19 Army soldiers perished in Pulgaon Ammunition blast in 2016 that was caused by defective mines. This happened in spite of Army having alerted the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) that these defective mines were potential hazard. In spite of such a serious breach of responsibility MoD has failed to fix the responsibilities and punish the culprits. Ultimately the widow of the officer who was killed in the blast had to approach the High Court. Does it matter to OFB or MoD if soldiers are killed in defective ammunition produced by a system that has no accountability? OFB has always attributed the accidents to the poor handling of the ammunition and poor maintenance of weapons. Does it not sound absurd?
Army has once again taken up the case of unprecedented accidents due to defective ammunition supplied by OFB of artillery guns, tanks, and even air defence guns. The Army committed cardinal mistake when it did not press the charges of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide not amounting to murder on OFB for having warned them multiple times and OFB not taking any actions to remove defective mines that ultimately caused death of 19 soldiers and loss of crores of Rupees. The situation as it stands today is that the men are reluctant to use the ammunition produced by the OFB. No matter what OFB, MoD or senior military hierarchy may say, at grass route level every time OFB ammunition is fired during training, the officers whether it is his duty or not has to stand there as a moral support to men, that I will be the first one to perish if ammunition is defective and causes accident. The soldiers entrust their lives to the weapons and ammunition they handle to survive and win wars. If that trust is broken then there is nothing on this earth that can motivate men to fight till the last man last round. It needs to be understood that if soldiers are handed over unreliable weapons and ammunition, war will be lost before the first bullet is fired. This can only be understood by military commanders and it is the responsibility of the leadership to red flag and should not allow young officers and men to be killed for someone’s incompetence and dereliction of duty.
Even one accident must make MoD sit up and take note of the incident. In fact MoD and OFB are accountable and servants of the soldiers. The fact is that since OFB knows that they will not be accountable to Army for their dereliction of duty and MoD will stand by them even by committing serious crime of betrayal of men. This attitude of “Chalta Hai” must come to an end. Every life lost in accident must be investigated and accountability fixed so that it does not reoccur again.
What is the answer? Army has to decide to stand by their command or succumb to the bureaucracy- OFB nexus? It has continued for long and time to stop murder of soldiers. Is it not a criminal conspiracy to create doubt and unreliability in the minds of the soldiers and cause disruption in training? It certainly has far reaching consequences and unless it is looked at as a serious disservice to nation and to the soldiers it will not stop. Heads both in MoD and OFB must roll. It is the responsibility of the MoD to provide reliable ammunition and weapon systems. Their job is not to sit on the judgement seat to see if the OFB is right or wrong. MoD must depute periodically the senior bureaucrats and OFB officers who oversee production and quality control of the ammunition to be present during training firing. I can assure no accident will take place and people will do their job sincerely.
This frail excuse of handling and storage of ammunition needs to be debunked. Ammunition is supposed to be robust that could sustain handling in war like situation. If it is fragile and susceptible to damage during transportation by air, train, vehicles, ships and mules in a war zone, then I don’t think Army needs such fragile ammunition. If ammunition is not fit for rough handling in warlike conditions in that case, OFB must shut their shop and start making Diwali crackers. During war and training ammunition should be robust and rugged because it must sustain even para drop from the air. Ammunition should be stable even for storage in desert in 50 degree hot weather under trampoline, in bunkers covered with snow and wet conditions of the North East. Therefore, it will be absurd to buy the ridiculous argument of OFB that the accident can take place due to poor handling or poor storage conditions. OFB management needs to come out in the field and see the ground conditions and the extreme climatic and terrain conditions in which ammunition will be stored and fired. Army does not fire guns in laboratory conditions; they fire in most hazardous conditions. Hence, either they make ammunition that is suitable in war conditions or stop supplying ammunition that is unfit for use by soldiers in war conditions. Notwithstanding the above, the responsibility to protect the command and prevent unacceptable harm to men ultimately rests with the military commanders. Thus if men are killed in accidents due to poor quality ammunition, military leadership too must take the blame for their inability to force MoD and OFB to supply good and stable ammunition that is robust for transportation, storage and firing.