CAG pulls up Army as soldiers in Ladakh and Siachen face shortage of snow boots, goggles

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has pulled up the Army for delays in the procurement of snow goggles, multipurpose boots and other high-altitude clothing and equipment (HACE) essential for troops posted in areas such as Ladakh and Siachen.

In a report tabled in both houses of Parliament Monday, the CAG has also questioned the government for the “inordinate delay” in the establishment of the Indian National Defence University, which was recommended by the Kargil review committee in 1999.

It has pointed out irregularities in certain procurements and pulled up the defence ministry for losses to the tune of Rs 25.48 crore on account of delayed lease renewals for defence land.

A grim picture ::

The CAG report paints a grim picture about the availability of crucial equipment and supplies personnel require to weather tough conditions — subzero temperatures, treacherous terrain — on high-altitude postings such as Ladakh and Siachen.

Between November 2015 and September 2016, a shortage of multipurpose boots, which can protect feet in temperatures of -55 degrees Celsius, forced personnel to opt for recycled boots, it said.

The report also flagged a shortage of 750 snow goggles on account of “poor supplies” from Ordnance Factory Dehradun.

Among other things, it alleged irregularities in the selection of “inferior” rucksacks that didn’t meet specifications listed in the contract.

“Adopting test method by DGQA [Directorate General of Quality Assurance, under the Defence Ministry] different from contract provisions resulted in acceptance of inferior quality of rucksack,” it stated.

Alleged irregularities were also flagged in the procurement of 31,779 “substandard sleeping bags” with old specifications at an extra cost of Rs 7.74 crore. Face masks procured for troops posted in extreme weather conditions were termed “substandard”.

There are high levels of deficiencies in issuing special clothing and mountaineering equipment items, it said, adding that troops are provided with alternative clothing in the absence of winter overalls.

It pointed out several instances where procurement was delayed by up to four years after necessity was first accepted.

“This defeats the very purpose of constituting the empowered committee besides undermining the objectives of annual provisioning reviews,” the report stated, recommending an inquiry into alleged irregularities in procurement and strict action against those guilty.

It has called for the defence ministry to formulate testing procedures in line with international standards.

The CAG also claimed that troops posted in high-altitude areas were given a smaller quantity of rations owing to the fact that the food supplies arranged for these regions were costlier. This, it said, resulted in reduced calorie intake for troops.

Delayed university ::

The idea of an Indian National Defence University was mooted by the Kargil review committee, which was set up in 1999 to review the situation leading up to the war and suggest measures to bolster India’s national security apparatus. The university was among the recommendations meant to address deficiencies in India’s security management system.

Flagging the delay in the setting up of the university, the CAG said it had caused the estimated project cost to balloon from Rs 395 crore to Rs 4,007.22 crore (December 2017).

The CAG pointed out that, the Union Cabinet in May 2010 accorded in-principle approval for the university to come up in Gurgaon, and that land was acquired for the campus in September 2012 for Rs 164.62 crore.

However, it added, a draft legislation on the university has been pending with the cabinet secretariat since December 2017.

The defence ministry was also slammed for causing a loss of Rs 25.48 crore to the exchequer on account of delays in the renewal of leases for defence land.

In 2011, the CAG noted, the Public Accounts Committee recommended that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should expedite the lease renewal process to avoid losses.

“However, the MoD did not finalise the policy for renewal of leases of defence land leased to sports and recreational clubs, as of June 2018. Moreover, MoD/Director General of Defence Estate (DGDE) did not take action for renewal or termination of lease,” the report added.

By: The Print

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