New Delhi: The Army, the Navy and the Air Force have sought emergency financial powers from the defence ministry to expedite critical procurement needed to build additional infrastructure to tackle the growing burden of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to sources in the government, the proposals seeking emergency financial powers for additional infrastructure — such as quarantine facilities and equipping them with stores, ration and other materials — for a period of three months are currently under the active consideration of the government.

A decision on this is expected shortly. The services were granted emergency financial powers last year too.

Once approved, the emergency powers could range from delegating full financial powers to providing spending powers of Rs 20 lakh to the heads of different formations of the three services.

For example, last year, Army commanders were sanctioned full financial powers, while corps commanders or area commanders were made eligible to spend Rs 50 lakh, and division commanders or sub-area commanders could spend Rs 20 lakh on Covid-related infrastructural work in their respective jurisdiction.

The development comes after the defence ministry last week sanctioned invoking Schedule 8.1 of Delegation of Financial Powers to Defence Services (DFPDS-2016), which deals with the grant of emergency financial powers to the Armed Forces Medical Service (AFMS) upto 30 September 2021.

Schedule 8.1 of DFPDS-2016 provides for full financial powers to the Director General (DG), Armed Forces Medical Service (AFMS) for procurement of medical items, materials and stores.

In addition, DGs Medical Services in the service headquarters of the Army, Navy and Air Force have also been granted financial powers of Rs 5 crore. At the field level in Commands/Corps, Rs 3 crore will be made available to a Major General-equivalent and another Rs 2 crore to a brigadier-equivalent officer of the AFMS.

These emergency financial powers will also be utilised for providing various services on treatment and management of Covid-19.

In addition, Schedule 2.5 of DFPDS also provides for expenditure upto 5 lakh per day per patient to commandants of Military Hospitals headed by a Lieutenant General.

It will also accord spending powers of Rs 3 lakh and Rs 2 lakh on hospitals headed by Major Generals and Brigadiers. Defence sources told The Print that this schedule is also being used for managing the pandemic.

This is, however, different from the emergency financial powers sought by the services for their commands.

Tackling A Health Crisis

According to defence sources, the services have pointed out the exponential rise in Covid cases and thus the requirement of augmenting infrastructure of military hospitals and quarantine facilities with materials, equipment, stores, rations, beds and ambulances, to tackle the health crisis.

This will also include personal protection gear, sanitisation and other medical equipment.

“There was emphasis on how invoking emergency powers will help in better management of the Covid-19 situation and aid repairs and faster procurement of medicines and other medical equipment needed for the pandemic on a real-time mode,” a defence source said.

Last year too, the Ministry of Defence had granted emergency financial powers to Army commanders, corps commanders as well as division or sub-area commanders to expedite procurement related to establishing and running quarantine facilities, among other things, for an initial period of three months, which was later extended by three more months.

The powers were later also given to Naval and Air Force commanders and other senior officers of the services.

When Are These Powers Exercised

The emergency powers to the three services enumerated under different schedules of the DFPDS-2016 are exercised as and when the government notifies an event through an order declaring war, hostility, natural calamity or disaster or when the defence minister declares and orders military preparedness for emergency or other immediate military necessities.

It will also be applicable as and when a proposal, mooted by the service chiefs, is approved by the defence minister for immediate action to be taken in case of a series of incidents or when the Army is requisitioned for internal security duties.

Procurement powers under various heads vary and are enhanced in consultation with the Integrated Financial Adviser (IFA), who is from the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA).

On Monday, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the preparations and operations undertaken by the armed forces to tackle the pandemic.