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Saturday, June 14, 2014



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 India, 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 Welfare(DESW).

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 


Col KB said...

1. War, as Clasuewitz remarked perspicaciously, is continuation of politics through another means. Therefore, politicians too must be aware of their role in shaping the contours of war. And yes, bureaucrats too must be aware of their restricted role in war.

2. This article is just another one in an already existing sea of such articles. All the stakeholders are already well aware of the lacunae in the present system. But these drawbacks are being milked by the bureaucrats to enjoy their dominance over the armed forces.

3. Awareness is therefore not the problem, the political will to change is.

4. Unless the GoI decides & acts firmly upon the measures to plug the voids, this article too shall be as good as zilch.

5. Perhaps the new govt may do something which the previous govt has not done, despite being aware of it.

6. However, decades of cumulative neglect by successive govts will not be made up overnight. Hence, the cascading effect of these reforms - if at all they were to occur - will be felt some years from now.

7. Till then, a soldier like me, serving the nation with honour, elan & pride, will continue to do so, saddened with the burden of awareness of the lacunae & steps NOT taken to improve the synergy.

Alok Asthana said...

This is fine. However, the country also needs to revamp its system of selecting senior officers, at least in the army. Recently, we have had a case of an officer reaching the level of Army Chief, with behavioural tendencies distinctly short of the standard service benchmark known as OLQ (Officer Like Qualities), He went on to do several things that, as per popular reckoning of OLQ, are just 'not done'. There have been several Chiefs, who were not respected in the army and several who were respected were sidelined. This must stop. The Chief is NOT a political appointment. It is a military appointment.

Anonymous said...

The author recommends serving or recently retired officers being made part of the decision making process of MOD at various levels. It may work, it may not. I think the problem of higher defence management and professionalism lies elsewhere. To me, the army officers of today (last 30-40 years now), do not not have enough spine to stand up for what they thing is right and quit when someone encroaches on their domain. We have heard of times when Brigade Commanders dreaded visiting battalions since battalion commanders would see it as unwelcome interference. But we then went to see Brigade Commanders using battalions as their backyard playground. Unless army officers regain that disdain over promotions and perks, little is likely to improve. Only, the masters will change.

Maj Gen (Retd) Ashok Coomar said...

I fully agree with the views of Gen Pattabhiraman and I hope the new dispensation will seriously consider revamp of MOD on these lines. As regards the weaknesses within the systems in the three services, there is no doubt there are many, but this is not the time to lose focus in that quagmire. It is also totally pointless to discuss the former Chief's issue as opinion is sharply divided and the matter be better resolved, sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

With no offence to anyone please do take slightly lightly. I keep reading many articles written by dear veterans in various forums/newspapers. Some times I think that how come after retirement overnight we suddenly we become very much aware off our rights/status and much wiser than babus. While in service it is only the seniors who pushes their subordinates to go and sit with a very junior Babu to get the work done may by even offering rum etc. Babus and their families enjoy the free and excellent hospitality of forces at various establishments by bye passing all the rules/protocols etc. Where is our AKAL that time after all "HUMM FAUJIES HEIN" That is why all civilians laugh at us by saying "DE TEE RAFAL LAI LEE AKAL"

Alok Asthana said...

I hardly find a serving army officer talking of the ills within the army or in the government. This is not the case with other All India services. Just a moment back, I was watching the IG (civil defence) UP, a serving officer, talking about the shortcomings of the Akhilesh govt, though in guarded terms. I have also heard some very vocal IAS officers lambasting the govt on TV. Never a vocal army officer, though. If this does not change, our Lt Gens getting secretary level rank in govt won't be of use. And if this changes, that will not be necessary.

Anonymous said...

So many Generals and Brigs floating around in Headquarters and organisations being created to accomodate them...red tape as well as red carpets have multiplied in direct proportion to the red lapels...

We don't need an enemy really. Bloated, top heavy HQs are our biggest nemesis.

rajat said...

In fauj we want only generals everywhere so that they can enjoy great perks of the position with any useful work. Thanks to the babus lot of stupidity is in check other wise forces would have become bonkers. This ia a result of poor selection process as it is flawed. The IO have no knowledge of human psychology to understand an individual, the different type of behaviour patterns and the type of leaders. If they have no basic knowledge the only way they can access an individual is on whim and fancies. To add to it you don't want to see operation capability of a person but his theoretical knowledge. Thus we are going the way of the Indian education that as long as you score good marks you are good rest are duffers. Military was supposed to more on practical knowledge as no two situations are same or nothing can go in a copy book style. In fact all military courses turn even the thinkers to conditioned soldiers who stop thinking out of the box because they have been told in these courses only to follow what they preach. In fact generals of erstwhile where much better who had no books or course material to refer when they had to go for war. Today officers are busier remembering the copy book style verbatim to show they seniors how well taped up they are, all they do is stand in affirmation to their seniors because even they know nothing beyond these books. The whole process needs a look from a new angle, though definitely a balance is required, it should never be Biased to one side. Better would be to outsource the assessment of officers to professional in this field. It will be initially a setup back and embarrassment for the organisation but eventually we will replace capable leaders to lead these organisation who will not only stand for what is right for the nation but also look into the true welfare of the soldiers.
But the famous question remains who is going to bell the cat definitely not someone within the organisation because to accept that something is grossly wrong itself is wrong, so who is it going to be whose words will be valued enough to bring about a change.
Hopefully the wait should not be long or else will we need a war to cleanse the whole rotten system.

Anonymous said...

The suggestion given by the General are very practical and seem to the outcome of his experiences of working at higher echelons of the Army HQ and dealing with the MoD. The ideas are of vital importance for the functioning of the Armed Forces and the Nation. Till the time the Deptt of Defense and the three Armed Forces function through Secretary of Defense, the concept of bureaucratic and the political control shall be preserved. Before the appointment of CDS is accepted as a political and functional necessity, what the General has suggested should be acceptable to all stake holders.

There actually is no need of political and bureaucratic tight control over Deptt of Defense Production and Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare. These organization should be rightfully headed by the Service Generals - retired or serving. There is a need to usher in greater accountability and integration in respect of DRDO and DPSUs. The suggestion of adoption of one file rule will also cut down the bureaucratic glitches and delays and also a means of conveying to higher ups the intention and facts of the case which many times are altered by the Babus of MoD.

I hope Mr Arun Jaitly pays some attention to these suggested measures.

Anonymous said...

kudos to people who could be so truthful in comments

Anonymous said...

let professional people do the job and retired people have well deserved rest

Anonymous said...

I think Alok Asthana has described it correctly.I agree with him that most officers lack the moral courage to say NO and put their foot down,when it is required.

Shakti Singh Chauhan said...

Leave aside higher defence management,which is in GOI' hand,Army should start with setting its internal affairs right. Lt Col and below are treated like step sons and are not entrusted with any authority. Why is there so much discrimination within officer cadre? If Generals are not willing to give due respect to own junior officers, what moral rights do they have to complain against the bureaucrats?- Shakti Singh.

Unknown said...

In reappraising Higher Defence Management, another burning issue is how the army (and top political management dealing with army) covers up even serious issues of disobedience of direct orders by top brass, when it is politically expedient to do so. In doing so, politics may get served, but the military gets destroyed. One big big case is that of Maj Gen JFR Jacob in 1971, then COS of East Command, directly disobeying the operational orders issued in the Bangla Desh war, regarding the op objectives to be achieved. Nothing needs to be proved in this, since the General has gone public ( and proudly so ) as to how he told Div Cdrs to disregard the op objectives. He also himself claims to have moved large forces without informing his superiors. How his superiors allowed that to happen and how he was not been court-martialled for it, remains a mystery. That this happened in the same army which punishes others for minor offences like not being present at designated place, is a real shocker.