Three years after 26/11, procurement of jackets for security forces lags as 'impractical demands' put off manufacturers
Three years after 26/11, there is still a disappointing and shocking haze of confusion over the issue of bulletproof jackets for the security forces.
With the Centre demanding vests of certain specifications only and private manufacturers unable to meet these requirements as they say the standards set are impractical, tenders for bulletproof jackets are not being filled.
All this is a glaring indication of how unprepared we are, considering the bulletproof vests were central to the post-26/11 debate.
Irrespective of its usage, the lifespan of a bulletproof vest is just six years
"Red-tapism, impractical demands, cumbersome procedure, rigid laws and so on a combination of these factors is preventing the city-based jacket manufacturing companies from going for it (bidding for supply contracts)," said a ballistic products manufacturer from Thane district who also supplies bulletproof jackets for the police department.
The manufacturer had taken part in all the tendering processes initiated by the state police for bulletproof suits since 2007. "Apart from waste of time, manpower and money, we have got nothing out of it," said the manufacturer.
A Y Kulkarni (66), of M/s Gun Mark Armory, a veteran who is a consultant for the state police and the defence forces on various ballistic products and bulletproof vests, admits that those involved in coming up with the technical specifications for the state police are out of touch with reality.
Also, given a choice, any trader would like to deal with a corporate client than the police. "There is no bulletproof vest in the world that can guarantee full protection.
If a bullet hits the vest and fractures the ceramic or steel plates, and if the second bullet hits the fractured area, the chances of the second bullet penetrating is high, but everything depends on the velocity and distance from where the firing is done.
Moreover, the life span of a vest is only six years, whether it is used or not, and after a certain period it becomes obsolete," said Kulkarni. Union Home Secretary R K Singh said the Centre had already procured 59,000 bulletproof vests and given these to various states.
The Joint Secretary (Police Modernisation), Union Ministry of Home Affairs, said, "We had obtained approximately 59,000 bulletproof vests.
We had distributed them to certain agencies across the country, but after the recent serial blasts in Mumbai, the Maharashtra Government had again written to us asking for bulletproof vests and we asked the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to hand over 4,000 bulletproof vests to Maharashtra, which was done accordingly.
Also, after the 26/11 terror strike, instructions have been given to the Indian Ordnance Factory and its depot to meet the requirements of the Maharashtra Government on a priority basis."
A senior Home Department official from the state government said, "Since we were not able to get any of the samples cleared post-testing as per our specifications, the state government decided to procure the bulletproof vests from the central government.
We had accordingly placed an order for 2,700 bulletproof vests, but received only 2,000 in the first lot. Another request for 3,000 vests has been sent to the central government. The vests received have been distributed to various police stations in districts across the state."
The Tendering Saga
Aug 10, 2009/Oct 20, 2011: The state police invited bids from manufactures for 1,813 units of high-end bulletproof vests that could prevent penetration by AK-47 bullets. None of the samples sent for testing were cleared. The latest tender asking for 2,000 units of vests was released on October and the process is still on, said a state police official.
Tender specifications: Vests should be lightweight (6 to 6.5 kg), should cover either sides of the armpits and come with a 10-year guarantee. Five samples (each vest costs between Rs 45,000 and Rs 50,000) should be provided with testing fees (Rs 60,000), product and tender fees (Rs 2,000) and deposit (Rs 5,000). In practice, the deposit is not refunded for years even after cancellation of tender.
Bulletproof vest manufacturers say none of the specifications are logical. For instance, they say the minimum weight of the vest should be 8 kg to withstand AK-47 bullets, it is not possible to protect the armpit area unless the bullets are from a revolver or pistol, and the life span of a vest is only six years and no one would give a guarantee of 10 years.
Jackets fail testing in TBRL
Samples collected were earlier sent to Terminal Ballistic Research Laboratory (TBRL), Chandigarh, where sources claim the test results were mostly negative. A former additional director general of police, who was earlier associated with planning and coordination, said the vest samples failed the test and the earlier tenders had to be declared failed, but the October tender process is still on.