Ragini Maheshwari Friday, 26 June 2020

How Negligence can cause more Personnel Loss

In a report tabled in the Parliament on 3rd February 2020, The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pulled up the army for shortages and inadequate reserves of specialised winter clothing, snow goggles, multi-purpose boots, ration and other equipment for Army troops deployed in high altitude areas like Ladakh, Siachen and Doklam.

This lack of funding for proper equipment and ration could've been a contributing factor to the high number of casualties on India's part in the Clash with Chinese Troops in the Galwan Valley region of eastern Ladakh on Monday.

Since the 1993 India-China boundary agreement, and 18 years before that, firearms have never been used by any troops in order to maintain peace and honour the agreement. The PLA was able to find a way around these agreements and used spike studded clubs to maim and kill Indian troops. As the Indian army was aware of this provision, and similar weapons had been used to target Indian troops in skirmishes along the Pangong Lake the previous month, with increasing tension between the two states, soldiers should have been equipped accordingly, with body protectors, which post this clash are being distributed among the troops deployed along the LAC.

According to the CAG's report, the Troops had not been issued 'multi-purpose boots' from November 2015 to September 2016 and had to resort to the recycling of available boots. Without serviceable boots, survival at such temperature is almost impossible and using unserviceable recycled boots cause difficulties for the troops. According to reports, 17 Indian soldiers who were critically injured and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain succumbed to their injuries. It is possible that the lack of proper clothing and gear in such temperatures lead to a higher number of casualties. The CAG report is telling on the budgetary allocation to defence, which has steadily declined in the last few years due to a struggling economy, where the government had to juggle between development projects, political compulsions and defence. In fact, in the Budget for 2020, the Indian Air force has seen its allocation for capital expenditure drop by Rs. 1600 crore.

This really has little to do with the ruling government’s national security policy, which doesn't seem to appreciate the conventional domain of border security, just like the government's before it. Funds are often allocated for other political compulsions of the ruling party.

This is a systemic issue. Everything from government negligence to bureaucratic oversight is accountable and needs improvement. Being a third world country, we like to spend more on equipment than on human beings. The CAG's report shows that priority is given to large big-ticket items like MIGs or Tanks. Lack of funding for equipment and gear may or may not be a contributing factor in the Clash with the PLA, but it is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer. Most shortages listed by the CAG reflect the reality that, on the list of properties, the Soldier is below the tank, and this mindset needs to change.

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