Defence Industry

Public Sector: survival through circumventing competition
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Issue Vol 24.2 Apr-Jun2009 | Date : 07 Jan , 2011

‘Make (Hi Tech)’ projects would be based on proven or matured technologies where fundamental research is not required. The policy unambiguously states that both public sector undertakings and private sector companies are eligible to participate in ‘Make (Hi Tech)’ cases on a level playing field.

In a move smacking of gross partisanship and in total violation of Government’s own policy, TCS was surreptitiously categorised differently. In a pre-emptory move, a Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU) was nominated as the sole design and production agency and the private sector was totally eliminated. The old practice of favouring public sector was continuing, belying Government’s often repeated claims of opening the defence sector to private companies.

‘Make (Hi Tech)’ policy clearly lays down that a duly constituted Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT) under the Acquisition Wing would shortlist a minimum of two Development Agencies (DA) after inviting Expression of Interest of participating vendors. Thus, in the said case of TCS, both the spirit and the provisions of the policy were violated in a blatant and brazen manner.

When the private sector came to know of the above subterfuge, it cried foul and appealed to the top MoD leadership. It demanded that it be given a fair chance to compete on a level playing field and whosoever emerges best should be selected. Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) appeared inclined towards open competition. Realising that the DPSU may have to face competition, DDP came up with another innovative stratagem. It demanded that a committee be constituted to carry out a feasibility study of the Indian industry’s competence to develop TCS.

Another exasperated officer went to the extent of saying that DDPs intransigence smacks of unpatriotic and anti-national behaviour. “How can officials deny modern systems to the services for purely partisan interests? I wish the national leadership takes notes of such negative elements and takes action against them.”

It was a totally unwarranted demand as a number of market scans had already been carried out and it had been well established that the Indian industry possessed adequate capability. In any case, competence assessment of participating vendors is required to be carried out by IPMT after the formulation of Project Definition Document. The sole aim of DDP was to delay the whole process till the existing DAC was replaced by a more pliable DAC after May elections.

Notwithstanding total irregularity of DDP’s demand, a multi-disciplinary committee was constituted on 22 January 2009 to carry out feasibility study. A representative of DDP was also made a member. As the services were keen to expedite the process, the committee held its first meeting on 04 February, wherein modalities of carrying out feasibility study were finalised. It was decided to request both the public and the private sectors to make presentations of their competence to enable the committee to conclude its finding. Consequently, detailed presentations were made on 11 February and the committee unanimously concluded that both the public and the private sectors possessed necessary competence. It was decided to meet on 17 February to sign the report.

When the committee met on 17 February, representative of DDP sprang a surprise by demanding that the committee should visit companies to see their competence on ground before finalising its recommendations. Apparently, he had been directed by the officials of DDP to stall conclusion of the committee’s report. The committee decided to satisfy DDP to obviate subsequent questioning. Hurried visits were organised to different private sector facilities at Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore. Ground visits further reinforced the committee’s findings as regards the competence of the private sector.

The committee met on 04 March and draft of the final report was approved. As no issues were raised, all members were asked to meet the next morning to sign the report. But DDP was not done as yet. Its representative declined to sign the report. Continuing with its delaying tactics, DDP now demanded that a few more private sector companies should also be visited and cost benefit analysis of adopting ‘Make’ route should be carried out. Such a flagrantly outlandish conduct of DDP surprised and shocked even those who are familiar with its past track record. Interestingly, DDP has not empowered its representative to sign the report without reference to DDP functionaries, thereby stalling progress.

The Current Status 

Through its clever delaying tactics, DDP has been able to derail the whole process indefinitely. The stand taken by the nominated DPSU is totally unreasonable to say the least. It claims that it is the best in the country and has invested huge resources in creating the test bed, yet is mortally scared of competition. It wants TCS project through the back door and not in an open, transparent and equitable environment. Very rarely one comes across behemoths which suffer from such a sense of insecurity. Apparently, the DPSU lacks confidence in its own capability to win the contract on sheer merit and is trying all tricks to eliminate competition – even seeking the help of its trade union to pressurize the Government.

IAF_Morning_flightRequirement for TCS was initiated in 1996 and today, after 13 years India is still to take the first step. DDP has made its stance clear that if TCS is not awarded to the nominated DPSU and it is asked to compete, DDP will not let the project proceed, whatever be the degree of desperation of the services to acquire the said equipment. Surprisingly, the higher leadership of MoD appears helpless and reconciled to the tantrums thrown by the predisposed elements of DDP.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

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