3 July 2015

Defence minister Parrikar clears 1 lakh crore of new projects in six months... but Forces still cry for subs and choppers

30 June 2015

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar
The defence ministry is on a decision-making blitzkrieg ever since Manohar Parrikar assumed office more than six months ago, but despite going full throttle it is still far away from streamlining the rules for smooth acquisitions. 

While the government on paper has cleared new projects worth one lakh crore in the recent months, much is needed to ensure that the modernisation drive of armed forces remain on the track. 

One of the key aspects for oiling the machinery was to have new rules of procurement in place but despite promises of quick delivery, the ministry is yet to come up with new acquisition process.

The government has made its intention clear that its emphasis is on speedy decisions to overcome the backlog of indecisions. 

Risking criticism from opposition, the government has even preferred to do away the long winding process of competitive bidding by going for more government to government contracts that are generally faster. 

The armed forces have much to look forward to as top officers admit that with his engineering background, the minister grasps the technical issues with ease - which helps in fast decision-making. 

The biggest take away of this accelerated decision-making process is significant movement on key projects like the replacement of the Avro transport aircraft fleet for the Indian Air Force, or the acquisition of ultra light howitzers for the army. 

The army's quest for new pieces of artillery is yet to be addressed

Even the long-pending requirement for light helicopters has been addressed. 

But the fact remains that some of the key deficiencies are yet to be fulfilled. 

The navy continues to be critically short of submarines, the IAF is desperately seeking more fighters and the army's quest for new pieces of artillery still remains to be addressed. 

Now that key decisions are taken, it is crucial for the ministry to make sure that the new equipment reaches the users without any further delay. 

There is a completely fresh line of thinking in the ministry on the acquisitions. Terms like single vendor situations and government-to-government deals are not no-go areas any more. 

The government is also clear that it will not let motivated allegation of corruption come in the way of stalling modernisation programme of the armed forces. While a lot of movement has taken place on streamlining acquisition, deficiency of adequate funds to push these programmes has become a cause of concern. 

There has been a budget cut which has not gone down well as it is hoped that it remains only a short term problem. 

The government has also not shied away from scrapping old contracts which have been caught in a time warp. It decided to move away from the contract to purchase 126 French Rafale fighter jets for the IAF, and started fresh negotiations for only 36 aircraft after realising that the original contract was difficult to pull off.

Apart from the acquisitions, one area where the government finds itself caught on the wrong foot is meeting the long pending demand of the veterans for the pension parity. 

The veterans have been demanding One Rank One Pension and their patience has been running out despite commitment made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Army's push to OROP 

By Gaurav C Sawant

Army Commander of Western Command Lt Gen KJ Singh has intervened in the raging One Rank One Pension controversy.

After veterans threatened to boycott the golden jubilee victory celebrations of the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the Army commander spoke to the veterans asking them not to boycott a seminar. 

'Lt Gen KJ Singh called me. He has been a student of mine at the Academy. He requested me not to boycott the golden jubilee celebrations of the 1965 war. The event in Chandigarh has been planned at a grand scale to mark the victory and valour of our soldiers. We discussed it at the managing committee of our movement and decided to honour veterans. 

'Those who wish to participate are free to do so, but we will wear a black band to oppose the government not clearing One Rank One Pension,' Maj Gen Satbir Singh, who is spearheading the veterans movement for OROP, told Mail Today. 

More than 22 veteran groups are on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar for the past 16 days to press home their point for the speedy implementation of their demand for OROP. 

'Both Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar assured us that the OROP scheme will be implemented. However, three deadlines have come and gone. The ball is in Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's court and there appears to be a rethink, which is unfortunate and unjust,' he added.

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