De­fence Min­is­ter Par­rikar ‘Deals’ a New Mantra

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TRANS­PARENCY, EF­FI­CIENCY AND AC­COUNT­ABIL­ITY are the stated touch­stones for de­fence pro­cure­ment un­der In­dias new De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar. But those are not new paradigms. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery Rak­sha Mantri over the years has spo­ken out about the need to over­haul the un­pre­dictable, com­plex and mostly opaque man­ner in which In­dia con­tracts for new weapons. But there is rea­son to be­lieve that the Par­rikar MoD (Min­istry of De­fence) could be in a po­si­tion to put its money where its mouth is on dust­ing off the de­bris from pro­cure­ment dis­as­ters of the past and for­mu­lat­ing a fresh, prac­ti­cal and most im­por­tantly con­tem­po­rary set of poli­cies that will make weapons con­tract­ing in In­dia sim­ple, swift and dis­as­ter-proof. If thats a tall or­der, word on Raisina Hill is that Par­rikar al­ready has his mis­sion pro­file.

To get things rolling, the new De­fence Min­is­ter has de­cided to or­der an ex­pert com­mit­tee, that will draw from within the MoD and other de­part­ments, to evolve fresh pol­icy changes on two spe­cific pro­cesses that In­dia is all too fa­mil­iar with: the business of de­fence company agents (de­scribed as ev­ery­thing from mid­dle­men to rep­re­sen­ta­tives to lob­by­ists), and the act of black­list­ing com­pa­nies un­der a cloud of cor­rup­tion charges. It is an irony missed by few that In­dias ap­proach to both so far has an ef­fect op­po­site to the in­tended one: it has done noth­ing to erad­i­cate or dis­suade the pay­ment of il­le­gal com­mis­sions to swing lu­cra­tive ar­ma­ment con­tracts.

Top sources tell SPs that Par­rikar will be re­vis­it­ing In­dias black­list­ing pro­to­col, con­tin­u­ing from where his pre­de­ces­sor Arun Jait­ley left off. Jait­ley, who di­vided his time be­tween De­fence and Fi­nance Min­istries, had set the ball rolling on evolv­ing a more prac­ti­cal ap­proach by de­cid­ing not to black­list Fin­mec­ca­nica or Agusta-West­land in the af­ter­math of the can­celled VVIP he­li­copter con­tract, in­stead is­su­ing a set of fresh guide­lines that per­mit­ted the firms to con­tinue in com­pe­ti­tions they al­ready were part of, but lim­it­ing In­dias fu­ture ex­po­sure to them, pend­ing res­o­lu­tion of at­ten­dant le­gal pro­cesses. Par­rikar will be look­ing to take that process for­ward by re­fin­ing the pa­ram­e­ters and modal­i­ties of puni­tive ac­tion by the MoD against com­pa­nies found to be in­dulging in il­le­gal prac­tices. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the modal­i­ties will in­clude a de­fin­i­tive and spe­cific flow­chart of when a yet-to-be-de­cided grad­u­ated se­ries of puni­tive mea­sures kick in, and what re­course the gov­ern­ment can take to im­pose them. Th­ese guide­lines will dove­tail with the ex­ist­ing De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure, but also be part of pow­ers the MoD can ex­er­cise in emer­gent cir­cum­stances.

On the is­sue of agents or lob­by­ists, the Par­rikar MoD is likely to in­vite views from in­dus­try and ex­perts, in­clud­ing from the Law Min­istry. Ex­er­cises of this na­ture have been con­ducted be­fore, but the Min­is­ter has al­ready spo­ken his mind, pro­vid­ing in­di­ca­tions of where the prob­lems lie. The Min­is­ter re­cently stated that de­fence deals had been ham­strung due to lob­by­ing, kick­backs and com­mis­sions, and that he planned to clear pend­ing deals based on a pri­or­ity list to be pro­vided to him by the In­te­grated De­fence Staff (IDS) via the Chair­man of the Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee (COSC). While Arun Jait­ley is known to have be­gun the process of defin­ing company rep­re­sen­ta­tion and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing it from the murky world of agents, Par­rikar plans to take such doc­u­ments for­ward to mak­ing them more spe­cific on the roles of company rep­re­sen­ta­tives, what they can and can­not en­gage in (beyond the ob­vi­ous, of course), the stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure in terms of in­ter­fac­ing with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, and a man­ual of sorts of company rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The end re­sult, a top MoD of­fi­cial tells SPs, is to wind up the un­seen, un­heard, murky world of de­fence agents, and le­git­imise the pres­ence of rep­re­sen­ta­tives and in­ter­me­di­aries who ac­tu­ally serve a pur­pose in the com­plex con­ver­sa­tion that takes place be­tween ac­qui­si­tion man­agers, armed forces and orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers (OEMs) over the course of an ac­qui­si­tion process. Th­ese two, how­ever, will only be a frac­tion of what the in­tended scope of the clean-up is in­tended to be. Par­rikar, sources say, wishes to re­visit stuck deals on a war-foot­ing and get them mov­ing as soon as pos­si­ble.

Deals on the ta­ble at present wait­ing for for­ward move­ment in­clude, of course, the 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role com­bat air­craft) deal, but also a plethora of pro­cure­ments of he­li­copters, trans­port air­craft, sub­marines, mine coun­ter­mea­sure ves­sels (the floun­der­ing deal with South Korea could be the first real test for Par­rikar), in­fantry and spe­cial forces mod­erni­sa­tion.

The Modi Gov­ern­ment al­ready has two for­mer army­men in its Coun­cil of Min­is­ters: for­mer Army Chief Gen­eral V.K. Singh (Retd), and Olympic sil­ver medal­list Colonel Ra­jyavard­han Singh Rathore (Retd). While nei­ther of them is in any way as­so­ci­ated with the De­fence Min­istry, their in­clu­sion in gov­ern­ment per­haps demon­strates that Prime Min­is­ter Modi recog­nises the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and acu­men of armed forces men and women. With Par­rikar hit­ting the ground run­ning by speak­ing openly about how de­fence deals have been de­railed as a re­sult of cor­rup­tion, and th­ese have di­rectly af­fected the armed forces, he has spo­ken per­haps in the voice of his boss, the Prime Min­is­ter. The armed forces will also be look­ing for Par­rikar to bite the bul­let on de­liv­er­ing quick de­ci­sions, sans the red tape and ad ho­cism that has plagued decision-mak­ing for many years at the South Block.

What­ever will be there will be trans­par­ent and fast-pro­cessed, Par­rikar told jour­nal­ists min­utes after tak­ing over as De­fence Min­is­ter at his first flood of­fice in South Block. A coun­try that has seen the business of war preparedness end­lessly politi­cised and sac­ri­ficed at the al­tar of anti-cor­rup­tion im­pulses awaits a brave new In­dia that speaks clearly, trans­par­ently and pow­er­fully on those who would seek to de­rail its in­ter­ests.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: PIB

Manohar Par­rikar in­ter­act­ing with the me­dia after tak­ing charge as new De­fence Min­is­ter

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