Security lapse: no mechanism for checking quality

While the post-Mumbai rush to buy security equipment has resulted in a boom in business,it has also highlighted the lack of standardisation and adhocism....

Ritu Sarin & Manu Pubbynew Delhi | Published: March 26, 2009 12:08 am

While the post-Mumbai rush to buy security equipment has resulted in a boom in business,it has also highlighted the lack of standardisation and adhocism in sensitive procurements that has resulted in small players trying to hawk their goods to make a quick buck.

Though it has been a busy season,vendors complain about the disparities in procurement procedures,in comparison,say,with purchases made by the Ministry of Defence where equipment is purchased after scientific testing and strict standardisation. The problem is more acute in the states,where security procurement budgets have been significantly enhanced but little care is being taken to enforce standards in testing and eventually,choice of security paraphernalia.

The result: a flurry of allegations against companies which have bagged contracts from either the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or state Governments and a trickle of cases challenging procurements in courts.

According to G B Singh,chairman of the India chapter of Asis International,the Government should urgently introduce guidelines and interoperable standards for the security industry,maybe,such as the ones in place for the fire protection industry. “The Government has to come out with a detailed policy on security procurements and examine,for example,the differential in VAT imposed by different state Governments for similar security gear,” he says.

The lack of minimum standards in bullet proofing is a major area of concern as police forces and other security agencies plan to place bulk orders. While the armed forces have their minimum standards drawn up by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA),no such standards exist for other forces.

Officials in Star Wire,one of the oldest in the business of bullet proofing,allege that state Governments were procuring items from vendors without taking DGQA standards into consideration. The company has lodged a complaint with the Government of Chhattisgarh about orders for bullet-proof observation posts given to a company whose capacity or quality had neither been certified by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) or DGQA.

Small arms expert,Col (retd) Mohan Kaktikar,concurs with the view that strict standardisation was the need of the hour. “We need to devise our own set of standards. A nodal agency like the DGQA or the BPR&D can come up with an Indian set of standards. There are a lot of small-time players who don’t know much about bullet proofing technology but have started marketing their products.”

The lack of ballistic labs to certify bullet proofing equipment and gear is also a major hindrance since the only recognised lab is the Chandigarh-based Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL),run by the DRDO. It is to be recalled that complaints on ballistic trails (on cloth coverings of the jackets and kind of weapons used for test-firing) eventually delayed MHA’s procurement of bullet-proof jackets for Central Para Military Forces (CPMF’s) for six long years.

Manufacturers also point to the lack of transparency in the long-drawn out testing procedures and how,sometimes,choice of equipment and vendors change whenever a new technical committee is reconstituted. A case in point is the procurement of explosive detectors by the Maharashtra Police,where repeat orders were denied to a company by a newly constituted evaluation team.

Some companies have decided to go on the offensive whenever they feel they have been unfairly disqualified for a purchase. One firm,Security Shoppe,recently lodged a complaint with the Central Vigilance Commission after the Delhi Police purchased a “basic” model of a door-frame metal detector instead of the superior model they were offering at a lower price,thus ending up spending Rs 38 lakh more. The company has also gone to court against the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation for an alleged loss of Rs 1.3 crore to the exchequer,with the plea that very high installation and maintenance charges were cleared,again,for purchase of metal detectors.

As business is set to grow in the security sector,Indian entities are now planning to set up in-house labs based on international standards. One such company,MKU,is planning to use expertise from its Germany-based subsidiary to set up a lab in the country. However,R K Gupta,proprieter of Anjani Technoplast,says their file for permission to set up a testing facility is shuffling from one Government office to another.

While the labs may help in certification of bullet-proof jackets,the government will have to take a re-look at import duties to make them more affordable for police forces and the private sector. Steep duties on import of Kevlar,for example,takes up the cost of a bullet-proof jacket by at least 20 per cent. Also,even though import of bullet-proof helmets attracts a duty waiver,import of raw materials for manufacturing helmets does not.

While the Army gets an exemption on import duty for Kevlar when they procure jackets,police forces and the private sector have a tough time explaining the need for waiver of the duty. Manufacturers say that relaxation in duties will make their products much more competitive.

“What we need is a new policy and set of guidelines covering all aspects of import and manufacture of security-related goods,” says R K Gupta. Adds G B Singh,“If the indigenous security goods industry has to be strengthened,harmonization in tariffs of duties and a set of stringent

all-India standards need to be formulated.” (Concluded)

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