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Major general under probe

New Delhi, Sept. 4: The army has ordered a court of inquiry into the procurement of information technology systems and a high ranking officer is at the centre of the probe.

Sources said that last week, the officer, a major general, was asked not to attend office for two days so that files and documents could be studied. The office of a junior was also searched. “It is a small matter, a routine internal inquiry. Nothing out of the ordinary. I went to office today also and even met the deputy chief,” the officer said.

Asked why the need for an inquiry arose, he said: “The organisation must have felt the need for it.” The inquiry was not instituted on the basis of any complaint, the officer added.

Procurements for the army have been a sensitive subject and the recent succession of scams has forced the defence establishment to be doubly circumspect.

Over the last two years, the army has been on a drive to procure IT systems and software as well as weaponry and visual devices. The IT systems are required in bulk in wings such as signals, wargaming and training.

The army is in the process of procuring IT systems estimated to be worth Rs 100 crore. Most of these are “ruggedised”, meaning they must be capable of withstanding extremes of climate and terrain. Vendors have to reinforce the systems and the army is required to put them through a strict quality-control test. Often, this proves to be uneconomical for the vendor unless the order is placed in bulk and ensures a profit after covering the cost of production and supplies.

Army officers have been wary of dealing with industry directly, particularly since Tehelka’s “Operation Westend”. A series of interactions with business leaders have made it easier for the difficult demands of the forces to be better understood.

Industry had been demanding a single-point interface with the army for the vendor of equipment. Following that, army chief Gen. S. Padmanabhan asked vice-chief Lt Gen. N.C. Vij to streamline the procurement process at the army headquarters. The army chief has set a target to make the army fully IT-literate by 2008. The defence ministry, too, had assured that allocations will not be restricted.

Suspicions of financial embezzlement are said to have arisen because a tender mentioned the brandname of computers to be procured. The official spokesman for the army denied that an officer in charge of information technology has been suspended or asked not to report for work.

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