Despite the tall talk about national security by the BJP leadership, the troops posted in the hostile high-altitude regions continue to suffer due to the callous attitude of the authorities. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has pulled up the Army for delays in the procurement of snow goggles, multipurpose boots and other high-altitude clothing and equipment (HACE) essential for troops posted in areas such as Ladakh and Siachen. This flies in the face of the ruling party leaders who never get tired of claiming how national security is their top priority. The CAG report, exposing the loopholes in the military establishment, must serve as a reality check for the government. In a report tabled in both the Houses of Parliament, the central auditor has also questioned the government for the inordinate delay in the establishment of the Indian National Defence University, which was recommended by the Kargil review committee in 1999. It is a shame that the soldiers guarding the nation at the world’s highest battleground are struggling for essential supplies. The CAG report paints a grim picture about the availability of crucial equipment and supplies personnel require to weather tough conditions — subzero temperatures, treacherous terrain — on high-altitude postings such as Ladakh and Siachen. Between November 2015 and September 2016, a shortage of multipurpose boots, which can protect feet in temperatures of -55 degrees Celsius, forced personnel to opt for recycled boots. There was a shortage of 750 snow goggles on account of poor supplies from Ordnance Factory in Dehradun.
The face masks procured for troops posted in extreme weather conditions were found to be substandard while there were irregularities in the selection of rucksacks that didn’t meet specifications listed in the contract. The critical shortage in snow goggles ranged from 62% to 98%. There were several instances where procurement was delayed by up to four years after the necessity was first accepted. This defeats the very purpose of constituting the empowered committee besides undermining the objectives of annual provisioning reviews. There is an urgent need for the Defence Ministry to formulate testing procedures in line with international standards. Though the Union Cabinet had accorded in-principle approval in 2010 for establishing National Defence University at Gurgaon, it is yet to see the light of the day. Any government that takes pride in the valour and sacrifices of the armed forces must be prepared for an honest introspection of the working conditions of the foot soldiers who brave enemy’s bullets every day to keep the country safe. An internal report of the Army had pointed out at least 50 gaps, ranging from body armour, night-vision gear to flawed fuel storage, that pose a threat to soldiers’ lives. These lacunae must be addressed urgently.