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
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)