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 rumours every day with new names every time of who will be the permanent replacement of Parrikar.
There is also this joke doing the rounds that “even defence minister has put up his papers due to low carrier 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 contacts of the capital expenditure in the Rs 86,488 crore defence outlay of the current financial year, same as he did in 2014, although most of this amount will be eaten up in committed liabilities from previous years.
But what could be a very more significant contribution by him is if he would make available the additional Rs 13,000 crore demanded by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Defence while drawing the attention of Parliament to the crying need for modernizing the armed forces, to which the current allotment of Rs 2.74 lakh crore in Defence Budget 2017-2018 does little to contribute. Since the 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.
It is not very funny about some ‘paid’ journalists hailing modernization when even the massive critical void of bullet proof jackets of foot soldiers have not even been bridged to one sixth of the total requirement, leave aside providing a modern rifle and surveillance equipment.
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), reorganizing the MoD and some reorganization 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 not be able to usher the required 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 be of little advantage and inadequate to usher in the much needed reorganization of the MoD, though the status quo since independence suits the bureaucracy very well.
A major flaw in the MoD besides not having military professional at all levels is that MoD has no institutionalized set up for strategic policy formulation. HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) can fill this gap very easily with its organizational structure. This was 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 Theatre Command where the priority must go to establishing Integrated Functional Commands first preceded by appointing a CDS. The Naresh Chandra Committee had recommended establishment of the Special Operations Command, Cyber Command and Aerospace Commands. Recent media reports had indicated these have been nixed with the government saying military should first create such capability.
This was quite weird but then there are some indications that government is examining smaller organizations in these three fields. Whatever be the case, the urgency must be viewed in context of the enlarging China-Pakistan nexus, tightening of China’s ‘string of pearls’ and the asymmetric war we are fighting. The defence minister needs to give impetus to these commands.
The Indian Coast Guard responsible for the entire 7,517 kms of India’s coastline is directly under the MoD right from its establishment in August 1978. Bringing all forces deployed on India’s 15,106.7 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 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 command the PLA. Then there is also the poor state of border infrastructure.
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stated on Army Day this year (15 January) 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 Organization (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 partnerships – the continuing void in the Defence Procurement Procedure 2016; availability of skilled labour in defence industry; assurances to investors of guaranteed purchases by way of numbers and agreements for exports of products, and the like.
Finally are the issues like anomalies in the 7th CPC particularly allowances, disbursement of 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 18 October 2016 on assigning duties and responsibilities – all of which have been dealt in 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 J&K? Also, post the wreath laying, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced government will ensure that the families are given minimum Rs one 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 martyrs of armed forces and their families being discriminated against?