National Agenda: Reforms in MoD urgent and necessary
There is no representation of the uniformed community in the Ministry of Defence. Thus it lacks professional competence in the business in which they are placed.
It is an accepted fact that when a government faces a crises over which there is a public clamour or which is causing embarrassment, it resorts to establishing a committee to examine the issue, thus delaying the decision and once the urgency dies down, public memory being short, then it quietly shelves the issue.
Quite often even the observations on committee’s recommendations by various agencies are orchestrated through media so that the uncomfortable reforms are held in abeyance. This has been experienced so often that it is no surprise that the key reforms recommended by the Kargil Review Committee on February 23, 2000, and subsequently the Group of Ministers (GoM) on February 26, 2001, remain unaddressed. The key reforms not implemented include the establishment of the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and integration of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with Service professionals.
Naresh Chandra Committee
By mid-2011, the large number of legal complaints in the various courts against the MoD on pay and allowances discrepancies, defence procurement scams, deteriorating civil-military relations and the increasing threat perception from our adversaries China and Pakistan, led the UPA II to establish the Naresh Chandra Committee (NCC), a 14-member task force on national security on June 21, 2011, to suggest ways to revamp of defence management in the country. The main objective behind the constitution of the committee was to contemporise the Kargil Review Committee’s Report. Besides, the task force was also asked to examine the state of country’s border management.
The Committee submitted its report to the government on August 8, 2012. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh turned it over to the National Security Council Secretariat for processing its recommendations and presenting them to the Cabinet Committee on Security. Manoj Joshi, a well known journalist who writes on strategic and security issues and who was member of the NCC, had this to say in his article “Shutting His Ears to Change” on November 22, 2013, in Mail Today: “This writer was a member of the task force, but has had little or no official information on its status since then. But the bureaucratic grapevine suggests that the report is on its way to meet the fate of other similar endeavours: get shelved.”
The salient recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Committee included a large number of issues and among them were the two issues affecting the efficient functioning of the Services and the MoD namely, appointing a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and promotion of synergy in civil-military functioning to ensure integration, to begin with, the deputation of armed services officers up to director level in the MoD and then progressively up to joint secretary’s level which had been also recommended by the Arun Singh Committee on Defence Expenditure. Even the Standing Committee for Defence of 14th Lok Sabha had ‘strongly’’ recommended the change in MoD staffing patterns to ensure armed forces were ‘‘intrinsically involved in national security management and apex decision-making process’’. The recommendations were rejected by the MoD and the Government.
The Inefficiency of the MoD
The inefficiency of the MoD in the past few years can be visualised from the letter written by General (Retd) V.K. Singh, the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), to the Prime Minister on March 12, 2012, which was deliberately leaked to the media. It highlighted that the mission reliability of mechanised vehicles was poor, the artillery was obsolete and inadequate, air defence was antiquated, armour was unreliable due to regular barrel accidents caused by mismatch between indigenous barrels and ammunition, night-fighting devices were insufficient, aviation corps helicopters needed urgent replacements, and holdings of all types of missiles, anti-tank and specialised ammunition was critically low. Thus pointing out the lack of preparedness to fight and win wars on the battlefields of the 21st century. Thanks to an indifferent Defence Minister and an uncaring bureaucracy the situation still remains more or less the same.
Anit Mukherjee wrote an interesting article in The Hindu on July 17, 2012 bringing out the ills of the MoD and the Services. He wrote: “Most informed analysts know about the deficiencies stemming from higher defence mismanagement, but the leak of General V.K. Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister made this public. The other controversies around civil-military relations revealed the crisis of confidence and trust deficit between military officers and civilian bureaucrats in the MoD. Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony admitted as such when he referred to the ‘bitterness between them.’
While many reasons can be attributed to this state of affairs— including the controversies over the past Pay Commissions, at the national level structural problems exist arising from quaint and archaic organisations and rules of business. The major areas where reform is needed are:
The integration of the Ministry of Defence with the Service Headquarters. The latter function as attached offices, working under archaic and logic-defying rules of business. There is no representation of the uniformed community in the Ministry of Defence. Thus it lacks professional competence in the business in which they are placed. The current Rules of Business names the Defence Secretary as the person in charge of operational readiness of the armed forces. This is an outlandish rule and needs to be reviewed at the earliest. A collective responsibility together with the Defence Minister and Service Chiefs must be established and the financial powers to the Chiefs be vested accordingly.
Since the establishment of the Chief of Staff System, the Service Chiefs were meant to be Chiefs of Staff, however over a period of time they have started wearing two hats — as Chiefs of Staff and Commanders in Chief. This leads to unilateral and frequent changes of policies at times. Civil service culture prevents bureaucrats from challenging the military on its logic.
Within the Services the absence of theatre commands with joint staff in which the Services themselves are integrated for planning and conduct of operations along with an ineffective Chiefs of Staff Committee have led to a system of planning for operations service wise. The so-called operational “jointness” practised by the Services, is operationally inefficient and encourages single Service planning, a culture which prevails till today.
Successive governments have neglected to reform the higher defence structures and their linkage to the National Security set up of the country. The Chiefs of Staff of the three services func- tion outside the national security planning loop and structure.
The lack of a well articulated National Security Strategy is another area of concern. This compels the services to establish their own concepts and doctrines in this regard which may at times contradict the national security policies.
The civilians in the MoD are not willing to accept any change. They wish to retain their perks and privileges. They seem quite happy with the inefficient, incompetent, and wasteful system that has developed since independence and is prevailing. Reforms suggested by the Kargil Review Committee or later the Naresh Chandra Committee have been similarly rejected on frivolous grounds and it is unfortunate that the political hierarchy has been accepting this negative approach of MoD towards national defence.
We hope that the new government shows firmness of resolve to institute the long-pending reforms in the MoD.
Indian Army soldiers in action during Exercise Vijayee Bhava
Indian troops in Mi-17 helicopter