New Delhi: A recent report related to procurement and purchases by the army commanders have caused embarrassment to the army and concern in the Defence ministry. An internal audit routinely carried out recently by the Comptroller of Defence Accounts pointed to irregularities in 55 transactions under the Special Financial Powers of army commanders. These mostly related to emergency purchases ordered by the generals that resulted in an estimated financial loss of Rs 100 crore besides compromising security protocols. That the purchases ignored and disregarded guidelines, as they were made through agents and not directly from manufacturers, the audit report called for a thorough probe. The breach of protocol was found blatant in some cases as the manufacturers were available in India.
Another report from Italy pertains to the purchase of VVIP helicopters for the Indian Air Force from an Italian firm of Rs 35446 corore in which three Indians agents are being probed for paying bribes to politicians and for money laundering. The evidence points to a deep-rooted flaw in the system as foreign military procurements are found often involved with and lobbyists who are paid huge amounts for securing a favourable deal for sub-standard equipment. This sub-standard equipment is neither up to mark nor worth its value in money. However, as indigenous defence production is far behind and unable to meet Indian defence needs foreign procurement is unavoidable. In such a situation, the entire system requires an overhaul and it must be made more stringent . Special care in defence deals is a must as these generally involve huge amounts and acquisition of sub-standard items or armaments directly affects defence preparedness.
A parliamentary panel is believed to have indicted the Army for “deep-rooted and widespread malpractices” in its ration supply chain observing that jawans were served food items that had, in some cases, passed their expiry dates by 28 months. Now this a sad story that outsiders should be concerned while the army brass is indifferent to sub standard supplies to their own jawans, if 74 per cent of fresh vegetables and fruits issued to units by supply depots were not in accordance with prescribed norms.“Deficiencies noticed in the test check are reflective of the deep-rooted and widespread malpractices in the supply chain management of the Indian Army,” the PAC report has also observed in its report that “shortcomings in procurement procedures of Army Service Corps, issue of rations to troops even after expiry of original Estimated Storage Life (ESL), highly non-competitive procurement of fresh rations and deviation from the laid down guidelines”.
The Committee said it was startled to know “ESL of a number of dry rations was extended by an Army lab beyond its permissible limit”. “Still worse, these dry rations were consumed by the troops even six to 28 months after expiry of their normal ESL,” it is believed to have said. The Committee deplored the mismatch in issue and receipt of rations observing that this was “inconceivable without complicity of officers” concerned.
The problem of money changing hands in supply contracts is age old as the supplies are through contractors whose main aim is to procure supplies at the lowest rate to make huge profits, to pass poor quality supplies to the troops they are ready to pay huge bribes and keep searching for those officers who are in dire need of money because of family problems or because of their lavish life style. The officers who are directly responsible for quality controls are from middle ranks not from higher ranks of the army accept the officers of the supply branches. Contractors with their connections in the army headquarters get them posted in suitable places where huge contracts are required, through them they by- pass the strict quality control laid down by the army. To check these corrupt practices extreme vigilance is required, by the time the scam is exposed many culprits retire. Senior army officers who have important operational responsibility cannot always wait to get supplies or equipment in normal course due to operational contingencies, sometime they take shortcuts but they do not do it for personal gains.
The change of system is required in the purchase systems related to the powers of army commander’s special financial powers. The army brass must exercise greater caution and be made aware about avoiding financial loss to the public funds . The problem has to be examined by a high level committee to ensure that the methods of supplies and equipment is made fool proof in the entire supply chain and new checks and balances are introduced. It is pointless if the faults are discovered when it already too late and damage has been done. No point only blaming the individuals without making any attempts to change the systems that provides loopholes for mal practices