Breaking convention, the parliamentary standing committee on defence yesterday decided to call on the three service chiefs on 20 April and seek their views on the state of defence preparedness which was the subject matter of the army chief general V K Singh's controversial letter to prime minister Manmohan Singh.
This is said to be the first instance of the committee calling all three chiefs although the Public Accounts Committee had summoned them last year in connection with the CAG's report on Canteen Stores Department (CSD). While in the absence of the naval chief, the vice-chief of the navy appeared before the PAC, the other two service chiefs presented themselves before the PAC.
Usually, it is the vice-chief in all the three services who is entrusted with the task of representing their respective forces before the standing committee, which has become a convention with time, and part of the division of labour within the services hierarchy.
An indication of what could be in store at the next meeting came when Congress MP Manish Tewari was learnt to have asked whether the war reserves available were enough if hostilities were to begin, the next day. Vice-chief of the army staff explained that while stocks for war-fighting were required to be at levels to last for 40 days, in certain areas like 'armour piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot' (a special tank ammunition), stocks were down to four days. The vice-chief clarified however, that this did not mean that tanks would run dry.
At the last committee meeting on 4 April, the chairman had been asked by Akali Dal's Rajya Sabha member Naresh Gujral to summon the army chief to throw light on the matter in the context of his letter to the prime minister.
Yesterday, however, the committee took the stance that all three chiefs should be called as the committee needed to examine the whole spectrum of defence preparedness.