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SOURCE: HT

A group of parliamentarians is set to visit the Ladakh sector to get first-hand insights into aspects related to high-altitude clothing for soldiers, housing and rations at a time when India and China are locked in a border row and efforts to reduce friction have made no headway, officials familiar with the developments said Tuesday.

The members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, are likely to visit Leh on October 28-29, the officials said.

The visit was finalised after Chowdhury wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla last month suggesting that the PAC visit the Ladakh sector to interact with soldiers deployed there and understand their working conditions and requirements.

The committee is currently examining a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that had pointed out deficiencies in high-altitude clothing and equipment and the need to equip soldiers with proper gear.

The PAC discussed some issues related to rations and clothing with chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat during a meeting on September 6, the officials said. At this meeting, the PAC chairman asked the CDS to consider a tour for the MPs to the Ladakh sector, following which Chowdhury wrote to Birla. The PAC is expected to meet on October 23 to finalise its itinerary.

In a report tabled in Parliament in February, the national auditor had drawn attention to the shortage of essential gear, clothing and rations being faced by soldiers deployed in high-altitude areas such as Siachen and Ladakh.

There was a critical shortage of snow goggles and troops were not issued multi-purpose boots between November 2015 and September 2016, a press statement issued by the CAG had then said. However, reacting to the CAG report, senior army officials had said that the deficiencies had been taken care of and each soldier deployed in Siachen was supplied with gear worth Rs 1 lakh.

The MPs are likely to be briefed by senior army officials and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists during the visit. The PAC scrutinises the appropriation accounts of the government and the reports prepared by the CAG. The PAC’s Leh visit comes at a time when both Indian and Chinese forces have made arrangements for a long haul in the eastern Ladakh theatre.