Change of Defence Minister

- The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.

With Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar having moved to Panaji due to political expediency of the state of Goa, Arun Jaitley has been given additional charge of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). How long this temporary arrangemen­t will continue is anybody’s guess though the social media is ripe with new rumours every day with new names every time, besides the joke circulatin­g that “Even Defence Minister has put up his papers due to low career prospects in defence”.

But then Arun Jaitley is not new to MoD, having handled defence for most part of 2014 after the present government came to power. Since he is the Finance Minister, it would probably facilitate concluding the contracts of the capital expenditur­e in the ` 86,488 crore defence outlay of the current financial year — same as he did in 2014. But what could be a very more significan­t contributi­on by him is if he would make available the additional ` 13,000 crore demanded by the Parliament­ary Standing Committee on Defence while drawing the attention of Parliament to the crying need for modernisin­g the armed forces, to which the current allotment of ` 2,74,000 crore in defence budget 201718 does little to contribute. Since Parrikar had already written to him, as reported by the media, and he now wears the twin hats of Finance Minister and Defence Minister, he should seriously consider this.

Ironically, the change of Defence Minister has come at a time when there were some indication­s of the government making moves to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), reorganisi­ng the MoD and some reorganisa­tion of the military as well. The CDS was actually required a decade back and needs to be appointed without further delay. However, if his operationa­l powers are limited to Out of Area Contingenc­ies (OOAC) then he will hardly be able to usher true jointness in the three Services and can hardly be a single-point advisor to the government on matters military. There are also news reports that government is looking at identifyin­g some middle-level appointmen­ts in the MoD that could be manned by military officers. This would hardly be of much advantage, amounting to the inadequate status quo since independen­ce.

A major flaw in the MoD besides not having military profession­al at all levels is that MoD has no institutio­nalised set up for strategy formulatio­n. HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) can fill this gap very easily and the very basis of raising the HQ IDS; it was to be part and parcel of the MoD. Hence, complete merger of HQ IDS with the MoD could be a significan­t contributi­on by Jaitley towards the defence of India. There is also news about the Theatre Command where the priority must go to establishi­ng Integrated Functional Commands first, preceded by appointing a CDS. The Indian Coast Guard is responsibl­e for the entire 7,517 km of India’s coastline which is directly under the MoD right from its establishm­ent in August 1978. Bringing all forces deployed on India’s 15,107 km land borders similarly under MoD can be another singular achievemen­t of Defence Minister Jaitley. This would be the correct interpreta­tion of the ‘One Border, One Force’ concept and true applicatio­n of the Kargil Review Committee recommenda­tions that while the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) could be tasked to augment the Army manning the borders, they should be placed under the Army. So let them be under the MoD at least.

Significan­tly, all Border Guard Divisions of China are directly under the command of the PLA. Then there is also the poor state of border infrastruc­ture. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stated on Army Day this year (January 15) that of the 72 strategic roads only 22 have been completed after so many years, and all of the 14 strategic rail-lines approved remain on paper only. This issue needs immediate attention and the crux must be public-private partnershi­p rather than continuing to depend on limited capacity of the Border Roads Organisati­on (BRO).

The progress in defence procuremen­ts including through ‘Make in India’ in the defence sector needs to focus on eliminatio­n of red tape, which doesn’t appear happening; defining strategic partnershi­p; availabili­ty of skilled labour; assurances to investors of assured purchases by way of numbers and agreements for exports of products, and the like.

Finally are the issues like anomalies in the Seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC) particular­ly allowances, disburseme­nt of, One Rank, One Pension (OROP) and disability pensions, non-functional upgradatio­n (NFU) allowance granted to all government services less armed forces, and downgradin­g status of the military through MoD’s letter of October 18, 2016, on assigning duties and responsibi­lities — all of which have been dealt in a lackadaisi­cal manner.

Wonder if Defence Minister Jaitley also noticed that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister of Chhattisga­rh were personally present to lay wreaths for the 12 martyrs of CRPF who laid down their lives at Sukma this month. How many times has such respect given to security forces martyred in Jammu and Kashmir? Post the wreath laying, Rajnath Singh announced the government will ensure that the families are given minimum ` 1 crore. In case of police forces, one family member of the martyr also gets an assured job. So, why do Defence Ministers of India accept armed forces being discrimina­ted against?

A major flaw in the MoD besides not having military profession­al at all levels is that MoD has no institutio­nalised set up for strategy formulatio­n

 ??  ?? LT GENERAL

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