New Delhi: An Army marches on its stomach, said Napolean Bonaparte. But the 1.13-million strong Indian Army, the third largest in the world, marches largely on sub-standard food and rations, well past their consume-by date, says a Times of India report.
The Army is already reeling under a series of meat, egg, atta, dal and other ration scams in recent years, with even Lt-General rank officers being indicted in the scandals. Now, the CAG has punched several holes in the Army's entire "supply chain management of rations", hinting at widespread corruption and existence of cartels.
Tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the latest CAG report paints a dismal picture of the Army's procurement and supply of dry rations (rice, wheat, dal, sugar, tea, oil, tinned items) and fresh rations (vegetables, fruit, meat, milk), undertaken at an annual cost of Rs 1,440 crore.
Noting that the satisfaction levels of troops about quantity, quality and taste of rations was "very low", CAG has called for a complete overhaul of the existing system, ranging from computerization and better procurement procedures to expansion in the vendor base and blacklisting of defaulting parties.
As per CAG, the main villains of the piece are Army Service Corps (ASC) and Army Purchase Organization, all under the benign gaze of Army HQ and the defence ministry.
Around three lakh soldiers under the Northern Command in J&K, for instance, were issued rations by Army supply depots even after the expiry of their original estimated storage life (ESL), based on "repeated extensions" given by Central Food Laboratory at Jammu.
"While instructions prohibit any extensions beyond three months of the ESL, atta, sugar, rice, tea, dal, edible oil etc were consumed (by soldiers) even six months to 28 months after the expiry of the original ESL," said CAG, adding that MoD and Army HQ needed to get their act together "to ensure supply of good quality rations to troops".
The existence of cartels, a "risk too serious to be ignored", is also affecting the quantity and quality of rations. "Serious absence of competition was noticed in procurement of fresh rations...82% of procurement was based on less than three quotations, 36% based on single quotations," it said.
For instance, from 2005 to 2008, only one vendor purchased the tender documents for supply of meat and chicken in Delhi and the Rs 5 crore annual contract was awarded to him.
Take another example. In blatant violation of norms, several transport and tour companies were registered as vendors to supply meat, eggs, vegetables and milk, in addition to transportation. Conversely, a poultry firm was found registered for the supply of transport and vegetables.
"Abnormal variations in rates of vegetables, fruits and meat must be investigated. MoD may provide an assurance these variations do not arise from any fraud or corrupt practices in procurements of fresh rations," said CAG.