Army HQ nod to foreign firm under scanner

FP

An "emergency purchase" bid for ammunition for anti-aircraft guns that was initiated by former Army Chief Gen V K Singh has come under the scanner of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), following serious charges of irregularities in the selection procedure that led to a Bulgarian firm emerging as the winner.

The tender to procure a large quantity of ammunition for ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns for an estimated US$ 100 million was floated by Army HQ last year as an "emergency purchase" to meet operational requirements. The ammunition was required to be delivered within a year.

While three firms took part in the tender process, a Bulgarian firm, Kintex, emerged as the lowest bidder after the Army HQ cleared it on technical grounds. However, before the contract could be signed, an MoD team which visited Bulgaria found that the firm was not an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) but merely an export agent for another Bulgarian firm that manufactures the ammunition.

This raised several questions on the fairness of the selection process as well as the checks and verifications conducted by Army HQ, which are now being probed by the MoD. The issue has gained significance as the deal was being processed under the "emergency purchase" route in which there are more chances of transparency being compromised.

When contacted, MoD officials confirmed that the tender had been initiated at the request of Army HQ, and that it is looking at several issues that have been raised on the selection process. The purchase has been put on hold for now.

The matter has been further complicated with Moscow sending a letter to the MoD, complaining that Kintex is not an authorised manufacturer or dealer for the Russian origin 23 mm ammunition.

The Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) has written a letter to Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma explaining that Bulgaria has to obtain permission from Russia before exporting 23 mm ammunition to third nations. Bulgaria's request for components for the 23 mm ammunition for India was turned down by Russia in April 2011, says the letter sent by the FSMTC director.

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