Catch-22 – Au­thor­ity Ver­sus Ac­count­abil­ity

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd) ] The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

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

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