The Army is investigating alleged irregularities in procurement of drones in the Eastern Command during the tenure of Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi as the Eastern Army Commander. Documents accessed by The Indian Express have revealed that the investigation pertains to the purchase of 67 quadcopters at a cost of approximately Rs 6 crores under the Army Commanders Special Financial Powers Fund in 2016. Lt Gen Bakshi took over as Eastern Army Commander in August 2015 and retired in July 2017, after having been passed over for appointment as Chief of Army Staff despite being the seniormost general for the post.
The Army has cancelled the supply order after finding the equipment defective during acceptance test procedure. Sources said officers involved in the procurement process, including a Major General who headed the technical evaluation committee, were being attached for the disciplinary procedure at HQs 17 Corps in Ranchi.
The Eastern Command had a floated a Request For Proposal (RFP) in April 2016 inviting bids for procurement of 67 quadcopters (day/night) medium range equipment out of the Army Commanders Special Financial Power Fund for the year 2015-16. After being successful in the techno-commercial bidding process, a Mumbai-based private firm, M/s Sure Safety Private Ltd, was selected to fulfil the order by the then Major General (Artillery) on behalf of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command in December 2016.
In March 2018, Eastern Command headquarters cancelled the supply order on the grounds that the suppliers had committed a breach of the supply order by failing to supply the entire quantity of quadcopters in time and that the quadcopters that were supplied had failed to meet the qualitative requirements. The Army alleged that prima facie, the firm had misrepresented the capabilities of the quadcopters to project the firm as technically qualified when it was not meeting the threshold eligibility.
The Army also ordered a Court of Inquiry around the same time to find out how the firm had been given the order to supply the drones despite the equipment having qualitative defects. The firm had contested the Army’s contention and said that while the majority of the parameters of the quadcopters were in compliance, only a few variations were noticed during testing. It also noted therein that the equipment was complex and required a high level of skill in handling and operation. The firm said that the quadcopters were used without training causing damage to them.
The Army, while cancelling the order, said that the equipment was urgently required for “enhancing the operational capability, to carry out surveillance and keep strict vigil in the operational areas”. It blamed the firm for being insensitive to the operational and national security considerations as the supplier of the security equipment. “You were expected to show the highest standards of honesty and integrity to ensure that there are no deficiencies/shortcomings in the qualitative requirements of the above equipment. Your dishonest and fraudulent approach in relation to qualitative standards of the said equipment has created a void in the surveillance capability, thus jeopardising national security,” the Eastern Command letter to the firm said.
On its part, the firm has denied it has ever used any undue influence of any nature in bagging the contract. It has termed the cancellation of order as “wrongful, bad in law and unilateral decision”. In response to the show cause notice by the Army, the firm has blamed the Army for damaging the drones due to mishandling. It also alleged that the Court of Inquiry had been ordered with “ulterior motives to justify the cancellation of the supply order which was done to avoid the liability of payment”. Reached for comment, Lt Gen Bakshi (redt), declined to comment.