by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 18th December 2007
The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) announcement earlier this month scrapping the proposed purchase of 197 light helicopters from European consortium, Eurocopter, provides an excellent mirror for India to examine its strategic fibre. Comment and public attention has largely centred around the procedure of the trials, the personalities and relationships involved, and whose footfalls trod more heavily in the corridors of South Block: Eurocopter’s or its arch rival Bell Helicopter’s.
But the twenty-odd jawans, clinging through winter onto Sonam Post, perched on a knife-edged ridge in the Northern Siachen Glacier, haven’t yet heard about this decision. They will learn about it one of these days, via a three-weeks-old newspaper that will be delivered to them in a 1960s vintage Cheetah helicopter, flown by an Army Aviation pilot who flies the world’s most hazardous missions to earn 20,000 rupees a month.
For those jawans, and for tens of thousands others like them who have already been cut off by the snows, this decision means a clear reduction in chances of survival. Between now and May, Indian jawans in these posts will die of illness, accidents and high-altitude sickness, because a helicopter could not evacuate them to a hospital. The arrival of either the Eurocopter or the Bell --- newer, more powerful and capable helicopters --- would have quickly translated into saved lives.
But saving soldiers’ lives played no role in the decision. What did was a corrosive melange of political influence, bureaucratic risk-aversion and convoluted procedure, which now unacceptably smothers every major defence decision. The cancelled purchase from Eurocopter had taken six years to fructify. Whether another selection procedure will end in a perfectly objective decision is already well known: it will not. Military procurement decisions cannot be reduced to a mathematical matrix; they involve subjective considerations that cannot be disregarded.
But for ministers, parliamentarians and bureaucrats, with little idea or experience of the issues attending defence, the one guiding principle is: play it safe. Bureaucrats will confide, over a scotch and soda at the Gymkhana Club, that not one of them has been hauled up for a decision not taken; but too many good men have fallen victim to valid decisions that went against them. George Fernandes, whilst serving as defence minister, bemoaned the perpetual paralysis of South Block’s babus.
Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), MK Kaul, has publicly excoriated MoD officials for avoiding risk by using rulebooks to delay defence purchases. The CAG told an international seminar on 15th Dec 06, “The emphasis seems to be on technical compliance through a multitude of detailed rules and regulations rather than on creating a new organisational culture, which focuses on results.”
Fernandes was wrong in blaming the paralysis on the three “Cs” --- the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The rot runs deeper than the mere inability to provide for defence. It has incapacitated the fundamental process of even planning for it.
India is the only major country that plans its defence one year at a time. The MoD theoretically has a 15-year Long Term Integrated Procurement Plan (LTIPP), the basis for all defence procurement, modernisation, and indigenous development of equipment. From the LTIPP, which was to cover the period 2002-2017, were to flow the 10th, 11th and 12th defence 5-year plans, covering the same period. The astonishing reality is that these plans do not exist.
The CAG’s Report No 4 of 2007 reveals that the LTIPP 2002-2017 was only finalised in 2006, four years after it was supposed to have commenced. By then, since it was the last year of the 10th defence plan, it was decided to prepare a revised LTIPP, covering the period till 2022, all the way to the end of the 13th defence plan, which is to run from 2018-2022.
Now that is facing further delays as the MoD reworks everything. The MoD has told the 14th Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Defence (in writing), that the new LTIPP would now be finalised only in 2009. The 16th report of the Standing Committee carries the MoD’s reply.
The MoD submits that, “The revised LTIPP (2007-22) is being prepared following a deliberate and integrated ‘Top Down’ approach by articulating National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy, National Military Objectives/Capitality (sic) and so on. Such an exercise has been undertaken for the first time and is an extremely involved process with inputs from the three Services, MoD, NSA and various other agencies. The document is expected to be ready by December 2009.”
So the revised LTIPP (2007-22) is already late by two years and, going by track record, will be delayed even further. Medium-term planning is doing no better. The CAG’s Report No 4 points out that the 11th Defence Plan, which covers the period 2007-2012, and which commenced on April 2007, still awaits formal approval.
The MoD bureaucrats are blaming their counterparts in the Finance Ministry, who are apparently sitting on the file. But the bottom line is that no long-term or medium-term defence plan is in place, no targets are set for bureaucrats to procure desperately needed equipment, and little can be hoped for from the large and inefficient government-owned defence industry.
If those jawans on Sonam Post were not from the Indian Army, they might well be wondering which side is the enemy.