The chiefs of the army and air force as well as the vice chief of the navy were Wednesday questioned by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over alleged irregularities in defence-run canteens as pointed out by the government auditor last year, but the meetings remained inconclusive.
PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi said the armed forces’ chiefs would be called again on certain issues they could not answer in Wednesday’s meeting.
This was the first time that the army and air force chiefs have appeared before the PAC, which oversees government spending. The meetings are usually attended by the defence secretary and vice chiefs of the services.
The naval chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, is on a ‘pre-scheduled’ four-day visit to Indonesia and was represented by his deputy, Vice Admiral D.K. Deewan.
Army officials, who accompanied their chief, made a presentation on how the services manage canteens and distribute rations to their personnel. The air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Naik, also made a presentation before the PAC.
The service chiefs, according to sources, maintained their stand that unit-run canteens (URC) were beyond the purview of the committee because they have their own internal audit mechanisms to keep a watch on them.
But Joshi denied this point was raised. ‘We didn’t discuss it. We are seeking their cooperation and want that public funds should be used properly and in a transparent manner. We are overseeing if the rules are being followed in spending the money from the consolidated fund of India.’
He said the service chiefs were satisfied with the meeting and denied that there was a rift between armed forces and the PAC over the CAG report.
Asked if they chiefs have accepted the CAG findings, Joshi said: ‘We cannot say that. PAC will come with its own report.’
The committee had called the services chiefs for a hearing after a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report pointed out irregularities in the supply chain management of rations by the Canteen Stores Department (CSD).
The CAG, in its report in August last year, had criticised the services over the way the CSD and its unit-run canteens (URCs) function and the lack of transparency in their accounting methods.
The PAC later sought answers from the defence ministry, which in turn wrote to the service chiefs on the alleged irregularities.
Air Chief Marshal Naik told reporters here Tuesday that the URC is ‘beyond the purview’ of the PAC. ‘We have given our replies to them,’ he said.
He, however, maintained: ‘We all must remember one thing that we all are subject to parliament. That is the system of our governance. Nobody is exempt.’
There are some 3,600 unit-run canteens, which operate on soft loans extended by the military and operate from military premises. The CAG report said the concessions given to the canteens resulted in a loss of Rs.441 crore to the government from 2002-03 to 2008-09.
The CAG report had criticised the existing methods of ration procurement by canteens and castigated the military, saying there were ‘systemic deficiencies’ in running the canteens.
It said existing procedures were not enough to ‘realistically’ assess the requirements of dry rations.