Home / Politics / Policy /  Indian Navy’s accident record sparks chief D.K. Joshi’s resignation

New Delhi: Navy chief D.K. Joshi resigned on Wednesday, taking moral responsibility after a fire broke out on board the submarine INS Sindhuratna off the coast of Mumbai, leaving seven sailors injured and two unaccounted for.

“Taking moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents which have taken place during the past few months, the navy chief has resigned. The government has accepted the resignation of Admiral Joshi with immediate effect," the government said in a statement.

This is the first time an Indian naval chief has resigned. In 1998, defence minister George Fernandes sacked Vishnu Bhagwat, the navy chief, after a disagreement over the appointment of the deputy chief of naval staff.

The government asked the vice-chief of naval staff, R.K. Dhowan, to discharge the duties of Joshi, who took over in 2012 and had one more year to go as the navy chief.

Wednesday’s incident took place at 6.30am around 50km off the coast of Mumbai. Fire and smoke were reported in a compartment of the Sindhuratna while the Russian-built submarine was still under water with 68 personnel on board.

Seven of the crew were airlifted and treated for smoke inhalation, Rahul Sinha, a Mumbai-based naval spokesman, said. Naval vessels in the area were coordinating the rescue mission as efforts were on to locate the missing sailors, Sinha added.

India’s navy has a fleet of 16 submarines, including 10 diesel-electric Kilo-class vessels, Kilo-class being the name given by Nato. This was the 10th accident in last seven months involving a naval vessel, and the third involving a naval submarine.

The capacity of a Kilo-class submarine is 53, but there were 68 people on board on Wednesday, including a 15-member inspection team, a navy officer said on condition of anonymity.

Joshi’s resignation comes in the wake of several high-profile accidents in the navy in the last one year, including an explosion on board the submarine INS Sindhurakshak that killed 18 personnel in August.

Earlier this month, Joshi met defence minister A.K. Antony over several glitches faced by India’s latest and most expensive warship, the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. These glitches occurred as the ship was on its maiden voyage from Russia where it was upgraded and retrofitted for the Indian navy.

Several naval officers have been sacked following accidents on board the vessels they were commanding.

On 2 February, the INS Airavat, a new amphibious battleship, suffered an accident near Visakhapatnam following which the ship’s commanding officer was sacked. In December, the captain of another vessel, the stealth-frigate INS Talwar, was sacked after it suffered an accident off the coast of Ratnagiri. The captain of another frigate, the INS Betwa, was relieved off his duties in January.

Brahma Chellaney, a defence analyst, said Joshi had “done well to resign" since in India few people in senior positions in government or the military take moral responsibility for anything.

“Even the defence minister should go because why should the navy chief alone be quitting. The defence minister should be emulating Joshi. Moral responsibility cannot stop there (with Joshi’s resignation). It goes right up to the political person in-charge," Chellaney said.

Chellaney said that the way the government had acted, it appeared that it was making Joshi the “sacrificial lamb". He added that the safety and security of Indian ships and submarines lie with the defence minister and the Prime Minister.

Chellaney said that Joshi’s resignation would further impact already strained civil-military relations in India.

Rumel Dahiya, a retired brigadier and deputy director general of the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, however, said that this was not a civil-military issue. “I don’t think the government has forced Joshi to quit. In fact, he has shown that the service is above him," Dahiya said.

Former navy chief Arun Prakash echoed Chellaney’s views. Joshi’s resignation, he agreed, sent a positive message to a country where few people positions of authority took responsibility.

That defence minister Antony had not made use of the funds provided by the government to modernize India’s military hardware would have “added to the problems for which Joshi has resigned", Prakash said.

“It (the resignation) will highlight the gulf between the military and the political relationship in the country." Chellaney added.

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