After months of deadlock that stalled the Army’s modernisation plans, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has given the go-ahead for blacklisted firms to participate in trials to kickstart procurement of five vital defence systems. Trials have been cleared for 155 mm towed guns, artillery shells and light vehicles and rifles for special forces.
As reported first by The Indian Express, seven firms were blacklisted earlier this year following the arrest of former Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) chairman Sudipta Ghosh. As a result, several procurement were put on hold. The Army Chief subsequently made requests to at least allow trials in cases where the tainted firms were contenders.
While trials have been allowed in specific cases based on advice from the Law Ministry and the Central Vigilance Commission, the MoD has said that no contracts will be awarded until the firms have been cleared by the CBI.
“The Army Chief had made specific requests that trials should be held as they will take time. The Law Ministry and CVC agreed with the suggestion that trial process can continue in multi-vendor cases but no contracts will be signed till the CBI case is cleared,” said a top MoD official.
Sources said the decision was taken last week, and the Army has already issued orders for trials. The first trial will be held in February for the estimated $-2 billion order to procure 400 much-needed 155 mm artillery guns. The two contenders for the contract are Singapore Technologies (which had been blacklisted) and UK-based BAE Systems.
But another crucial tender to procure over 100 light howitzers for deployment in mountainous border regions adjoining China and Pakistan continues to be on hold as the only contender is Singapore Technologies. “The decision (to allow trials) is only for multi-vendor cases,” the official said. “The light howitzer contract is on hold as it is a single-vendor situation.”
The Army will now also go ahead with trials for artillery ammunition and armoured fighting vehicle tank protection systems — in both, another blacklisted firm, Israeli Military Industries (IMI), was a contender.Two other contracts for light-weight assault rifles and light strike vehicles for special forces — for both, Singapore Technologies is a contender — will also go ahead with trials.