MANOJ JOSHI | MAIL TODAY
NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 22, 2013
In July 2011, the government of India set up a task force to examine the processes and procedures related to national security in India and come up with recommendations to fix the problems and plug any gaps that emerged. Chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra, the task force's aim was to deepen the reforms in the national security system begun by the group of ministers (GOM) in 2001.
In May 2012, the committee submitted its report to prime minister Manmohan Singh who turned it over to the National Security Council Secretariat for processing its recommendations and presenting them to the Cabinet Committee on Security. This writer was a member of the task force, but has had little or no official information on its status since then. But the bureaucratic grapevine suggests that the report is on its way to meet the fate of other similar endeavours: get shelved.
The reason for this is plain: The Ministry of Defence thinks there is no need for change, leave alone, horror of horrors, an overhaul. At first sight this may appear to be counter-intuitive, after all the sorry state of our defence modernisation is an open secret. Last year, the serving Chief of Army Staff wrote a letter to the Prime Minister pointing to shortages of vital equipment. The Air Force chief regularly bemoans the declining numbers of his combat force and the delays in the Navy's submarine and shipbuilding programmes are no secret.
The goal of the civilian part of the ministry appears to be singularly focused on how to retain its power and privileges. For this reason, the only public information of the Chandra Committee recommendations came through a leak of a portion of the report by the MoD itself. Their grouse, according to the media leaks, was apparent - they did not want changes in the way the system is run. Inefficient, incompetent, and wasteful, yes, but the command ought to rest firmly in the inexpert hands of the IAS fraternity. The Chandra Committee, on the other hand, was suggesting reforms - first of the manner in which the armed forces were run, and secondly, of how the ministry itself was functioning. In the case of the armed forces, following the GOM report of 2001, the committee suggested a chief of defence staff (CDS) like figure, a permanent chairman to the chiefs of staff committee, to promote integrated planning and organisations in the armed forces, as well as an expert defence bureaucracy to staff the MoD by cross-posting military officers to key bureaucratic positions.
These were minimalist suggestions, but vital. Most armed forces in the world operate on an integrated principle where planning an execution of combat operations is done through joint planning and command. That is why the GOM of 2001 recommended the beginnings of tri-service organisations and a CDS to head them.
The need for joint planning is crucial given the exponential rise in the cost of weapons systems. Currently, each service puts up its own demands and the Ministry of Defence has little or no expertise to prioritise them. The Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) or five year defence plans have little integrity.
Take for example the case of the Mountain Strike Corps which has been approved by the government recently. It will require capital expenditure of Rs.90,000 crore (plus another Rs.30,000 crore for ancillary units), yet it does not figure in the 2012-2027 LTIPP which was approved with great fanfare last year. To get a perspective on this, consider that in the period 2009-10 to 2013-14, which includes the period of high economic growth the country spent something like Rs.300,000 crore in capital acquisitions.