Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stale ration: CAG blasts Army - Report Hints At Widespread Corruption, Existence Of Cartels

New Delhi: An Army marches on its stomach,said Napolean Bonaparte.But the 1.13-million strong Indian Army,the third-largest in the world,marches largely on sub-standard foodstuff and rations,well past their consume-by dates. The Army is already reeling under a series of meat,egg,atta,dal and other ration scams in recent years,with even Lt-General rank officers being indicted in the scandals. And now,the CAG has punched several gaping holes in Army's entire "supply chain management of rations'',hinting at widespread corruption and existence of cartels.

Tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, latest CAG report paints a dismal picture of the way procurement and supply of dry (rice,wheat,dal,sugar,tea,oil,tinned stuff) and fresh (vegetables,fruit,meat,milk) rations is being undertaken at an annual cost of Rs 1,440 crore. Noting that the satisfaction levels of troops about quantity,quality and taste of rations was "very low'',CAG has called for a complete overhaul of the existing system,ranging from computerisation and better procurement procedures to expansion in the vendor base and blacklisting of defaulting parties.

As per CAG,the main villains of the piece are Army Service Corps (ASC) and Army Purchase Organisation,all under the benign gaze of Army HQ as well as defence ministry. Around three lakh soldiers under the Northern Command in J&K,for instance,were issued rations by Army supply depots even after the expiry of their original estimated storage life (ESL) based on "repeated extensions'' given by Central Food Laboratory at Jammu. "While instructions prohibit any extensions beyond three months of the ESL,atta,sugar,rice,tea,dal,edible oil etc were consumed (by soldiers) even six months to 28 months after the expiry of the original ESL,''said CAG,adding that MoD and Army HQ need to get their act together "to ensure supply of good quality rations to troops''.

The existence of cartels,a "risk too serious to be ignored'',is also affecting the quantity and quality of rations. "Serious absence of competition was noticed in procurement of fresh rations, 82% of procurement was based on less than three quotations,36% based on single quotations,'' it said.For instance,from 2005 to 2008,only one vendor purchased the tender documents for supply of meat and chicken in Delhi and the Rs 5 crore annual contract was awarded to him.Take another example.In blatant violation of norms,several transport and tour companies were registered as vendors to supply meat,eggs,vegetables and milk,in addition to transportation.Conversely,a poultry firm was found registered for the supply of transport and vegetables. "Abnormal variations in rates of vegetables,fruits and meat must be investigated.MoD may provide an assurance these variations do not arise from any fraud or corrupt practices in procurements of fresh rations,''said CAG.
Defective, outdated choppers for Army

Even as it expressed serious concern at the alarming shortfalls in aging helicopter and aircraft fleets of Navy and IAF,the CAG has blasted the defence ministry for procuring six defective and phased-out UH-3 H helicopters from the US for Rs 182.14 crore.

The six helicopters were manufactured in January 1961-July 1965 and were decommissioned by the US Navy in 2005 itself."Audit examination revealed the helicopters procured were lifeexpired and had many defects which would ultimately compromise operational effectiveness,'' said CAG. The heli-copters were bought from the US government under the "foreign military sales''programme,which is a direct government-togovernment deal without any multi-vendor competition. The helicopters were acquired to operate from the second-hand amphibious transport warship USS Trenton,rechristened INS Jalashwa by the Navy,also purchased from the US in 2006. An earlier CAG report has already slammed the defence ministry for procuring the "ageing''INS Jalashwa,which is now around 40 years old,for $50.63 million in a "hasty manner'' without "proper physical assessment'' and technical evaluation of its sea-worthiness.Incidentally,an officer and five sailors were killed on board the warship due to a toxic gas leak a couple of years ago.

The latest CAG report,tabled in Parliament on Tuesday,said,"Considering the vintage of the helicopters and the obsolescence of spares,maintenance of the six refurbished helicopters by Indian Navy would be a challenging task.In fact,one helicopter has already been cannibalised to ensure serviceability of the other five helicopters.'' The CAG report said the helicopters were bought in "as is where is'' condition with "no guarantee of supportability and replacement of defective rotables due to obsolescence''.

Moreover,the helicopters are devoid of any type of weather/surface surveillance radar,which is the most important sensor of a utility helicopter during its "search-and-rescue''operations.

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