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Sleeping bag slur on army

New Delhi, March 13: A parliamentary committee has indicted the army, the ministry of defence and its Directorate General of Quality Assurance for buying poor-quality sleeping bags for troops stationed in the world’s highest battlefield at Siachen Glacier.

The Public Accounts Committee headed by Buta Singh found that the defence establishment had placed orders estimated at about Rs 6 crore (11.86 million French Francs) with a French company, Moncler, since 1993 for 8,588 sleeping bags.

The report noted that India was buying sleeping bags for troops in high-altitude locations from a Swiss company, Richner, based in Geneva. In 1991, when Richner sought an increase in prices, the defence ministry decided to expand the vendor base through global tenders and finally placed the order with Moncler.

The french company had quoted Rs 6557.45 (French Francs 1,381) per piece — substantially lower that the Swiss company’s quotes of Rs 10,571.82 per piece for large-sized bags and Rs 8746.92 per piece for medium-sized ones. But the sample piece submitted by Moncler — on the basis of which it got the order — was far superior to the sleeping bags procured by the army.

The parliamentary company also found that the order was placed with Moncler even though it was found that the French firm had gone bankrupt. The defence ministry justified this by saying the defence attache in the French embassy certified that Moncler was a company operating out of France.

The committee has called for a probe into the “The questionable role of the ministry of defence, particularly the officers responsible for execution of the contract.” It said the Directorate General of Quality Assuranc accepted several lots of the consignment even after the inferior quality was pointed out to it.

“The manner in which the contract was executed by the ministry gave an unmistakable impression that the intention was always to accommodate the foreign supplier under any circumstances regardless of the quality of the sleeping bags,” the report said.

Treason charges

Authorities are pursuing cases against 17 former army personnel and 46 serving army officers and soldiers on charges of treason and suspected links with the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Defence minister George Fernandes said in Parliament today that these cases, registered over the last three years, are being investigated by police.

Of the 46, the army has terminated the services of six. Disciplinary proceedings have been completed against three others and one individual is absconding. The 32 remaining face disciplinary proceedings and court martial.

“Necessary counter intelligence measures exist to curb such incidents. However the security agencies concerned have been sensitised. Also necessary instructions are reiterated from time to time to all concerned to neutralise such attempts,” Fernandes said.

The defence minister also informed Parliament that the armed forces have begun a publicity drive to recruit and overcome the shortage of officers.

There were 12,554 vacancies for officers in the army, 515 in the air force and 1,098 in the navy.

Fernandes said phase III of the army’s Image Projection Campaign, begun in 1997, has now been revived. Recruiting offices have been asked to organise seminars, lectures and presentations in schools and colleges.

The air force has prepared a mailing list of about 3,000 schools and colleges and is regularly sending them publicity material. Selection boards have been asked to take interviews in campuses.

The three services also have websites providing career-related information.

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