The Indian Army chief, General V.K. Singh Wednesday deposed before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer queries about alleged irregularities in defence-run canteens as pointed out by the government auditor last year.

This is the first time that an army chief has appeared before the PAC, which oversees government spending. The meetings are usually attended by the defence secretary and vice chiefs of the services.

Singh appeared before the PAC, which is chaired by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi, around 11 a.m., sources said.

Army officials, who accompanied the chief, made a presentation on how the services manage canteens and distribute rations to their personnel.

The air force chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik is to appear before the PAC in the evening, the sources said.

The navy’a chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, is on a “pre-scheduled” four-day visit to Indonesia and will be represented by his deputy, Vice Admiral D.K. Deewan. The vice chief will appear before the PAC later in the day.

The committee had called the services chiefs for a hearing after a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report pointed out irregularities in the supply chain management of rations by Canteen Stores Department (CSD).

The CAG, in its report in August last year, had criticised the services over the way the CSD and its unit-run canteens (URCs) function and the lack of transparency in their accounting methods.

The PAC later sought answers from the defence ministry, which in turn wrote to the service chiefs on the alleged irregularities.

The services have decided to stick to their stand that URCs were beyond the purview of the committee because they have their own internal audit mechanisms to keep a watch on them.

“We still maintain that URC is beyond their purview. That is the basic issue on which I presume the hearing or questioning will take place. We have given our replies to them,” Air Chief Marshal Naik told reporters here on the sidelines of a defence function Tuesday.

He, however, maintained: “We all must remember one thing that we all are subject to parliament. That is the system of our governance. Nobody is exempt.”

There are some 3,600 unit-run canteens, which operate on soft loans extended by the military and operate from military premises. The CAG report said that the concessions given to the canteens resulted in a loss of Rs.441 crore to the government from 2002-03 to 2008-09.

The CAG report had criticised the existing methods of ration procurement by canteens and castigated the military, saying there were “systemic deficiencies” in running the canteens.

It said existing procedures were not enough to “realistically” assess the requirements of dry rations.

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