New Delhi: A Parliamentary panel has pulled up the Defence Ministry for not honouring its commitment made to the BSF for providing technical support, including supply of spare parts, to the paramilitary force`s helicopter fleet.
The BSF`s Mi-17 IV chopper fleet not only flies sorties to help anti-naxal operations, but are also used for transporting paramilitary forces.
The panel has also asked the Indian Air Force and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to plug "operational constraints" which are leading to this problem and ensure a solution so that the BSF is able to operate its fleet in full strength.
"The committee is constrained to note that helicopters are not functional due to scarcity of spares. Such a situation should not have been allowed," the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs noted in its recent report tabled in Parliament.
"The committee takes serious view of the fact that despite Memorandum of Understanding signed between MHA and MoD, the Air Force is not able to extend the required support in terms of pilots, technical manpower, spares backup and repair facilities to the MHA due to their own operational constraints.
"When MoU was signed, the MoD should honour this without fail. The MoD should plug these operational constraints," the panel said when it was briefed that out of the six MI-17 IV BSF military helicopters, two were grounded for want of service.
While the BSF flies these choppers under military registration, it has also contracted Pawan Hans and other helicopter service operators to cater to more than 70 battalions of central forces deployed for anti-naxal duties and for other logistical sorties.
"Currently two Mi-17 IV helicopters out of a fleet of six with MHA, are in unservicable condition, due to non- availability of the critical components, spares, including aero engines and main rotor blades," the Home Ministry said in its reply to the House panel.
The panel also recommended that the MHA should "impress
upon the MoD to supply adequate number of helicopters to it so that it never faces problem of non-availability of helicopters along with a guarantee of spares".
Acknowledging that the Defence Ministry is making its best efforts to provide the BSF helicopter fleet with services as per terms of the MoUs, it reasoned that the IAF/MoD could not extend the required support due to their "own operational constraints".
"The pilot as well as technical manpower to handle this fleet is not available in the open market and has to be necessarily sourced from IAF/MoD. IAF/MoD have a much larger fleet and as a result they are able to negotiate better terms and conditions as well as price with the original equipment manufacturers. However, after the breakup of the erstwhile USSR, IAF/MoD are also finding it difficult to source spares from different Commonwealth of Independent States countries manufacturing different parts," the MHA said.
The MHA further added that "due to their own increased volume of repair works because of ageing fleet, the IAF sometimes is not able to accord the required priority deserved by the fleet of BSF."
Though the repair facilities have been established by IAF, they are yet to establish the repair facilities of certain major components at their 3-base repair depot at Chandigarh, it said.
"As a result, such components are still required to be sent to the original equipment manufacturer overseas which takes lot of time," the Home Ministry said.
Union Home Secretary R K Singh also explained the position to the panel headed by BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu.
"...This (scarcity of spares) is something which is not limited only to the MHA, this is something which is being faced by us as a country because we are dependent on a country which broke up and where manufacturing facilities were dispersed.
"Some helicopters are actually 2002-03 vintage. In some cases they have been closed down and in other places they are near closing down. The MoD is procuring some of the additional helicopters and we have asked them to add our requirements to their procurement," Singh said in his submission to the panel.
The MHA said that is "vigorously pursuing" with the MoD for devising ways to ensure early maintenance services of this fleet.