The Defence Ministry has objected to a visit by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to Leh next month to review the working conditions of soldiers deployed in forward locations within the high altitude areas.
In a letter sent on Wednesday, the Ministry said “it might not be advisable” for the MPs to go to , given the standoff with China along the road of Actual Control (LAC).
In another letter sent only each day earlier, however, the Ministry had made no mention of such concerns.
The PAC, headed by the Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, had last month got clearance from Speaker Om Birla to go to Ladakh to satisfy the soldiers.
The PAC wanted to go to Leh since it’s examining a CAG report which had earlier this year said that the troops stationed in areas like Siachen and Ladakh faced an acute shortage of high-altitude clothing and equipment, including snow goggles, due to delays in procurement.
The PAC had initially decided to go to Ladakh on October 28 and 29. But some MPs on the panel sought a change in dates, citing the Assembly elections in Bihar, by-elections in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and therefore the prevailing Covid-19 situation.
The PAC then revised its plan, and decided to go to Leh from November 8 to 10, instead. It sent the revised schedule to the Defence Ministry, Army, and Lok Sabha secretariat.
But the Defence Ministry has informed the PAC that it’s going to not be advisable to go to Ladakh now, since the military is fully engaged with things on the border.
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“The present situation with soldiers from each side in close proximity; all officers and men are involved in ensuring full preparedness, to stop any escalation within the situation. Accordingly, it’s going to not be advisable for such a delegation comprising VVIPs to go to Leh, Ladakh at this juncture. A fresh date are going to be intimated as and when there’s some disengagement on the bottom ,” a letter dated October 28 from the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) of the Ministry of Defence said.
The DMA is headed by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat.
Interestingly, a letter from the DMA just each day earlier had not objected to the MPs’ visit. This first letter, dated October 27, mentioned inputs obtained from the military Headquarters regarding weather and temperature. It said while the weather “appears to be clear”, temperatures during the amount of the visit might be within the range of two degrees and minus 10 degrees at Leh, which the members would require acclimatisation when travelling to forward areas.
Based on these inputs, the visit is “considered feasible” provided the weather is stable, the letter said.
According to the sooner itinerary, the MPs were to possess informal discussions with representatives of the Defence Ministry and therefore the Northern Army Command in Leh on “provisioning, procurement and issue of high altitude clothing, equipment, ration and housing” on the primary day of the visit. The panel was alleged to visit the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) of the DRDO in Leh, then make a field visit to a forward area.