Private Industries ‘Favoured’ for Production of Indian Army’s New Combat Uniform: AIDEF
Image Courtesy: PTI
New Delhi: The All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) has blamed the Central government for favouring private industries over public entities while floating a tender for large-scale production of the recently unveiled new combat uniform for the army soldiers.
The federation apprehends that the latest move will “pave the way for privatisation” of the defence companies that were administered under the erstwhile Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
The Department of Military Affairs under the Union Ministry of Defence, earlier this month on October 6, invited bids for the production of over 11 lakh sets of the new combat uniform for the Indian Army soldiers. The battledress, which sports a digital camouflage pattern, was unveiled earlier this year in January. It is set to replace the existing decades-old army uniform.
In a letter addressed to Rajnath Singh, Union Defence Minister, the AIDEF, however, expressed "shock" over the tender, noting that it was floated despite multiple representations from the federations, requesting the former to place an order for the manufacturing of the new combat uniform to Troop Comforts Limited (TCL).
TCL is among the seven defence companies formed last year in October after the controversial corporatisation of the OFB. Known for long-lasting manufacturing uniforms and high-quality equipment, army clothing factories located at Shahjahanpur, Hazratpur, and Avadi are now administered under TCL, which has also been given control of an ordnance unit in Kanpur.
‘UNETHICAL AND ILLEGAL’
Moreover, "We apprehend that the tender conditions have been designed in such a manner to favour few Private Industries who are only having the facilities of a composite Mill and Garment Manufacturing," the AIDEF said in the letter dated October 7.
Terming it “unethical and illegal and disastrous,” AIDEF general secretary C Srikumar on Monday told NewsClick that the tender conditions are framed so that the four ordnance factories under TCL will not be allowed to participate in bidding for the manufacturing of the newly designed combat army uniform.
According to him, this is so, in particular, because the tender demands that a bidder should have a garment manufacturing facility. This pertains to section 19(d) of the terms and conditions enlisted by the Department of Military Affairs within the tender, which states: “Bidders should have the capability/activities and machinery irrespective of locations (location may be same or at different places) being carried out under one legal entity holding one PAN for wet processing, dyeing, printing and garmenting.”
Srikumar argued on Monday that textile fabric manufacturing and garment manufacturing are two different types of industries, and as such, the condition of having garmenting facilities does not make any sense. "The ordnance factories under TCL, especially the one at Avadi and Hazratpur, are specialised factories and have supplied almost one crore of the combat army uniform sets to the Indian Army for more than a decade in the past. However, TCL won't be able to bid for the latest tender because it does not meet the set criteria," he said.
AIDEF URGES DEFENCE MINISTRY TO INTERVENE
On Monday, Srikumar urged the Union MoD to intervene in the matter, highlighting that there is currently no workload for the four ordnance factories under TCL for 2023-24. It is a cause of major worry for the future of over 10,000 defence civilian employees, who are employed in the said factories, he added.
In the long run, the latest tender, with its “exclusionary” terms and conditions, will only “pave the way for privatisation” of the TCL, Srikumar further claimed, adding that: “This also goes against the assurances of the Defence Ministry, which promised the defence employees, upon corporatisation of OFB, that the new defence companies will be supported through financial and non-financial means.”
Notably, Communist Party of India leader and Rajya Sabha MP Binoy Viswam had also earlier urged Union Defence Minister Singh to give “Instructions to the Army to directly place indent of the new uniforms from the Ordinance Clothing Factories.”
To be sure, the status of combat army uniforms from “core” to “non-core” items was changed by the Central government in January 2018, when it included 39 items in the list of non-core items, in respect of manufacturing of which the then OFB was from thereon to get orders only on a competitive basis as against the erstwhile nomination basis.
The Defence Procurement Manual had mandated the requirement of a no objection certificate from OFB for procurement of items from the open market by Indian defence forces if the items are in the "core” production range of the former.
This was, however, done away with for the procurement of as many as 275 items, which were declared “non-core” by the Central government from April 2017 to January 2018 – it allowed tender to be issued for the procurement of these items, inviting private players too to participate in the bidding process.
Meanwhile, the latest charge pertaining to favourable treatment to private industries at the cost of public entities for the large-scale production of the new army battledress has come months after the Central government was flayed for involving a private company in the initial manufacturing of the combat uniform without consulting “stakeholder”.
Earlier, the Central government was also blamed for giving preference to the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Textiles, over clothing factories under OFB while finalising the design of the new combat uniform, according to a National Herald report.
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