HIGHER DEFENCE MANAGEMENT TOWARDS
INJECTING GREATER PROFESSIONALISM
Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman (Retd)
A recent news item appearing in a national daily referring to the Principal Secretary to the new Prime Minister expressing concern of the new government at the military-bureaucratic disconnect in the Ministry of Defence and calling for measures to streamline decision making at the MOD is indeed a wake-up call for the latter and the nation expectantly looks forward to the new PM to revamp the MOD within the ‘100 days agenda’.
India’s armed forces are universally acknowledged as a highly reliable professional military force. However they suffer from being unable to fully optimise this very professionalism towards contributing to a more robust and efficient system of higher defence management due to the de facto translation of constitutionally mandated rules of democratic governance which restrict uniformed services from holding Secretary level posts or other appointments under the Central Staffing Scheme or otherwise being representatives of the government of India.
Periodic attempts at revamping the Higher Defence Organization, notably the Kargil review committee and one of its derivatives designated as task force on defence management led by Shri Arun Singh and the Shri Naresh Chandra led committee (whose recommendations are not yet in public domain), have not addressed the fundamental dichotomy that exists between the de facto responsibility that the three Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force have in ensuring the territorial integrity of the country and the de jure placement of Secretary Defence as the single authority responsible to the Defence Minister with regard to the department of defence, that is, all matters dealing with the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Government of India’s Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, derived from Article 77(3) of the constitution stipulate that only Secretaries to the government as designated by the Minister concerned are responsible to carry out the duties entrusted to the departments placed under the Secretary so specified. In this case the territorial defence of any part of
is the responsibility of Secretary Defence as the head of Department of
Defence. The other Secretaries in the Ministry of Defence entrusted with their
respective charters are Secretary Defence Production, Secretary Defence
Research and Development and lastly Secretary Department of Ex-Servicemen
The reforms in Higher Defence Management, so far implemented since independence, relating to creation of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) under a Secretary level three star ranked officer designated as Chief of Integrated Staff to Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (
CISC) and raising
of C-in-C (Commander-in-Chief) A&N Command and C-in-C Strategic Forces
Command ( SFC) have created more
joint organizations of the Services but have not made any difference to
garnering the professionalism of the uniformed mind in decision making. Suggested
reforms on meaningful integration of the Services Headquarters with the MOD
have also fallen by the wayside because of
lack of clarity in bridging the gap between how the Government of India
has chosen to manage the departments under the Ministry of Defence and how best
can the nation’s interests be served in making full use of the vast pool of
experienced senior defence officers.
The Armed forces have, kept the nation’s trust admirably, so far. However growing asymmetry with China on account of as yet inadequate border infrastructure, persistent hollowness in warlike inventory of the armed forces, niggardly modernization and continuing dissatisfaction of retired personnel on personnel and pension matters (leading to needlessly and forcibly imposed litigation and loss of faith in the system), should all be a serious cause for concern. The resignation of Admiral DK Joshi cannot but highlight more this frustration on the part of the knowledgeable and nationalistic strategic community of senior officers past and present at this paralysis of inaction. It is time we carry out a reappraisal of the Rules of Business so as to optimise the output of the Secretaries to the Government of India given the non-utilisation of professional competence and vast experience of a plethora of senior Secretary level officers in the three services.
The first and inarguably the most important of the Secretaries in MOD is the Defence Secretary who has direct responsibility over the three Services. The three Service Chiefs and the likely fourth Joint Chief of Staff (reportedly as per the recommendation of Naresh Chandra committee) outrank the Defence Secretary and have direct access to the Raksha Mantri but are not responsible per se for defence. Logically the three Vice Chiefs should then be included as Secretaries responsible for departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This would require due amendment to the Rules of Business. In addition it is also time for a single file system to be adopted in the MOD with service officers of the three star rank and holding Director General’s post and above to be included in the Rules of Business.
The second of the departments under the Ministry of Defence is the Defence Production. Repeated failures and under-performance of this department having all the Defence PSUs under the Secretary Defence Production calls for drastic changes towards active involvement of, and accountability to the three services. The charge- sheeting and incarceration of a former Chairman of the Ordnance Factories Board should have been a wake-up call. It is time the Secretary Defence Production is chosen from a panel of approved Lieutenant Generals/equivalents and given a minimum tenure of two years as Secretary Defence Production.
The third Secretary level Departmental head is the Secretary Defence Research and Development, who is also the Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri. It is time that while as SA the DRDO Chief can carry on unfettered in purely design and development of original systems, the decisions affecting the services in the realm of applied technology are taken by a specially constituted Board with the three Vice Chiefs and CISC as its members as also the Secretary (Finance) in MOD.
Coming to the last of the four departments under the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, it is worth recalling the accepted maxim that ex-servicemen’s interests are best looked after by the serving military. If it is so, then why shouldn't the Secretary DESW not be a serving uniformed officer specially selected from a suitable panel and given minimum two year tenure or a recently retired officer selected by the government. In most democracies, affairs of the veterans are looked after by officers with armed forces background.
Changes recommended in the foregoing for making out a case for injecting greater professionalism in the functioning of the Defence Ministry would only require a few amendments to the rules of business of the Government. At a time when Indian defence establishment is faced with a growing militarist China and there are fresh fears over increased instability on our western borders, we would be well served to carry out these amendments in order to optimise the available specialist professional expertise of senior service officers in the MOD, by re-allocating two of the departments, that is, the Departments of Defence Production and Ex-Servicemen Welfare to selected serving military officers as Secretaries. Further,the potential of the department of Defence under Secretary Defence be optimised by involving the principal stake-holders, again the military, by including service officers of Director General’s posts in the government’s Rules of Business and adopting a single file system of files movement in the MOD as is being done in other sensitive Ministries/Departments of the government. Finally, with regard to the fourth department ie, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, its decisions be ratified by constituting a Defence Technology Board akin to the Railway Board with the Vice Chiefs of the Services being members of the Board alongwith the Secretary Defence Research and Development and Secretary Defence (Finance).
The author is a former Vice Chief of the Army and has also been a founder member of the Armed Forces Tribunal