Why Defence Ministry hasn't seen any reform in last two years

Last Updated: Fri, Aug 12, 2016 12:47 hrs

India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is unique in most aspects. No other country can boast of such a set-up. Not convinced? Read on.
 
Responsibility for India’s national defence is discharged through MoD, which provides the policy framework and wherewithal to the armed forces. MoD has five Secretaries, heading different departments. Here is a closer look at their functioning.
  
Department of Defence (DoD)

According to the Allocation of Business Rules of the government, the Defence Secretary heads DoD that is responsible for the defence of India and every part thereof, including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war. In other words, he is tasked to ensure the defence of the country. Surprised? Yes, it is his responsibility and not that of the Service Chiefs. 

For such an onerous responsibility, it is natural to expect a highly experienced defence expert/veteran to be occupying the chair. After all, to ensure defence of the country (including preparation and execution) is no routine job. But MoD is different. Any bureaucrat can foot the bill, even if he cannot differentiate between a mortar and a howitzer or a rocket and a missile.

India has had Defence Secretaries whose earlier service had been limited to Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry. Most do not know even the basics of defence imperatives. To mask their ignorance and inadequacy, they resort to the time-tested expedient of deferring decision-making. India is the only country that considers experience in fisheries or handlooms to be good enough to equip a bureaucrat to handle defence of India. No wonder we claim ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’. 

Department of Defence Production (DDP)

Development of indigenous defence industry is DDP’s prime responsibility. Although DDP has a vast domain of 39 ordnance factories and nine defence public sector undertakings, the performance of DDP has been pathetic to say the least. It is solely responsible for the current pitiable state of the indigenous defence industry, wherein India remains dependent on imports for 70 percent of its defence requirements.

The world over, promotion of defence industry is considered to be a highly specialised assignment. However, India is an exception. Any bureaucrat can be appointed as Secretary DDP.  Some come with no experience of industry or defence. Their incompetence manifests itself in their prejudiced and blinkered approach towards the private sector. Blocking the entry of the private sector to ensure regular flow of orders to the public sector becomes their sole mission. Instead of exploiting the enormous technological prowess of the private sector, DDP impedes its participation in defence production.  

In all ‘Buy and Make’ cases, DDP always nominates a public sector unit to receive technology for indigenous production. Instead of absorbing technology, most units choose the easier path of assembling imported sub-assemblies and selling to the services at a huge profit. The case of TATRA vehicles exposed the rot that has set in. Rather than undertaking the onerous task of manufacturing, most public sector units have become traders of imported systems under DDP’s patronage.

Utter failure of DDP can be gauged from the fact that India has acquired the dubious distinction of being the largest importer of conventional weapons in the world with 14 percent of the global share. Some achievement after seven decades of independence! DDP ought to be ashamed of it. But, we still have the audacity to claim ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’. 

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)

DRDO has 52 laboratories in multiple disciplines. It employs over 5,000 scientists and about 25,000 other scientific, technical and supporting personnel. The track record of DRDO is abysmal to say the least – a chronicle of false claims, tall promises, inexplicable delays and sub-optimal products. It has the unenviable reputation of never developing any equipment conforming to the parameters in the promised time-frame. Some claim to infamy!

Although DRDO’s annual budget is close to Rs 14,000 crore, its total success is limited to the replication of some imported products (commonly called ‘reverse engineering’ and ‘indigenisation’). Time and cost overruns are taken for granted. The history of three key projects (Arjun tank, Light Combat Aircraft and Kavery aero engine) undertaken by DRDO is a true indicator of the gross inadequacy that afflicts it. 

Failure to perform its primary task of developing weapon systems has forced DRDO to delve into bizarre areas to justify its existence. Many will be shocked to learn that DRDO expends defence funds on projects like developing new breeds of angora rabbits, collecting newer varieties of orchids and identifying sharpest chillies. No other country can boast of such defence R&D, except ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’.  

Department of Ex-serviceman Welfare (DESW)

DESW deals with all resettlement, welfare and pensionary matters of ex-servicemen. Strangely, not a single serving or retired soldier has been posted to it. It is totally manned by bureaucrats. Interestingly, India cannot have the Minority Commission without minority members or Women’s Commission without women; but it can have DESW without ex-servicemen. Welfare of retired soldiers has been entrusted to the people who have never faced a bullet and who know little about the challenges faced by the retired soldiers. Hence, they cannot be faulted for their complete lack of empathy.

A comparison of DESW with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) will be enlightening. All the top officers of DVA are ex-servicemen. It is headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert A. McDonald, a veteran of 82nd Airborne Division. Most of the subordinate functionaries also possess extensive military experience. They appreciate that soldiering is a unique profession with challenging convolutions.

DESW has acquired notoriety as the first barricade of bureaucratic negativity. Most proposals get rejected at DESW level itself. Instead of looking after the welfare of veterans and standing up for their rights/entitlements, DESW contests every judicial verdict that goes in favour of ex-servicemen, war-widows and even war casualties. As a result, troops and veterans view DESW as an antagonistic entity. India must be the only country where MoD does not enjoy the trust of its veterans. What a sad state of affairs in ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’. 

Defence Finance Division (Def Fin)

Defence Finance is responsible to examine all defence matters having a financial bearing; render financial advice; assist in the formulation and implementation of all schemes/proposals involving expenditure; and assist in the formulation and implementation of defence plans. In other words, they are custodians of government funds and oversee all defence expenditure.  

Notwithstanding the colourful taxonomy of Defence Financial Advisors, Defence Finance officials are ill-equipped to provide any financial advice. Most are graduates in subjects like Sanskrit, English Literature and History. As they are not familiar with even the basics of finance or economics, it is unfair to expect them to grasp minutiae of financial imperatives. How can officials who know nothing of finance and are totally ignorant of defence issues contribute to the evolution of a sound defence finance plan? 

What to talk of rendering advice, Defence Finance officials are incapable of even doing their basic job of account keeping. In March 2016, the Defence Minister shocked the nation by revealing that India’s USD 3 billion were lying forgotten with the US government for years, without earning any interest. Worse, India continued to make fresh payments to the US for new weaponry. Whether it was a case of ill-management, lack of attention or sheer incompetence, it could have happened only in ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’. 

Finally  

As can be seen, MoD is responsible for all facets of national defence. Unfortunately, it suffers from major fundamental flaws in its organisation and functioning. It is entirely manned by bureaucrats and officials who are clueless about defence matters. The service headquarters are mere attached offices. They do not form part of the decision making apparatus. 

MoD is a citadel of bureaucracy and is totally devoid of professionalism. The world abhors dealing with it. Since 2014, a measly sum of USD 1.12 million has come in as FDI despite the government raising the cap to 100 percent. Incompetence results in vacillation and lack of decision making; and that dissuades all prospective investors.   

Most disappointingly, the political leadership remains a powerless spectator. Howsoever broad Modi’s chest may be and howsoever well-meaning Parrikar may be; bureaucracy continues to call the shots and not a single (yes, not a single) reform has been implemented during the last two years. All those pre-election boasts have proved to be mere baloney. MoD carries on functioning in its lethargic and inept manner. Hopefully, our chants of ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ will continue to deter potential enemies of India.


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 Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.

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