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There shouldn’t be any gap in supply of clothing, equipment to troops in high-altitude regions: Par panel

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New Delhi: There should not be any “gap” in supply of clothing, equipment, ration and provisioning of accommodation for soldiers engaged in safeguarding the country’s borders under difficult weather conditions in high-altitude regions, a high-level parliamentary panel said on Wednesday.

In its 55th report tabled in Lok Sabha, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) pointed out inordinate delays in procurement of winter clothing for soldiers in high-altitude areas as well as implementation of the project for improving their housing conditions.

It also recommended urgent revamp of the approach towards procurement of high-altitude clothing, equipment, ration and housing facilities for the troops deployed in those regions.

Temperatures in some of the forward locations including in Ladakh drop up to minus 40 degree celsius during harsh winter months.

The PAC’s report on ‘Provisioning, procurement and issue of High Altitude Clothing, Equipment, Ration and Housing’ noted that the audit found instances of delays stretching up to four years in procurement of clothing items from time to time.

In this context, the committee headed by Congress’s Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also referred to the setting up of an empowered committee in 2007 with full financial powers for speedy procurement of clothing items for troops in high-altitude regions.

It also said that there was a need for separate allotment of financial resources for meeting requirements of the troops deployed in areas having extreme weather conditions.

“There were inordinate delays in receipt of contracted items from ordnance factories. Delayed procurement action and delayed receipt of contracted items as per audit observations led to acute shortage of essential clothing and equipment items and adversely affected timely issue of the same to the troops,” the panel said.

“Health and hygiene of troops stationed at high-altitude areas was reportedly affected as a result of procedural delays, non-supply or supply of recycled or alternate items at the time of need,” it said.

The committee also noted the “lack” of research and development by the defence laboratories and failure in indigenisation resulted in the prolonged and continued dependence on import.

“Special rations were to be given to the troops for alleviating certain physiological conditions that the troops face in high altitude inhospitable conditions,” the report mentioned.

“However, audit findings revealed that substitutes in lieu of scaled items were authorised in a given percentage on a cost-to-cost basis which affected the quantity of calorie intake of troops,” it said.

The committee said instances of “short issues” of rations to the troops due to deficiencies in internal control also came to light.

Referring to the project for improving housing conditions for troops in high-altitude areas, the panel said the audit found that it was executed in an ad-hoc manner.

“Sanction of the competent authority was never taken and even the pilot project was sanctioned in phases. Despite incurring an expenditure of Rs 274 crore, the pilot project was not successful,” it said.

The committee was of the view that a mechanism needs to be evolved to ensure outcome oriented monitoring of expenditure and revenue and capital procurement. This would also aid in reduction of procurement timelines.

It observed that creation of habitats in high altitude areas is a “specialist task” and varies with terrain, user requirements and altitude factor and that maximum efforts should be initiated to improve habitat and living conditions of troops within available budgetary support.

Realising the importance of storage facility for the purpose of working by the troops in forward locations, the committee said it desired that oil PSUs should construct more underground storage tanks as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities so that the troops do not face any inconvenience due to fuel shortage.

They have also impressed upon the administrative ministry to explore the possibility of other energy sources based on solar, wind and other hybrid based technologies with the help of PSUs under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy so that dependence on the kerosene can be minimised.

The committee said it felt that there should not be any gap in “provisioning, procurement and issue of high altitude clothing equipment, ration and provision of housing for our soldiers, who are engaged in safeguarding our borders under unfavourable climatic conditions”.

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