Indian Army’s procurement of anti mine boots for troops deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir has run into rough weather with the Army’s Northern Command finding the boots supplied to be defective and witholding the payment of nearly Rs 17 Crore to the firm that supplied the boots.
The Boot Anti Mine (Infantry), also known as BAMI in Army parlance, were procured by the Northern Command in 2018 under the Army Commanders Special Financial Power Fund. These boots were distributed among the Army units deployed along the LoC in order to provide protection to the troops who venture close to the minefields laid along the border with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Arbitration proceedings are now underway at Udhampur since August 2019.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that the Northern Command has withheld payment of nearly Rs 16.77 Crores for the supply of 6250 anti mine boots to a Batala (Punjab) based firm, Gee Kay Engineering Industries, alleging that defective shoes had been supplied which did not offer adequate protection and caused severe injuries to army personnel deployed on Line of Control following mine blasts.
It is pertinent to mention here that the boots had been supplied to the Northern Command in July 2018 and they were accepted by the Army authorities after 100 per cent inspection in September 2018. Earlier, the boots had been selected for supply after extensive blast tests and field trials by a Technical Evaluation committee (TEC) of the Northern Command. The inspection and acceptance board had rejected 32 pairs of BAMI which were replaced by the supplier firm in October 2018 and the supplier submitted a bill for Rs 16,77,07,500 in the same month.
The Army, however, wrote a letter to the suppliers in February 2019 pointing out that two officers had suffered grave injuries from mine blasts despite wearing the boots. The letter, written by HQs Northern Command, Udhampur (J&K) said that a Lt Colonel deployed in general area of Naushera has suffered injury due to mine blast to his right foot with two fingers amputated and a third likely to be amputated along with multiple fracture of Fibula and Tibia.
In another incident cited by the Army, Major posted in general area of Akhnoor, near Jammu, was also severely injured in mine blast and had to suffer amputation of half his left foot and was undergoing rehabilitation at Artificial Limb Centre, Pune.
“These boots have failed to provide protection to the wearer as per the qualitative requirements in the tender and have caused grave injury to the personnel wearing it. You are requested to forward reasons for failure of the boots and severe injury including loss of limb to the wearer,” the letter written by Colonel General Staff on behalf of Chief Engineer, Northern Command states.
When contacted, the supplier firm rejected Army’s allegations and said that the anti- mine boots were selected by Army after rigorous tests and the results were approved by the chain of command.
Replying to a written query an advocate for Gee Kay Engineering Industries, Guneet Chaudhary, said that his clients had supplied 6250 pairs of BAMI after successfully qualifying the Technical Evaluation Test conducted by the Technical Evaluation Committee headed by senior officers of Northern Command.
“The supplied BAMI were duly inspected physically by the Inspection and Acceptance Board and strongly recommended for acceptance and procurement was duly approved by the Army Commander. The operational Corps Commander had publicly declared that it is due to BAMI supplied by the client, the lives of the two officers were saved. Further, it is only yesterday, a retired Chief of Integrated Defenmce Staff (IDS) mentioned in social media that the foot of one of his battalion officers, at present recuperating in Northern Command Hospital, was saved as he was wearing BAMI. It leaves no doubt about the quality of the BAMI. The BAMI supplied are as per the International Standards,” he said.
Chaudhary went on to say that the Headquarters Northern Command has failed to make the payment for the 6282 pairs so far, whereas as per the terms and conditions of the Request for Proposal, 100 per cent payment was to be made at ‘Cash on delivery”.
“The Headquarter Northern Command has violated not only the terms and conditions of the Supply Order, Request for Proposal, Sale of Goods Act, the Law of Contract but also the provisions of the Defence Procurement Manual -9, which is the Bible of all the contracts and purchases of the Indian Army. The denial of payment for more than 500 days for no valid reason forced us to serve the Notice for Arbitration under Clause 18 of the Arbitration Act. The Head Quarter, Northern Command has appointed, Kartar Singh, Retired District and Session Judge as the sole arbitrator for the settlement of the dispute. The Arbitration Proceedings are going on at Udhampur and we will not be able to divulge the details of the arbitration proceedings as it will be against the confidentiality clause of the Arbitration Act,” he added.