TRAGEDY OF INS SIND­HU­RATNA AND BE­YOND : A VIEW­POINT

The ex­ist­ing short­ages of 1,41,000-crore worth of arms and am­mu­ni­tion in the Army in­cludes crit­i­cal voids in bul­let­proof jack­ets and patkas, lack of which means avoid­able loss and in­jury to soldiers. Of course, no ar­tillery gun has been in­ducted into the

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Post the tragic ac­ci­dent of INS Sind­hu­ratna that re­sulted in the sac­ri­fice of two young of­fi­cers, ma­jor dam­age to the sub­ma­rine and the res­ig­na­tion of Ad­mi­ral D.K. Joshi, the Chief of Naval Staff, there is ur­gent need for not only re­fec­tion but ac­tion. In the im­me­di­ate aftermath of the tragedy, press re­ports re­vealed that a cin­fi­den­tial re­port by the In­dian Navy to the Prime Min­is­ter and the De­fence Min­is­ter had brought out the crit­i­cal state of the Navy’s fleet, par­tic­u­larly the Kilo class sub­marines. The se­ries of ac­ci­dents in the Navy in re­cent months in­cluded INS Sind­hu­rak­shak and INS Sind­hu­ratna, both Kilo class sub­marines, the for­mer’s tragedy in Au­gust 2013 hav­ing caused the death of 18 naval per­son­nel.

It is not that Ad­mi­ral Joshi re­signed just be­cause of the mishap of INS Sind­hu­ratna. There was more loss of lives in case of INS Sind­hu­rak­shak and ac­ci­dents are out of con­trol of the Chief of Naval Staff; some­thing that the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) should have un­der­stood. But what must have been galling to the Ad­mi­ral per­haps was that with mod­erni­sa­tion of the naval fleet stonewalled at ev­ery stage by the govern­ment, he could do lit­tle to stop his per­son­nel be­ing harmed fur­ther, forced to sail in out­dated sub­marines in se­ri­ous need of up­grades.

The fact is that most of the Kilo class sub­marines have long out­lived their ser­vice lives. But the Navy has been forced to keep up­grad­ing and re­fit­ting them to keep its of­fen­sive po­ten­tial strong. How­ever, there is a limit to all this es­pe­cially when even de­ci­sions of re­fit­ment and up­grades are log­jammed by the bu­reau­cracy at ev­ery stage. Time is hardly linked to crit­i­cal­ity of equip­ment and there­fore im­por­tant de­ci­sions are left in limbo.

Why our indige­nous sub­ma­rine plans have been glut­ted were well ex­plained by Anil Manib­hai Naik, Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of L&T, in a let­ter to the Prime Min­is­ter in 2011 say­ing, “De­fence Pro­duc­tion [MoD] Joint Sec­re­taries and Sec­re­taries of De­fence Min­istry are on the Boards of all PSUs – sick­est of sick units you can think of who can­not take out one con­ven­tional sub­ma­rine in 15 years now with the re­sult that the gap is widen­ing be­tween us and China and bulk of the time we re­sort to im­ports out of no choice. The de­fence in­dus­try which could have re­ally flow­ered around very high tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and taken In­dia to the next level of tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment and ex­cel­lence is not hap­pen­ing.”

What has been sur­pris­ing in all this is that the MoD ap­pears to have closed the is­sue hav­ing ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of Ad­mi­ral Joshi in­stan­ta­neously avoid­ing cul­pa­bil­ity in the ut­ter lack of mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces. INS Sind­hu­ratna’s bat­ter­ies used up their life cy­cle in De­cem­ber 2012 but the sub­ma­rine was forced to go for mi­nor re­fit and con­tinue on sea be­cause of the de­pleted num­bers of the Navy. It was still run­ning on 15-month-old bat­ter­ies. It could not get new bat­ter­ies be­cause pro­cure­ment was de­layed for more than those months by MoD.

It was on its first sea trial when the fire broke out due to the bat­ter­ies. Yet the De­fence Min­is­ter and the De­fence Sec­re­tary, lat­ter charged with the ‘De­fence of In­dia’ un­der Rules of Busi­ness of the Govern­ment of In­dia, failed to share moral re­spon­si­bil­ity, whereas they should have both ten­dered their res­ig­na­tion. Sim­i­lar are the cases of scores of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) pi­lots sac­ri­ficed fly­ing ob­so­lete MiG-21s that were aptly named ‘fly­ing coffins’. Re­cently, Wing Com­man­der San­jeet Singh Kaila in his writ pe­ti­tion against the Hindustan Aero­nau­tics Limited and the MoD, has sub­mit­ted a 3D an­i­ma­tion of 2005 MiG-21 crash to Delhi High Court to demon­strate how the ac­ci­dent took place.

The ex­ist­ing short­ages of ` 1,41,000-crore worth of arms and am­mu­ni­tion in the Army in­cludes crit­i­cal voids in bul­let-proof jack­ets and patkas, lack of which means avoid­able loss and in­jury to soldiers. Of course, no ar­tillery gun has been in­ducted into the Army in last three decades, 90 per cent of equip­ment of army air de­fence is ob­so­lete, and the in­fantry is short of night vi­sion, sur­veil­lance and com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment. No won­der, first time the re­port of the Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee on De­fence has talked of short­ages of soldiers in the army, which all these years was only in the of­fi­cer cat­e­gory. The bot­tom line is that un­less ac­count­abil­ity is brought among the bu­reau­crats and the De­fence Min­is­ter him­self takes in­ter­est in ac­cel­er­at­ing the mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces, the sit­u­a­tion can turn ex­tremely grave.

LT GEN­ERAL (RETD) P.C. KA­TOCH

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