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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Parliament panel wanted to visit Leh, Defence says ‘not advisable’

In a letter sent on Wednesday, the Ministry said “it may not be advisable” for the MPs to visit, given the standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Updated: October 29, 2020 11:06:49 am
adhir chowdhury, lac, pac, leh visitThe PAC, headed by the Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, had last month got clearance from Speaker Om Birla to visit Ladakh to meet the soldiers. (PTI)

The Defence Ministry has objected to a visit by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to Leh next month to study the working conditions of soldiers deployed in forward locations in the high altitude areas.

In a letter sent on Wednesday, the Ministry said “it may not be advisable” for the MPs to visit, given the standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In another letter sent only a day earlier, however, the Ministry had made no mention of such concerns.

The PAC, headed by the Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, had last month got clearance from Speaker Om Birla to visit Ladakh to meet the soldiers.

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The PAC wanted to visit Leh since it is examining a CAG report which had earlier this year said that the troops stationed in areas like Siachen and Ladakh faced an acute shortage of high-altitude clothing and equipment, including snow goggles, because of delays in procurement.

The PAC had initially decided to visit Ladakh on October 28 and 29. But some MPs on the panel sought a change in dates, citing the Assembly elections in Bihar, by-elections in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and the prevailing Covid-19 situation.

The PAC then revised its plan, and decided to visit Leh from November 8 to 10, instead. It sent the revised schedule to the Defence Ministry, Army, and Lok Sabha secretariat.

But the Defence Ministry has informed the PAC that it may not be advisable to visit Ladakh now, since the Army is fully engaged with the situation on the border.

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“The present situation with soldiers from both sides in close proximity; all officers and men are involved in ensuring full preparedness, to prevent any escalation in the situation. Accordingly, it may not be advisable for such a delegation comprising VVIPs to visit Leh, Ladakh at this juncture. A fresh date will be intimated as and when there is some disengagement on the ground,” a letter dated October 28 from the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) of the Ministry of Defence said.

The DMA is headed by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat.

Interestingly, a letter from the DMA just a day earlier had not objected to the MPs’ visit. This first letter, dated October 27, mentioned inputs obtained from the Army Headquarters regarding weather and temperature. It said while the weather “appears to be clear”, temperatures during the period of the visit could be in the range of 2 degrees and minus 10 degrees at Leh, and that the members would require acclimatisation when travelling to forward areas.

Based on these inputs, the visit is “considered feasible” provided the weather is stable, the letter said.

According to the earlier itinerary, the MPs were to have informal discussions with representatives of the Defence Ministry and the Northern Army Command in Leh on “provisioning, procurement and issue of high altitude clothing, equipment, ration and housing” on the first day of the visit. The panel was supposed to visit the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) of the DRDO in Leh, and then make a field visit to a forward area.

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