreme Court against Bikram Singh’s appointment along with retired Navy Chief L Ramdas, former IAS officer M G Devasahayam and four others.
Under Phase Two, the trilogy would have been translated into major vernacular languages and distributed in schools throughout the country. The estimated cost of publishing 10,000 sets for each state: Rs 30 crore.
Officials in the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the money spent on the publication was currently under “scrutiny”. In addition, the RTI reply stated, the Army spent approximately Rs 50,000 on each of the six functions held to release the book, while Verma was paid approximately Rs 25,000 to attend each of them.
V K Singh had attended three of these functions, including on January 15 in New Delhi on Army Day and in Kolkata on May 19, a few days before his retirement.
In the RTI reply, the Army said the volumes “have been published under arrangements of the Indian Army to promote the Northeastern region”. “The Indian Army periodically undertakes publication of books and miscellaneous literature for strategic and national security purposes and for consumption of internal environment — the details of which are exempted from disclosure under RTI.”
Questioned about the money spent on his project, Verma (the volumes were co-authored by his wife Dipthi Bhalla) said it was hardly exorbitant given the “scope”. Of the over Rs 90 lakh, he said, Rs 57 lakh was paid to the printing press for 6,000 sets of the volumes, and he and his wife had spent almost three years working on them.
According to Verma, the funds, in all probability, came from the “perception management” funds of Military Intelligence.
He added that the proposal discussed with V K Singh (when he was posted as Eastern Army Commander in Kolkata) also conceived a “Phase Three” — including an exposition and exhibition on the Northeast in several cities and a few foreign countries.
Claiming there had been complete silence from the Army the past few months, Verma said: “I am happy I achieved Phase One and that the trilogy was published by the Army. Now the ball is in the court of the new Army Chief. I feel if they do not move on the original plan of bringing out vernacular editions, the money spent on Phase One will all be wasted.”