New Delhi, Apr 9: In an extraordinary step, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence today decided to call the three service chiefs to give an account of the state of preparedness of the forces against the backdrop of Army Chief Gen V K Singh speaking of shortages and deficiencies.
The decision to call the Chiefs of Army, Air and Navy before it on April 20 was part of an exercise to understand the issue of defence preparedness as the panel was examining the budgetary proposals of the Defence Ministry for 2012-13, sources said.
The sources said the date for appearance could be adjusted to ensure that all the three Chiefs are available on the same day.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the Committee which also heard Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma confirming that the army did not need to notify the government on their movements and that the exercise of January 16-17 reported in the media was a “routine drill”.
Sharma underlined that no standard operating procedures were violated by the Army and the media report was “misleading” and drew “wrong inferences”, the sources said.
Satisfied by the Defence Secretary's contention, Committee members like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Manish Tewari, Naresh Gujral and Uday Singh said the matter should be treated as closed, the sources said.
A newspaper media had created a sensation last week when it said that two units of army, one based in Agra in Uttar Pradesh and another in Hissar in Haryana, had moved towards Delhi on the day the Army Chief went to the Supreme Court against the government on the issue of his date of birth.
The Committee, before which the Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen S K Singh as also top officials of IAF, DRDO and BEML appeared, also examined the status of preparedness of the armed forces.
The panel was told that the process of modernisation and procurements has been expedited and a lot was in the offing in this regard.
During its examination of various stake-holders, the Committee noted the Army was facing problems with the Ordnance Factory Board in terms of timely delivery of weapons and ammunition and the Air Force had issues with Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd on trainer aircraft and maintenance of its fleet.
It is learnt that the Army Vice Chief told the Committee that the force was facing a shortage of certain anti-tank munitions - an issue flagged by the Army Chief.
In view of these issues, the Committee decided to call the Chiefs of all the three forces for an “interaction”.
Though the Committee is looking into budgetary demands of the forces, the interaction with the three Chiefs can help it prepare a separate report on defence preparedness which can be submitted to the government with recommendations, a member said.
This is an extraordinary step as in the recent past, the three Service Chiefs have appeared before the Standing Committee only once.
In January last year, the Army Chief, the Air Chief and the Navy Vice Chief had appeared before the Public Accounts Committee when it was examining a CAG report on ration supply to soldiers.
Some members wanted the Defence Ministry to put a check on retired army officers working as “middlemen” in the wake of General Singh's allegations that a similar person had offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore to clear a tranche of 600 “sub-standard” trucks.
On a day when three senior officials of the finance and vigilance wings of BEML were examined by CBI regarding the case of alleged irregularities in the Tatra truck supply deal to the Army, the Defence PSU's Chairman-cum-Managing Director of BEML V R S Natarajan also appeared before the committee along with officials of DRDO.
Members cutting across party lines grilled him on the controversy regarding the truck deal.
He is learnt to have explained that BEML is not covered under the Defence Procurement Procedure, 2011, and the company was original equipment manufacturer for the Defence Ministry.
Secretary (Defence Production) Shekhar Agarwal told the panel that since the case was being handled by CBI, it would like the agency to give its report on the Army Chief's complaint on bribery.