India struggling with making warfare clothing

IANS Apr 30, 2010
A parliamentary panel has lamented that India, which is capable of launching satellites and manufacturing missiles, tanks and other state-of-the-art defence equipment, lacks adequate capabilities for making specialised clothing for high altitude warfare.

That is the reason why, of the 55 items authorised for soldiers stationed in areas like the Siachen Glacier and Kargil, 19 critical items like down feather jackets, trousers, sleeping bags, multipurpose boots, woollen socks and rucksacks are being imported ‘as no indigenous source was available’, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in its report.

The committee recommended that domestic production capabilities be strengthened, at least in the public sector, ‘even if the Indian private sector is not forthcoming, ostensibly due to lack of economic viability considerations’.

‘The defence of a nation is a non-negotiable national imperative and under no circumstances can commercial and economic considerations be allowed to compromise the nation’s foremost priority,’ said the committee, headed by Gopinath Munde of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its report tabled in parliament Thursday.

The committee was also ‘dismayed’ to learn that despite the fact that Army Headquarters has been procuring these items for over two decades, ‘the procedure for formulation of technical specifications, evaluation of offers and selection of vendors have not been streamlined so far’.

Of the 10 contracts concluded during 2002-06 for the purchase of special clothing for Rs.48.88 crore, 59 percent of the items valued at Rs.28.81 crore were rejected either at the receipt inspection stage or by the end users.

‘The whole approach towards procurement of such supplies appears casual so that neither quality not timely availability of critical items could be ensured, thereby compromising safety as well as comfort of the troops deployed in harsh climatic conditions,’ the committee said.

It noted that there were 388 casualties reported due to cold-induced injuries such as frostbite and chilblain.

The committee said the procurement process ‘was fraught by serious delays at every stage, impacting on the timely availability of adequate clothing and equipment each time during deployment of troops to Siachen’.

It took 32 months from the time of raising a demand to the delivery of the items to the troops, mainly because of the ‘severe delay in trial evaluation and finalisation of specifications’ by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance, tendering and the signing of the contract.

Taking into account all the shortcomings in the procurement process, the committee has recommended that the ‘entire procurement procedures be revised, so that from the time of recognising the need for procuring clothing and mountaineering equipment till these are finally delivered to the end users is minimised to the maximum extent consistent with ensuring transparency’.

Fixing of responsibility ‘is seen as a very important step for correcting the acts of omission and commission’, the committee said and asked the defence ministry ‘to fix responsibility on all concerned who were found to be responsible for flaws in procurement procedures, technical evaluations and rejected of ordered clothing and equipment’.

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