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In 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested R.S. Sharma, former director (procurement), home ministry, on charges of corruption. A 1984-batch officer of the Indian Railways Service of Mechanical Engineers, he was on deputation to the ministry. The CBI nabbed him for a scam in the procurement of 59,000 bullet-proof vests. Now, his name is at the centre of the night vision device scam, too. He is currently out on bail. 

The ministry had floated the tender for the vests in 2009. But as the deal ran into murky waters, it was put on hold for a year and Sharma was arrested. The immediate victims of the scam are the paramilitary forces, as they have to fight Maoists and armed insurgents without body armour. The case was a serious blow to the home ministry, as Sharma was involved in the modernisation of central police forces and in procuring and allocating weapons for them. The CBI had arrested Sharma’s alleged accomplices, too,—R.K. Gupta and wife Lavina Gupta, owners of Anjani Technoplast, an armouring firm.  

The charge was that Sharma favoured Anjani Technoplast’s bid for the vests, despite its product failing the trials. He is accused of leaking confidential data about the tenders and the trial process to Anjani Technoplast. The CBI has registered a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The night vision device scam has also come under the radar of the agency. Allegedly, Sharma and other government officials took bribes for providing inside information that gave BEL andPrizmatech,Israel, an unfair advantage while bidding for contracts. Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told THE WEEK that Sharma had been shifted from the ministry and that the ministry was fully cooperating with the CBI investigation. Said Pillai: “We have given the matter to the CBI. They are investigating not only this [bullet-proof vest scam] deal but other deals too which may come up during their investigation. As of now, Sharma stands suspended and charge-sheeted.”

Box: What Is Wrong With The Deal  

Uncertified II tubes:

An image intensifier tube (II tube) increases the intensity of available light in a night vision device (NVD). International firms provide a detailed certificate with every II tube manufactured by them. The certificate lists the II tube’s unique number, year of manufacture, guaranteed life and the number of hours it has been tested. It will also specify if the tube is new or reused. Many II tubes used by BEL are not certified, raising fears that the tubes were procured from the grey market. 

Unchecked performance parameters:

The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) quantifies how much a signal has been corrupted by ‘noise’ or unwanted data. If the ratio is higher than 1:1, it indicates more signal than noise. SNR is, perhaps, the most important parameter for an II tube. But it was not checked by the team which tested the BEL NVDs. 

Not tested for MTF

Another parameter not tested by the trial team was the modulation transfer function (MTF), which finds the position of best focus of an NVD. MTF is also related to another parameter—minimum resolvable temperature difference—which rates an NVD’s ability to resolve temperature difference. The BEL NVDs were not sent for field trials, so no one knows how the device will perform in varying locations and climatic conditions such as summer, winter, high altitude and desert. 

Low FOM

What created suspicion about the authenticity of the II tubes was its low figure of merit (FOM), which characterises the performance of the tube. The FOM of an II tube is found by multiplying the tube’s SNR with the number of line pairs per millimetre. The BEL equipment’s FOM should have been around 1,000, but a senior paramilitary officer told THE WEEK that, in trials, it was less than 750.

Breakup of the 32,766 NVDs

Assam Rifles    BSF        CRPF       ITBP

For INSAS    4,655             8,820      8,016      1,595

For LMG        1,696            4,480      2,125      983

Total              6,351          13,300     10,173    2,942

(THE WEEK, June 12, 2011)

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