53 years on, Indian soldiers in icy Himalayas short of boots, ski masks

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New Delhi, Jan 4: It's yesterday once more as 53 years on, Indian Army soldiers in the icy Himalayas, to go by a parliamentary panel's report, suffer a crippling shortage of snow boots, ski masks and ammunition, among others - precisely the cause of the crushing defeat inflicted by the marauding Chinese forces in 1962.

Parliament's standing committee on defence, in its report tabled in the just concluded winter session, says there's a shortfall of 447,000 ski masks, 217,388 high-ankle boots, 186,138 bulletproof jackets, 13,09,092 brown canvas rubber sole shoes with laces, and 126,270 mosquito nets.

Representational image

"The committee are surprised over the fact that such deficiencies of basic items of regular use, where no high-end technology is warranted, were allowed to exist," the panel, headed by Major General B.C. Khanduri (retd), said.

An Indian Army representative was quoted in the report as stating there is a "major deficiency in operation and training stock", "inadequate capacity and quality issues of indigenous ammunition by Ordnance Factory Board (OFB)" and "inadequate budget support for the Ammunition Roadmap".

Thus, the committee recommended that "necessary steps should be taken by the (defence) ministry so that ammunition in required quantity and of high quality is always available with army at any given time. Otherwise, in the opinion of the Committee, it would not be possible for the country to sustain a war for a longer period".

As for the non-procurement of 186,138 bullet

proof jackets, sanctioned in 2009, the committee felt that the figure...must have soared in the last five years due to increase in number of new recruits and also the wearing down of the old stock".

"The committee are perturbed over the fact that such an important life saving device has not been purchased by the ministry, jeopardizing the lives of thousands of soldiers," it said.

On the non-performance of the indigenous 5.56mm INSAS rifle that was meant as a replacement for the standard-issue AK-47, the panel found it "shocking" that even in 53 years, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had not been able to develop "a world class basic product like a rifle".

The committee also expressed "surprise" that the funds for raising a mountain strike corps (some 30,000 personnel) was to be taken from the army's budget and there was no separate allocation.

"The committee are surprised to note that for raising of this Corps, no separate allocation has been made in this year's budget," the panel said.

"As informed, an amount of Rs.5,000 crore has been earmarked for it, but it is not over and above the actual budget allocated and the army has been asked to raise this corps out of its own budget," it said.

The report added that only war wastage reserves were being utilised for raising the corps, terming this impractical.

"It seems very impractical and incongruous that a new corps is being raised with war wastage reserves. The committee feels that the ministry do away with its proclivity of ad-hoc planning and provide adequate budgetary support commensurate with the requirement of the mountain strike corps," it said.

To be based at Panagarh in West Bengal, the mountain strike corps is meant to counter potential threats from China. It will be the army's fourth strike corps after the Pakistan-central formations based at Hissar, Ambala and Bhopal.

The panel also pointed out the lack of funds for the forces, and asked the government not to use the economic situation as an excuse for not increasing allocations.

"Although defence expenditure is increasing in absolute terms over the years, the percentage increase... since 2000-2001 has not been consistent," the report said.

"The committee are least convinced with the reply of the ministry that the allocation for defence expenditure has been constrained by the overall economic and fiscal situation. Such a reply is routine in nature and as per (our) view, the defence of the country must have precedence over other aspects and the ministry of finance should prioritize the entire budgetary allocation appropriately so that there remains no dearth of funds for the services and the security of the country is never compromised for want of money," the panel added.

India on July 10 hiked its defence budget by 12.43 percent, with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocating Rs.229,000 crore ($38.15 billion) in the budget proposals for 2014-15 that he presented in the Lok Sabha.

This is Rs.25,373 crore over the Rs.203,672 crore allocated for 2013-14 and Rs.5,000 crore over the Rs.224,000 crore allocated in the interim budget for 2014-15 presented ahead of the April-May general election.

IANS

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