TRIAL CATCHES ER­ROR

MOD puts how­itzer con­tract on hold af­ter an al­leged cover-up of a bar­rel burst

India Today - - NA TION - by Sandeep Un­nithan

The Min­istry of De­fence ( MOD) has put on hold the army’s Rs 4,726 crore ten­der for buy­ing 180 wheeled how­itzers. The move is an­other set­back to the In­dian Army’s Field Ar­tillery Ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion Plan, a Rs 22,000-crore project to buy 2,700 ar­tillery guns. The ten­der to buy wheeled guns—how­itzers mounted on six- or eight-wheeled ar­moured ve­hi­cles—was put on hold af­ter al­le­ga­tions of de­vi­a­tions in the gun tri­als car­ried out in 2010. The army sub­mit­ted its trial re­port to MOD in Au­gust this year but the min­istry has put the pro­cure­ment on hold, re­port­edly on an anony­mous com­plaint. The wide­ly­cir­cu­lated com­plaint al­leged a coverup in the de­fects of one of the com­peti­tors, Kon­strukta of Slo­vakia.

Signed by “a group of con­cerned of­fi­cials”, the let­ter al­leged that the army cov­ered up the fact that the Kon­strukta gun bar­rel ex­ploded dur­ing user-tri­als at the Pokhran fir­ing range in July 2010. Con­firm­ing the in­ci­dent, a se­nior army of­fi­cial privy to the tri­als said that the bar­rel was re­placed by the Slo­vakian com­pany. The Direc­torate Gen­eral of Qual­ity As­sur­ance ( DGQA) a depart­ment of MOD that cer­ti­fies the re­li­a­bil­ity of mil­i­tary equip­ment, sub­mit­ted a re­port to the AKONSTRUKTA155 MM WHEELED HOW­ITZER IN AC­TION army head­quar­ters four months af­ter the in­ci­dent. “The DGQA re­port pin­pointed faulty am­mu­ni­tion made by the Ord­nance Fac­tory Board as the cause. One of the rounds ex­ploded, shear­ing off the bar­rel. The man­u­fac­turer re­placed the bar­rel and suc­cess­fully com­pleted the tri­als. We found no rea­son to hold up the pro­cure­ment,” the of­fi­cial added. He at­trib­uted the let­ter to “in­fight­ing within DGQA”. The let­ter, how­ever, al­leges that

DGQA kept de­lay­ing the trial re­port de­lib­er­ately till Kon­strukta, in con­nivance with vested in­ter­ests, sent the bar­rel back to Slo­vakia so that its me­tal­lurgy could not be checked. The com­plaint at­tached a copy of an in­ter­nal test re­port from a DGQA lab which cer­ti­fies that the so-called de­fec­tive am­mu­ni­tion was not at fault.

“Given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, MOD is ex­tremely wary of tak­ing a de­ci­sion. But they should at least for­mally scrap the con­tract and im­me­di­ately reis­sue it so that we don’t miss cru­cial sum­mer and win­ter trial win­dows next year,” says an army of­fi­cer. “De­spite ex­haus­tive guide­lines in the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure, re­peated re­trac­tion of ma­jor pro­cure­ment cases on ac­count of in­fir­mi­ties in their tech­ni­cal eval­u­a­tion is a cause for se­ri­ous con­cern,” says Ma­jor Gen­eral Mri­nal Su­man (re­tired). “Yet, no cor­rec­tive mea­sures have been taken to pre­vent their re­cur­rence. Worse, no of­fi­cial has ever been held ac­count­able for per­vert­ing the process,” he adds.

The army has been un­able to buy a sin­gle ar­tillery gun af­ter the Bo­fors scam in 1987. It hopes to buy five types of how­itzers for its for­ma­tions. How­ever, suc­ces­sive con­tracts to buy how­itzers have hit road­blocks or have been re­booted. Two how­itzer ven­dors, Denel of South Africa and ST Ki­net­ics have been black­listed, while MOD is still wary of deal­ing with Bo­fors, now cleared of bribery charges and owned by the UK’S BAE Sys­tems. MOD re­cently placed a plan to di­rectly im­port 146 ul­tra-light how­itzers from the US af­ter a court case was filed by ST Ki­net­ics.

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