VIEW­POINT : BULLET PROOF JACK­ETS – ARMY’S CON­TIN­U­ING VOID

Such is the power of the red tape and lack of ac­count­abil­ity (or shall we say shame) of the MoD that even with De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar him­self an­nounc­ing in 2014 that 50,000 bullet proof jack­ets would be pro­cured as ‘emer­gency pro­cure­ment’, it d

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The media has for the umpteenth time in past few years pointed out the lack of bullet proof jack­ets in the Army; the Army is yet to get light-weight mod­u­lar jack­ets al­most a decade af­ter it first de­manded them, and six years af­ter the pro­posal was cleared by the gov­ern­ment. Such is the power of the red tape and lack of ac­count­abil­ity (or shall we say shame) of the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) that even with De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar him­self an­nounc­ing in 2014 that 50,000 bullet proof jack­ets would be pro­cured as ‘emer­gency pro­cure­ment’, it does not ap­pear ma­te­ri­al­is­ing for another six months. In fact, the media quotes a MoD source say­ing, “The se­lec­tion/pro­cure­ment process is un­der­way af­ter the gov­ern­ment sanc­tion.... It will take at least another six months”. So, if ‘emer­gency pro­cure­ment’ im­plies more than one year, you can imag­ine the rest.

What the media did not bring out is that af­ter Par­rikar’s state­ment of emer­gent pro­cure­ment of bullet proof jack­ets, MoD went ahead and sur­ren­dered ` 6,000 crore from the de­fence bud­get on March 31, 2015. Why was it not pos­si­ble to pick up 50,000 mod­u­lar bullet proof jack­ets com­mer­cially off-the-shelf on emer­gent ba­sis us­ing a por­tion of the sur­ren­dered ` 6,000 crore only in­di­cates lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to loss of sol­diers’ lives and limbs.

But then we have had naval ves­sels in­clud­ing INS Sind­hu­rak­shak lost at sea be­cause of lack of sanc­tion for months on end of bat­ter­ies avail­able within the coun­try and dead bod­ies ly­ing in their watery graves for months with­out any ur­gency to re­turn the re­mains to their kith and kin. One can only won­der if the De­fence Min­is­ter can fathom any­thing wrong here or con­tinue with the ‘chalta hai’ at­ti­tude of his pre­de­ces­sors. It was in Oc­to­ber 2009 that the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC) had cleared the ac­qui­si­tion of 1,86,138 such bullet poof jack­ets since the Army was short of that num­ber from its au­tho­rised hold­ing of 3,53,765 jack­ets. But the case has not pro­gressed fur­ther while the Army’s ex­ist­ing old and bulky jack­ets, which pro­vide in­ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion and re­port­edly are fast-ap­proach­ing the end of their shelf-life in a year or so. The new jack­ets, cou­pled with proper bal­lis­tic hel­mets, were sup­posed to ef­fec­tively pro­tect the head, neck, chest, groin and sides of sol­diers as well as al­low them to move with greater agility dur­ing counter-in­sur­gency oper­a­tions. The mod­u­lar bullet proof jack­ets would weigh less than 4 kg wi­ith trauma pad with al­laround soft ar­mour plate and weight 11.5 kg, with hard ar­mour plates for front, rear, sides, up­per arms, groin and throat, in turn, for high-risk mis­sions; meant to with­stand six rounds of 7.62mm x 39mm mild steel core am­mu­ni­tion fired from an AK-47 from 10-me­tre dis­tance. The big­ger case for 1.86 lakh jack­ets is still at the trial eval­u­a­tion stage. Each jacket’s es­ti­mated cost was put at around ` 50,000 when the pro­ject was ap­proved, mak­ing it a to­tal of around ` 930 crore. All these jack­ets were to be in­ducted by 2012, with another 1.67 lakh jack­ets to be or­dered in the sec­ond round. How­ever, re­vi­sion of tech­ni­cal pa­ram­e­ters and re-float­ing of ten­ders as well as con­vo­luted de­fence pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures and politico-bu­reau­cratic ap­a­thy have put paid to those plans de­spite sev­eral par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees for de­fence taken ad­verse view of this ‘crit­i­cal short­age’ of bullet proof jack­ets. What an irony that a coun­try that sends a mis­sion to Mars at a frac­tion cost of what global pow­ers do, can­not pro­duce a mod­u­lar bullet proof jacket for its sol­diers. In fact in 2007, the North­ern Army Com­man­der re­turned huge con­sign­ments of the nor­mal cam­ou­flage jack­ets pro­duced by De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s (DRDO) Or­di­nance Fac­tory Board be­cause their dis­jointed shape hin­dered the arm move­ments of sol­diers. Three years back the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia (CAG) had ob­jec­tions as to why the North­ern Army Com­man­der was im­port­ing bullet proof jack­ets un­der his spe­cial pow­ers. The for­mer ap­par­ently had no idea that the gov­ern­men­tal de­fence-in­dus­trial com­plex has failed to meet the re­quire­ments of the Army in this re­gard. Iron­i­cally, the media warns that the hunt for a req­ui­site as­sault ri­fle is also go­ing to be lost, even aban­doned, in the sea of red tape. One only won­ders if the es­tab­lish­ment wants serv­ing sol­diers also to go on hunger strike for ba­sic weapons and pro­tec­tion – akin to vet­er­ans on hunger strike at Jan­tar Man­tar for One Rank, One Pen­sion de­nied to them past 40 years.

LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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