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Indian Army Forced to Eat Rotten Food in Camps

New Delhi – Pointing out that the Army marches on its stomach, India’s Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has taken exception to its ration supply chain practices and cited several “glaring deficiencies and inadequacies.”

Observing that in certain cases dry rations were consumed by troops even 6-28 months after the expiry of their normal Estimated Storage Life (ESL), the PAC in its report, has recommended that the authorities revisit/amend the existing provision of the Army Service Corps technical instructions to ensure that food items were issued in accordance with their ESL.

As for fresh vegetables and fruits, 74 per cent of these items issued to the units by the supply depots were not in accordance with the prescribed norms.

Citing “serious anomalies in receipt and supply of vegetables in one station alone,” the PAC said the Northern Command rations worth Rs. 1.92 crore remained untraceable . A test check reflected “deep-rooted and widespread malpractices in the supply chain management of the Army.”

Observing “shortcomings” in the procurement procedures of the Army Service Corps, it noted highly non-competitive procurement of fresh rations and deviation from the laid down guidelines.

Deploring the mismatch between the issue and receipt of rations, the PAC said it was inconceivable that such things could happen “without the complicity of officers” concerned.

In another report on the Canteen Stores Department (CSD), the PAC took a serious view of the Army Headquarters denying auditors access to the accounts of the Unit Run Canteens (URCs), which recorded an annual turnover of Rs.8,500 crores last year.

Noting that the Comptroller and Auditor-General was unable to audit the 3,600 URCs, the report said this restricted parliamentary oversight to the CSD.

The CAG has been seeking to audit the URCs’ accounts on the ground that the CSD transfers money from the Consolidated Fund of India in the form of qualitative discounts. But the armed forces are opposed to the move, claiming that the URCs are run with a non-public fund.

“The Committee is dismayed to note that Audit was denied access to records of the URCs by the Army Headquarters in spite of repeated request. What is more intriguing is the fact that such denial was made despite the directions of the Defense Ministry to make records of the URCs available for audit.”

CSD is a wholesale agent, which buys directly from manufacturers and selling to 4000 Unit Run Canteens of the armed forces all over India. According to RTI documents accessed by this scribe , the Unit Run Canteens have run up profits of at least Rs 300 crore on a turnover of Rs 8000 crore in the last decade. Now the official government auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), wants to audit the accounts of the canteens.

The CAG says the canteens use government infrastructure, sell items at prices fixed by the Defence Ministry and are run by government personnel. Therefore the canteens are a government department.
But in a detailed note , high level army sources, dealing with this issue, said URCs are beyond the purview of the CAG.

The armed forces said Unit Run Canteens (URCs) are private ventures of the armed forces, which are wholly funded by individual regiments with officer and jawan contributing. The canteens buy items of daily use from CSD by advance cheque and sell the items to armed forces personnel wherever posted and the profits fund welfare programmes for armed forces personnel.

The Supreme Court in a judgment in April 2009 ruled that URCs are private ventures. But a cabinet note of August 1976 described the profits generated by canteens as non public funds and therefore outside government accounts. It said no money from the Consolidated Fund of India was going to the URCs.
But the CAG is standing firm, saying that money from the Consolidated Fund of India goes to the URCs. Senior army officers, however, say this money is a commercial loan not a grant. Last year around Rs 200 crore was paid back to the Consolidated Fund.

The armed forces are now reportedly considering a range of options including shutting down the URCs altogether and creating and funding their own NGO for the purpose. It would offer the same services as the URCs minus of course the headache.

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