By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th June 13
The new Director General of the Defence R&D Organisation (DG, DRDO), Dr Avinash Chander, says that decentralising control of R&D projects would his “top priority”. In his first interview as chief, Chander told Business Standard that a proposal to place each of the DRDO’s “technology clusters” under an empowered and accountable DG had been sent to the government.
Development projects, e.g. to develop the Agni-5 missile, have traditionally been managed by “project directors”, usually but not always the chief of one of the DRDO’s fifty laboratories spread across the country. But their immediate bosses --- designated “Chief Controllers of R&D” (or CC R&D) --- each of whom oversee 5-8 laboratories dealing with related technologies (such a group is a “technology cluster”) have never been responsible for delivering new equipment.
For example, the “missile cluster” comprises of four laboratories: Advanced Systems Laboratory; Defence R&D Laboratory; Research Centre, Imarat; and the Interim Test Range, Chandipur. The directors of these simultaneously develop a variety of missiles, such as the Agni series of ballistic missiles; the Nirbhay cruise missile; the Long Range Surface to Air Missile, and so on. But the CC R&D who oversees the missile cluster (until a week ago, it was Avinash Chander himself) ia nor directly responsible for the success of any missile projects.
All that is set to change.
“The CC R&D will be designated director general, or DG, and will be accountable for delivering the projects undertaken by the laboratories in his or her cluster. CC R&Ds currently have only corporate roles like interfacing with the military, or conducting project reviews. In the new DRDO, they will have executive responsibility for delivering products,” says Chander.
In May 2010, the MoD had announced that there would be seven technology clusters. These would be formed by regrouping the current nine clusters: aeronautics, armaments, combat engineering, electronics, life sciences, materials, micro-electronic devices, missiles and naval systems.
Chander says this will involve a root and branch restructuring of the DRDO’s top echelons. For example, the CC R&D in charge of missiles currently has an office in New Delhi, and another in Hyderabad, where the missile cluster is centred. But the new Director General Missiles will relocate full-time to Hyderabad.
Similarly, the CC R&D who oversees aerospace will become Director General Aerospace and relocate to Bangalore, where the six aeronautical laboratories and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) are centred.
“All the laboratories and programme in the cluster will directly report to the DG, who will exercise functional autonomy within the cluster, overseeing it directly. The DG will come to headquarters only for budget planning, review programmes or if additional funds are needed. He or she has the authority and responsibility to deliver products. We will create a focused hierarchy in DRDO,” says Chander.
The impending changes will also sweep away the apex post of DG DRDO. Avinash Chander will become the first “DRDO Chairman.”
A committee headed by Dr P Rama Rao, a former secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, had proposed this decentralisation five years ago. In addition, the Rama Rao Committee recommended other changes in institutional, managerial, administrative and financial structures for improving the DRDO’s functioning. Sixteen months after receiving the Rama Rao Committee Report on Feb 07, 2008, Defence Minister AK Antony constituted another committee under the defence secretary on Jun 25, 2009 to “arrive at a set of acceptable recommendations.”
Four years later, a new DRDO chief will push for full decentralisation. Financial decentralisation has made some headway: in 2010, the MoD increasing the financial authorities of the four levels within DRDO: (a) Laboratory Director (Rs 5 crore); (b) CC R&D (Rs 5-25 crore); (c) DG DRDO (Rs 50-60 crore); and (d) Secretary R&D (Rs 50-75 crore). The DG DRDO and the Secretary R&D are ex-officio the same person, but their financial powers are different.