Catch-22 – Authority Versus Accountability
Media is abuzz with the statement of Admiral D.K. Joshi, who resigned as Navy Chief on February 26 taking moral responsibility for repeated accidents involving naval vessels, saying the root cause of his resignation was the ‘dysfunctional and inefficient’ operating environment in the Navy, and that he was surprised at the haste with which the UPA Government accepted his resignation.
The Admiral, a gentleman to the core, is modest in accrediting the dysfunctional and inefficient system in the Navy, which actually is courtesy the ‘dysfunctional and inefficient’ defence set up of India including the defence-industrial complex. Nothing can be so precisely accurate than the Admiral saying where there is authority there is no accountability and where there is accountability there is no authority. What obviously galled the Admiral and made him resign was that with modernisation of the naval fleet stonewalled at every stage by the then government, he could do little to stop his personnel being harmed further; forced to sail in outdated submarines that were in serious need of upgrades. It is no secret that wanton blacklisting of firms even on anonymous complaints and without alternative sources of procurement created enormous criticalities in the armed forces.
The leaked letter of Army Chief General V.K. Singh (Retired now) to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh detailing had created ripples throughout the country. Starving the military of equipment to force imports by creating criticalities obviously suits vested interests in the arms trade. Little wonder that today the Ministry of Commerce and Industry website openly admits 50 per cent of all equipment held by the Indian military is obsolete. Then you have the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports saying that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been supplying substandard and costlier equipment to the armed forces when better and cheaper equipment is available off the shelf, with lakhs of crores of rupees gone down the drain and years wasted. All this with the DRDO-DPSUs-OF functioning directly under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and latter’s Joint Secretaries on all boards of the DRDO-DPSUs-OF. It is well known that despite many defence scams, no one from the bureaucracy has even been questioned. But to have closed the issue by having accepted the resignation of Admiral Joshi instantaneously avoiding culpability in the utter lack of modernisation of the armed forces is truly shameful. INS Sindhuratna’s batteries had 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 out dated batteries. It could not get new batteries because procurement was delayed for months by MoD. INS Sindhuratna was on its first sea trial when the fire broke out due to the outdated batteries. Despite all this, no one in the MoD was prepared to share responsibility – not even those who sat on the related files to clear purchase of the replacement batteries.
Similar are the cases of scores of the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots sacrificed flying obsolete MiG-2ls that were aptly named ‘flying coffins’. Admiral Joshi is right in surmising that the alacrity with which his resignation was accepted proved the intent to pin the blame on someone else. But then the Defence Minister is not even charged with the Defence of India under Government of India ‘Rules of Business’. The bureaucrats too are safe as the Service Chiefs can lump all the blame, their Headquarters being ‘Attached Offices’ vide the same Rules of Business inherited from the British. What we do forget is that the East India Company was established by the British in India to do ‘business’ but what we need is ‘Rules of India’ that bring accountability along with authority.
Logically, responsibility of the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak after explosions caused by a fire on board when the submarine was berthed at Mumbai on August 14, 2013, killing 18 officers and sailors, plus the fire that engulfed INS Sindhuratna, on February 27, 2014 aside from numerous other mishaps should have been shared by the MoD, especially those who did not sanction purchase of replacement batteries for months – which would be the normal course in any other country. Incidentally, the bodies of 18 officers and sailors still have not been recovered from their watery grave of INS Sindhurakshak lying on the floor of the Arabian Sea. The irony was that the replacement batteries were available indigenously all the time Yet, despite such horrendous loss of life, we still have not empowered the Service Chiefs to make emergency purchases of such time critical replacements.
These are but few examples. Take the shortages in the cutting-edge soldier in the army. The shortages and quality of equipment like bullet proof jackets, bullet proof patkas, GPS, rappelling ropes, rucksacks, night vision and surveillance equipment are enormous. Why can’t Service Chiefs have the authority of making emergency purchases with troops continuously engaged in counter-insurgency operations? Witness the CAG objecting to import of bullet proof jackets under the Northern Army Commander’s special powers when no worthwhile bullet proof jacket has been produced by the ordnance factory board.
The million-dollar question, however, remains whether the new government is going to clear this quagmire or will remain weighed down by the erstwhile system. If the redlines of authority versus accountability cannot be clearly drawn and authority delegated to cater for emergent requirements, hope for credible defence of India will remain distant.
A file photo of Admiral D.K. Joshi briefing the Defence Minister A.K. Antony about the sinking of
INS Sindhurakshak submarine