The government's laxity in phasing out Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) rifles despite being aware of defects in the weaponry is leading to avoidable deaths of soldiers and paramilitary troopers, says a PIL filed by a retired Army officer in the Delhi High Court.
The PIL claimed AK-47 rifles are an effective and a cheaper alternative but the government continues with INSAS rifles.
In fact, the government has defended its stance saying the loss of lives in an operation by armed forces cannot be attributed to a particular weapon system.
In its reply. the centre has also clarified that none of the court of inquiries conducted in the aftermath of Naxal strikes in Chattisgarh has blamed INSAS rifles for death of soldiers.
Defending its INSAS rifle system, the defence ministry also told the high court that it carries out periodic upgrade of INSAS rifles as it wanted to provide the latest and modern weapons to the armed forces.
Minister of state for home affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary also told Parliament that there was no proposal to replace all INSAS rifles given to the forces at present.
However, weapons like assault rifles (7.62 x 39 mm), sniper rifles, X-95 assault rifles, Glock pistols, MP-5 sub machine guns and carbines have been provided to central armed police forces
Further, 67,117 units of additional assault rifles (7.62 x 39 mm) have been authorised for CRPF battalions deployed in LWE & J&K region against replacement of 5.56 mm INSAS rifles. Yet, the government argued that different weapons have their unique features and strengths.
''Modernisation of weapons to security forces is a continuous process as per operational requirement of the concerned security force,'' the minister added.
Arguing against the PIL, the defence ministry further faulted the comparison of "two separate classes of weapons" and noted how INSAS and AK-47 rifles use different size of ammunition of varying range.
"Both the weapons are effective in different riles because of their different features. Forces always use a combination of different weapons to meet requirement. These include pistols, sub machine guns, assault rifles, mortars grenade launchers, etc.
"Therefore a particular weapon may be considered superior to any other weapon on certain counts and hence more suitable for deployment in particular theatre. Any such comparison by no means should be construed that other weapon is inferior and not good enough to be kept in service."
Narrating the history of INSAS, the defense ministry informed the court that it was inducted in 1992 after extensive user trials and since then has undergone three cycles of up gradation.
"Isolated cases of jamming / stoppages after sustained firing is unavoidable in any weapon system, while issue of cracking of magazines has been resolved and current ones are of satisfactory standard," it added.
On the petitioner's charge that only poor soldiers on the front are saddled with INSAS while those in VIP guard detail abjure it, the defence ministry has pointed out that elite forces like NSG don't use INSAS because their requirement is different from that of Army.
"They use AK series, Heckler & Koch and other weapons of assault category as their usage is for short distances."