New Delhi: The inability of the Army to close a Rs 120 crore contract for 50,000 life-saving bullet proof jackets means Army officers and jawans continue operating with less than half the 3.5 lakh bullet proof jackets that they require. This whopping shortfall was first identified way back in 2009.
- NDTV Exclusive: Army short of 1.8 lakh bullet proof jackets since 2009
- Shortfall identified in 2009, but still no bullet proof jackets
- Emergency purchase of 50,000 bullet proof jackets delayed by 5 months
NDTV has learnt that the Ministry of Defence had identified, shortlisted and concluded price negotiations with two Indian companies to meet an emergency interim purchase of 50,000 bullet proof jackets but nearly five months later, no contract has been signed.
Both Kanpur based MKU and Tata Advanced Materials, which were supposed to provide 25,000 bullet proof jackets each, had submitted formal letters to meet the Army's requirement once negotiations ended. They have been given no explanation, at all, on the reason for the delay in contract signing. Each bullet proof jacket was priced Rs 24,000.
The delay at Army Headquarters comes despite a statement in Parliament by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in December. "One time relaxation in existing financial powers of [the] Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) has been given to procure 50,000 bullet proof jackets through [the] revenue route," he had said. It meant, the Army could go ahead and place the order using existing internal funds of the government. Three months later, the file on bullet proof jackets continues moving from office to office apparently because the Army wants to ensure the contract is 'water-tight.'
This incredibly slow pace in concluding what was meant to be an urgent acquisition means formation commanders would face a nightmarish situation in the event of a full-fledged war where bullet proof jackets are meant to be a part of the basic kit of each and every soldier deployed.
"I am shocked," Lt General Shankar Prasad (retd), former Director General Infantry, Indian Army told NDTV reacting to the delay. "A journalist like you asked me this question in 2001 when I was still in service. It is pathetic to answer this question 14 years after my retirement that the Indian infantry is still without a basic bullet proof vest."
The decision to buy the 50,000 jackets on an 'urgent basis' comes because a larger order to procure 1.86 lakh bullet proof jackets to meet the Army's total requirement fell through, after none of the vendors cleared trials conducted by the Army last year. According to the Army, only one of the four participants in the trials cleared the first round where the jackets had to demonstrate their ability to withstand .30 caliber armour piercing bullets in a series of tests in different conditions.
The manufacturer which cleared the first round failed in the next where the bullet proof jacket was deliberately degraded to replicate typical wear and tear in real life conditions.
Some of those who competed for the order are unhappy with the conduct of the trials. They insist that they could easily meet the Army's requirements for the latest international standards in body armour if they were given a clearer explanation of the Army's expectations in the trials. According to one of the vendors who failed the trial, the Army had tweaked the benchmark United States National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Level 4 specifications and used 'strange methodology' in the trial process. Greater transparency by the Army, he insists, would have ensured that body armour manufacturers would have come in with bullet proof jackets which met or even exceeded the requirements specified.
The failure to acquire jackets at the NIJ Level 4 specifications has meant that in its order for 50,000 jackets, the Army has had to fall back to acquiring less resistant bullet proof jackets in line with what it presently has. The failure in last year's trials has also meant that the Army will need to draw up revised qualitative requirements for the remaining 1.3 lakh jackets that it still requires, conduct trials, shortlist vendors, negotiate and then, possibly, sign a contract, a process that has proven to be painfully slow so far. "Nothing can get me more angry than to see my boys die even today because of the lack of equipment which is life-saving. Is it such a difficult task to buy bullet proof vests ?" Lt Gen Prasad said.
Here's a reality check. In 2009, the government accepted an Army requirement for 1.86 lakh bullet proof jackets. In 2016, none of these jackets exist.