New Delhi: Amid allegations of bribery in purchases and complaints of gaps in preparedness, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Monday asked the army to streamline its purchase process in a manner that accountability can be fixed in the event of slippages.
This was conveyed by Antony to the army brass led by its chief Gen. V.K. Singh at a meeting to review the army’s capital acquisition and revenue expenditure proposals at the South Block.
This is the first time Antony and Gen. Singh came face-to-face since the acrimony over the army chief’s allegation of a bribe offer made to him by a retired officer and the leak of a secret letter from him to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on gaps in defence preparedness.
“At the meeting, Antony directed the army to streamline its acquisition process in such a manner that accountability can be fixed in case of any slippages,” a defence ministry spokesperson said here.
The meeting was in continuation of earlier review meetings held in September last year and January this year, the spokesperson said, indicating that the meeting was held, not because of army chief’s letter to the prime minister that talked of deficiencies in the army’s critical equipment.
Another meeting will be held in May to review the progress made on the decisions taken in Monday’s meeting.
At the confabulations, Antony also asked officials of the defence ministry and the army to examine the possibility of compressing the time taken for technical evaluations and trials.
It is assessed that the services and the defence ministry take about seven years for completing the procurement processes of any major equipment.
“He also asked the officials of the defence ministry to examine the possibility of compressing the time taken for technical evaluations and trials,” the spokesperson said.
He favoured delegation of more financial powers to the service headquarters if it can lead to speedier acquisition of equipment, platforms and systems for the services.
At present, the services vice chiefs can approve defence contracts worth Rs.50 crore or less.
The other competent financial authority for defence acquisition are the defence secretary for deals worth Rs.75 crore, defence minister Rs.500 crore, defence ministry in concurrence with the finance minister for Rs.1,000 crore, and the cabinet committee on security (CCS) above that.
Among those at the meeting were Defence Secretary Sashi Kant Sharma, Director General (Acquisition) Vivek Rae and senior army officials.
Among the major army acquisitions that are pending are the Rs.20,000-crore (over $4 billion) worth of artillery guns to replace the ageing inventory and air defence weapons.
Gen. Singh had in his latest letter to the prime minister written in March pointed out that the army had major gaps in its air defence, artillery, night vision capabilities and infantry.
In an unrelated event, the army chief had given an interview to the media in which he claimed that a retired lieutenant general had offered him a bribe of Rs.14 crore for approving a contract for 600 trucks for the army.
Both the developments had caused a major uproar in parliament. Some political parties wanted the army chief to be sacked.
The Intelligence Bureau has been asked to find out who leaked the letter from the army chief to the prime minister.