|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
As per media reports over 16,000 GPS units purchased for the Army are lying idle in the Central Ordnance Depot at Agra, reportedly on grounds of 'quality concerns'. This has been the state for over one year despite Rs 28 crores spent on their purchase, since the Army cannot use them until a final quality assurance is given. Media also reports that the units were purchased from a trader whereas the rules mandate that the purchases are to be made from manufactures only. Since the exact number of GPS units were purchased and Rs 28 crores paid, this works out to about Rs 16,270 per unit cost. In this case which make are these GPS units and who was their manufacturer has not been mentioned, which is strange. Incidentally, a Gramin ETrex Hand-Held GPS is available off-the-shelf in India for Rs 16,290; implying that bulk purchase of 16,270 units could have brought down prices much lower. However, this is looking at the issue theoretically, while purchases would have been done in accordance the qualitative requirements taking into consideration othe factors like ruggedness, maintenance and the like. But the important issue here is that the Directorate General of Quaity Assurance (DGQA) is responssible for 'Quality Assurance of Defence Stores & Equipment' except those procured through Civil Industry by the Ordnance Factories/Def PSUs, which was not the case here. In the instant case, the purchase of 16,270 units of hand-held GPS was done from the firm called 'Future Technologies Inc' of Himachal Pradesh. The equipment was cleard by the Senior Quality Assurance Establishment in Chandigarh in two batches; quantity 6000 in January 2016 and quantity 10,720 in February 2016.
Now the questions that arise with respect to the Senior Quality Assurance Establishment in Chandigarh are:
Media reports now quoting an un-named DGQA official says that the supply order was given "in a hurry" even though the firm is only a trader. However, the Controllerate of Quality Assurance-Electronics (CQA-L), Bengaluru, whose responsibility is to clear all electronic items, has raised "quality claims" for nearly 66% of these units; that is 11,000 units. Accoding to the DGQA source, "A quality claim is raised when items do not meet required standards. The major issue pertains to a faulty front panel display. Black spots are visible when the sets are turned on and even when they were turned off, thus hiding the data under the spots. If the data is not legible, the whole purpose of buying the sets is defeated. We do not know how it passed the initial clearance". So you have a situation where two DGQA units have contradicted each other; Senior Quality Assurance Establishment in Chandigarh clears the items for purchase whlie the CQA-L, Bengaluru raises quality issues resulting in starving ground troops of this vital equipment. Clearly, something is amiss that raises the smell of mismanagement and perhaps corruption – has money changed hands under the table? But this is not all.
According to Amit Gupta, Vice President of Future Technologies Inc, "We were told that 142 units had a problem. We've replaced 110 of themand are willing to replace the other 32. If they think 11,000 unts are facing quality issues, they need to show that. So far there has been no communication. Future Technologies Inc, which has got Rs 28 crore, has supplied the best in the class equipment". There certainly is requirement to revisit the produres of such purchases and their quality clearance. What is the internal coordination within the DGQA when one entity clears purchases and another entity blocks clearance? Media also states that an audit carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) too has raised similar quality concerns about these GPS units though the number has not been mentioned. On face value both the Army and the DGQA have faulted but the bottom-line is that Rs 28 crore have been spent from the meagre defence budget on a vital piece of equiment that is defficient with ground troops, and an year plus has gone by with the case in limbo with no remedy in sight. Why could those GPS units not found faulty not be cleared for distribution? If actually some 11,000 GPS units are faulty, why has Future Technologies Inc not been asked to replace them? Why were the purchases permitted in the first place if regulations did not permit purchases other than from manuafacturers? The irony is that this is not an isolated case. In the past imported special clothing for troops deployed in Siachen glacier region were stuck with DGQA while soldiers suffered frostbite on the frontline. Significantly, both the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and the follow up Group of Ministers (GoP) Reports had recommended that the the DGQA and the DGAFMS (Directorate General of Armed Forces Medical Services by placed under the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), but this has not been done. The MoD clearly needs to pay attention to instances like the abovementioned GPS units, to ensure it does not adversely affect the troops.