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December 11, 2001
1640 IST

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Soldiers make sacrifices, officials make money

Passing strictures against the Ministry of Defence, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General has pointed out financial irregularities in purchase of weaponry during the Kargil operation.

The CAG report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday amidst demand of Defence Minister George Fernandes's resignation, says that greedy defence officials made money even in the purchase of coffins for war heroes.

The report lists financial improprieties in as many as 35 of the 123 defence contracts entered into during the Kargil operation. The total loss to exchequer: Rs 21,630 million.

"While critical supplies of clothing, ammunition and arms could not reach the troops during the operation, an amount of Rs 10,460 million was spent fruitlessly breaching established principles of propriety," the report says.

Supplies of vital equipment, ranging from hand-held thermals, terminally-guided ammunition, bullet-proof jackets, flame throwers, sniper and anti-material rifles valued at Rs 21,500 million were received after cessation of hostilities in July 1999.

Coming down heavily in the case of the contract for coffins, the report says that 500 aluminium caskets and 3,000 bodybags were ordered from US firm Buitron and Braize at a cost of $ 1.5 million to bring back bodies of the dead from snowy heights.

It points out that the price of each casket worked out at $ 2,500, while five just years earlier the commander of the Indian forces deployed as peacekeepers in Somalia had procured the same caskets for $ 172 apiece.

"Despite this being a new purchase, no acceptance test or evaluation was carried out and neither was there any indication or record of any price negotiation," the report says adding that the deal was expedited in the name of urgent need to airlift bodies.

Buitron and Braize requested for an amendment to the contract for increasing the weight of the caskets from 18 kg to 55 kg. And while the government was deliberating over the issue, the firm supplied 150 caskets for which 90 per cent payment ($ 337,500) was released.

"The entire lot of caskets was subsequently rejected on grounds of being overweight and welded rather than die pressed" the report adds.

While the supplier had indicated that 75 per cent of the cost was for the material used -- aeronautical grade aluminium -- the CAG report observes that the price paid was ten times that being paid currently by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for importing highest grade of aluminium.

PTI

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