Procedural wrangles delay handing over of coffins to Army from Court

TNN Bureau. Updated: 10/12/2017 4:18:20 PM National

Procedural wrangles have held up handing over of nearly 900 body bags to Army lying unused for the past 17 years. The body bags are gathering dust in a warehouse of Patiala House court as the CBI had conducted a decade long investigation into alleged coffins scam, which had erupted during the tenure of Vajpayee government at the Centre. The Kargil war began in May 1999 between India and Pakistan in which hundreds of jawans were martyred.

During the war, the government decided to procure body bags and better caskets for bringing the bodies from the field. “On July 27, 1999 Operation Vijay was concluded and a contract with a foreign company (US-based Buitron and Baiza company) was signed on August 2, 1999 for procurement of 3,000 body bags and 500 aluminium caskets. Around four lakh dollars were paid to that company from Indian exchequer,” Army sources said. The deal was signed for delivery of 18 kgs of each caskets but it supplied each casket of 55 kg.

When the concerned Indian authority raised the issue, the company pressed for change in contract but the government didn’t allow any alteration into it and rather preferred for its cancellation in August 2001. The idea of procuring coffins came from an Indian military unit posted on a UN mission in Somalia. The unit commander wrote back to Army Headquarters recommending their procurement. Within days, a controversy erupted pertaining to the procurement transaction and the opposition parties led by Congress vociferously raised the issue in Parliament. The leading Opposition party of that time alleged that the government had taken kickbacks for procuring the body bags and caskets.

However, “Out of 4 lakh dollars, the government got security encashment of about Rs 1.50 lakh dollars and 45,000 dollars were not paid. Remaining amounts were paid for 900 coffins and 150 caskets. So, there was no loss in entire transaction to the government,” the sources added. After 12 years of intensive probe, the CBI court gave a clean-chit to the government in 2013 and found mentioning of 18 kgs in the deal was a typo error.

In March 2017, the Supreme Court passed an order for the ministry of defence to take back the consignment of 900 body bags and 150 caskets from the Patiala House court. But it remains in court as the auditor in its observation said, 'there is a need to check at what prices the company supplied the same products to Indian Army and US Army at the same time.'

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