Defexpo – Killing the concept
The former Defence Minister A.K. Antony was blamed by all and sundry of keeping the defence forces starved of critical equipment and keeping the defence industrial complex largely defunct in his 10-year tenure in that appointment. It is to his discredit that even former diplomats commented that the military had been reduced to the level of what it was in 1962.
General V.K. Singh, then Army Chief (now MoS in the Modi Government) was constrained to write to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about criticalities in the army. But then the lack of a national security strategy 68 years after independence itself is indication that national security has all along been given lip service with unaccountable generalist bureaucrats manning the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Defence Ministers who are bound by the advice of this very bureaucracy. But this does not mean that the Defence Ministers have lost any focus on their voter constituency even as defence and security issues remained on the backburner.
When A.K. Antony laid the foundation stone for the Coast Guard Academy at Azhikkal, it was the seventh major defence project to be commissioned in the state since Antony was given the defence portfolio. About 20 km away from the Coast Guard Academy is the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimalla, which was inaugurated by Manmohan Singh in presence of Defence Minister Antony. Antony also gave the green light to the ` 600-crore National Institute for Research and Development in Defence Shipbuilding (NIRDESH) near Kozhikode. Then was setting up of the strategic electronics unit of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at Kasargod costing ` 200 crore specialising in aviation electronics, building radars, navigation systems, mission computers and early warning systems for the LCA, ALH and Sukhois, all under HAL’s Hyderabad-based aviation division. In addition was the fourth manufacturing complex of the Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) at Palakkad a cost of ` 260 crore for building Tatra vehicles, floating bridges and all other forms of military vehicles. The Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), another DPSU, set up a product support centre at Kochi’s Kerala Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA). Incidentally, the cruise missile manufacturers, BrahMos Corporation took over the state-run Kerala Hitech Industries Limited (KELTEC), and renamed it as BrahMos Aerospace.
Antony’s focus on Kerala was evident when while laying the foundation stone for the Coast Guard Academy at Azhikkal he stated apart from defence projects even public sector institutions could be brought to Kerala. In facilitating a series of defence projects back home, Antony’s primary aim was to earn him brownie points with the electorate in Kerala.
Now Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has announced that the next Defexpo in India will be held in his home state Goa from March 28 to 31, 2016. Globally, defence expositions are held at fixed venues, generally at the country’s capital because of valid reasons like infrastructure, accessibility by both participants and more importantly visitors, accommodation and the like. In India, all the eight editions of Defexpo till now, an exhibition of land and naval systems, have been held in the national capital for these very reasons, including the facilities available at Pragati Maidan.
Even the Aero India is held at Bengaluru in the sprawling complex of the IAF base. Compared to these, Goa only has a small naval base which can hardly accommodate a show of this magnitude unless the intention is to go in for massive avoidable and infructuous expenditure. Shouldn’t MoD declare what that expenditure would be and give justification for such expenditure? Sure it would give the local hoteliers a field day for many days but then Goa never has a lull of tourists and a Defexpo has much different requirements than International Literary Festival or film festivals. Defexpo is an important meeting ground of representatives of some of the world’s biggest arms companies and requires much larger infrastructure. As it is despite the ‘Make in India’ call the industry is frustrated with the hype of $16-billion worth of defence projects ‘cleared’ but not a single request for proposal (RFP) or tender issued. If these are being held back to be released just before the planned Defexpo at Goa to attract firms into a mad rush to make a beeline for Goa, it is ill-advised. The excuse that the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) cannot make Pragati Maidan available for Defexpo 2016 is truly laughable unless ITPO has been handed over to Pakistan, as is the diversionary statement that no decision has been taken yet to shift Aero India from Bengaluru as yet. Modi Government needs to take a call on its decision to hold the next Defexpo at Goa.
The excuse that the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) cannot make Pragati Maidan available for Defexpo 2016 is truly laughable unless ITPO has been handed over to Pakistan
LT GENERAL P.C. KATOCH (RETD)