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Improving the Quality of Rations Supplied to Army Personnel

Narinder Gupta is on Deputation to Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 16, 2010

    Recent media reports on the quality of rations being supplied to the Indian Army are quite revealing and disturbing, given that the quality of rations has been found to be inferior and substandard particularly in insurgency prone and high altitude areas. It is difficult to imagine what army personnel feel when they receive rations that are not fit for human consumption. The recent CAG report about the quality of rations supplied to army soldiers is a pointer to the pathetic state of affairs in the procurement, inspection and distribution of both fresh and dry rations by the Army Service Corps and Army Purchase Organization, which are under the control of Army Headquarters. Introspection is certainly called for in view of the widespread ramifications on the fighting forces particularly which may arise because of sub-standard ration provisioning.

    The service corps incurs an annual expenditure of about Rs. 1,440 crore. The procurement procedures are well established through periodic amendment, depending upon the requirements of time. The procuring agencies are well known and form part of various formations to ensure timely procurement of quality rations, inspection and distribution. Therefore it is quite baffling to find such sub-substandard rations being given to troops. The CAG report has indicated that items like atta, rice, dal and edible oil supplied were 28 months past their expiry date. A similar situation prevails in the case of vegetables, fruit, meat and milk. Therefore the satisfaction levels of troops about quantity, quality and taste of rations is bound to be low.

    The cause for such deterioration needs to be looked into. As far as procurement procedures are concerned, perhaps there is a requirement to review the existing system of procurement of dry rations to ensure quality, speed and cost. A decentralized system for some of the items can always be considered if it would result in better quality. As far as fresh rations are concerned, the procedures are already well defined. However, the procuring agencies need to guard against several pitfalls. Some of these pitfalls, which have been broadly brought out in the CAG report, are lack of competition, 36 per cent of purchases being undertaken from a single vendor, 82 per cent of procurement in case of fresh rations being based on less than three quotes, existence of cartels, etc.

    Media reports have not ruled out the existence of rampant corruption in matters of procurement. There are instances where courts of enquiry have been held against even senior ASC officers. But this is really not the solution. At the least they can only act as a deterrent. The main issues are the improvement of the quality of ration items supplied, the removal of irregularities in quantity supplied and consumed, the acceptance only of quality rations with prescribed specifications, rigorous inspection procedures at the time of acceptance of items offered by the contractor to ensure quality and the right quantity.

    As far as the ASC’s role in procurement is concerned, it is imperative that it resorts to competitive ways to demolish cartels and the monopoly of contractors who have not only monopolized the business but adopted exploitative practices to keep genuine competitors away. If these practices are controlled in some of the major areas, it will be a breakthrough. However, to do this, a strong will and effort on the part of the procuring organization is needed.

    As already stated, better quality control and checks at the level of the contract operating officer and improvement in the process of distribution of ration items can also help to a large extent in the improvement of the supply chain up to the ultimate consumer in various nooks and corners of the country. The possibility of outsourcing ration distribution can also be considered as an option on an experimental basis.

    Another important aspect in ration procurement happens to be the cost of various items. The CAG in their report have touched upon cost differentials in many items with the same specifications. The report has mentioned the payment of exorbitant rates for various items of hospital supply at Delhi like lime, apples, oranges, etc. as against the contracted rates for normal supply of the same items with the same specifications at Delhi. Thus the report reveals considerable variations in the rates of fruits and vegetables for different units within a city. This is again a serious financial anomaly, which reflects on the procurement agency. This situation only indicates that either substandard items were supplied to units other than hospitals or the rates quoted were unrealistic or the contractor quoted these rates just to bag the contract for a big station like Delhi. To minimize such contingencies, on-line data sharing within various procuring CFAs can be considered. The purpose is to procure the various items at the most economical rates without compromising on quality.

    The government is stated to have made suitable provisions to supply special rations to jawans deployed in high altitude and insurgency prone areas. However this may not be the end of the problem unless concrete steps are initiated to improve the quality of already authorized and scaled ration items. A decentralized dry ration procurement system can be considered in order to tap better suppliers in a phased manner.

    As far as fresh rations are concerned, the need of the hour is to generate and infuse competition to break the monopolies and cartels in the entire process of procurement. The existing ASC procedures of procurement can also be reviewed, particularly the prevailing system of registration of contractors where the credibility of the contractor for supply of quality items in the past can be considered as an overriding factor. Media reports have pointed out the violation of norms in many cases. It is reported that several transport and tour companies were registered as vendors for supply of items like eggs, meat, vegetables, etc. Similarly a poultry farm was registered for the provision of transportation. Though all these issues are extremely crucial to deal with, however among all these issues the most crucial is inspection of the ration offered by a contractor under the contract and acceptance of the same by the contract operating officer with due care and with reference to quantity as well as quality. If these aspects are dealt with effectively, the possibility of at least some improvement in the quality of food supplied to the troops would come about.