An official recommendation report of Indian Army, which has been under discussion with the Defence Ministry for over a year, has pointed out that losses to the exchequer due to poor quality production of defence equipment by ordnance factories since 2014 – estimated at approximately Rs 960 crore – could have been used to buy 100 155-mm medium artillery guns such as the Howitzer.
In latest its report, updated till July, the Army has recommended corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which aligns with the government’s plan to corporatise the 41 ordnance factories, 13 development centres and nine institutes of learning under the Board.
The government has appointed an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, to “oversee and guide the entire process, including transition support and redeployment plan of employees while safeguarding their wages and retirement benefits”. The EGoM, set up on September 11, will also decide whether OFB should be converted into a single or multiple government-owned corporate entities.
Several employees’ unions have opposed the move and have threatened a nationwide strike starting October 12.
Of Rs 960 crore mentioned by the Army report, it said Rs 658.58 crore worth of ammunition was disposed of within their shelf life between April 2014 and April 2019, and Rs 303.23 crore worth of mines were disposed of within their shelf life since May 2016.
The report stated: “Lack of accountability and poor quality of production results in frequent accidents. This results in injuries and death of soldiers. On average one accident takes places per week.”
The report stated that 27 lives of soldiers and civilians have been lost and 159 people injured in “casualties due to OFB-manufactured ammunition and armament” since 2014.
The report mentioned that 403 such accidents occurred between 2014 and 2019. The maximum number of mishaps – 267 – are related to the infantry. There have been 87 artillery-related accidents, 44 in the armoured corps, and 15 in air defence, the report stated.
This is not the first time the Army has raised questions on supplies under OFB. Earlier this year, an internal assessment had mentioned that as OFB factories are the “main source of supply of arms and ammunition” to the Army, “any drop in quality of OFB products has a major bearing on war waging potential of the country”.
Similar to the Army’s recent recommendation, the assessment had found that since 2014 there has been, on average, an ammunition-related accident “every 5.5 [five-and-a-half] days or once a week” . It mentioned that accidents occur “primarily due to faulty ammunition, defective armament and faulty drills by the crew operating the equipment or due to deficiencies in storage conditions”.
Isolated accident take place in modern armies across the world, and Indian Army is “faced with a serious issue of regular accidents primarily due to defective ammunition”, the assessment stated.
It had identified some problem areas besides accidents. These include defects in ammunition and replacement of defective components; slow development and production of ammunition required by the Army; lack of follow-up action by OFB on surprise checks ordered by the Army; poor packaging; and a high rate of return for rectification.
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