In 1999, citing the operational emergency created by the Kargil war, the ministry of defence had relaxed procurement norms on 123 contracts worth Rs 2,175 crore. These included virtually everything, from ammunition to thermal imagers to gloves and parkas to coffins for the dead soldiers. So far so good. But how did the ministry of defence use the latitude it had secured? The CAG's audit showed that there had been serious irregularities in 24 contracts covering 64 per cent of the total purchases. These included deliberately selecting more expensive equipment, deliberately accepting substandard equipment, and deliberately placing orders abroad for equipment that was being manufactured within the country.
These mistakes would not have mattered if the equipment had reached in time to be used in the war. Since no one could predict how long the war was going to last, or indeed how far it would escalate, they would have been excusable if the contracts had been placed while the war was still going on. But the CAG report shows that in most of these cases the contracts were placed, or confirmed despite revealed shortcomings in the equipment, only after the Kargil war was over. And that casts an altogether different light on the patriotic hurry to strike these deals.