Amit Cowshish is a former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence and presently a Distinguished Fellow with the Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for Detailed Profile
The Defence Minister made two significant points: one, the need for making a significant amount of the nation’s resources available for defence and two, he talked about the slow pace of acquisition of defence equipment as the key concern. These are unexceptional statements of intent and the challenge would be to meet these objectives.
The proposal to relax the present cap on FDI in defence has expectedly drawn sharp reactions. Those who oppose argue that higher FDI is not required and, more importantly, it will not be in national interest, not the least because it will stymie the process of indigenization. This calls for a dispassionate analysis.
Ministry of Defence which accounts for 13-14 per cent of the central government expenditure, if one also takes into account the expenditure on defence pensions, could come under some pressure to prepare an action plan as the outcome of what it does is often intangible, undisclosable, or simply unmeasurable. The author puts forward some suggestions.
From the stage of inception of a procurement proposal till the signing of the contract, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) diligently follows a fairly elaborate procurement procedure for capital acquisitions, as also for revenue procurements. The purpose of laying down a procedure is to minimize discretion and bring in transparency at every stage to eliminate the possibility of undue influence on decision making. But this does not seem to have worked very well for the MoD as instances of corruption keep surfacing every now and then.
One of the provisions in the policy is that in the Information & Broadcasting and the Defence sectors, where the sectoral cap is less than 49 per cent, the company would need to be ‘owned and controlled’ by resident Indian citizens and Indian companies, which, in turn, are owned and controlled by resident Indian citizens. This is a virtual impossibility.
If we have no qualms about importing from other countries why cannot we buy ammunition from our own private sector companies? While restrictions could apply to production of small arms and ammunition, for large calibre arms and ammunition there is a case for permitting the private sector companies to chip in.
The recommendations of a committee set up in 2009 to review the delegated powers were accepted by the Defence Minister in December 2010 but soon thereafter these were held in abeyance because of the perceived fear that there was a large scale misuse of the delegated powers and that implementation of committee’s recommendations would result in excessive delegation of powers.
It is difficult to understand why the MoD should bind itself by asking for request for information (RFI) that cannot be compared across all the proposals. What would constitute ‘capability’ and ‘requisite infrastructure’ to license produce the aircraft is a matter of subjective interpretation and therefore, it would become difficult for MoD to assess whether the information provided by a bidder establishes that he/she has the requisite capability/infrastructure.
On Feb 14, 2014, MoD issued an office memorandum about operationalization of a Offsets Facilitation Cell. This is the perhaps the first positive step in a long time and the MoD needs to be complimented for it. However, absence of an operating procedure, clarity about the exact nature of mandate and guidelines for those who will man the cell could turn out to be a bane for this wonderful initiative.
Projecting a demand which cannot be met is as pointless as allocating budget that is barely sufficient to sustain the armed forces and other departments of the MoD. The persistent neglect of this aspect of defence management is taking its toll not only on the stock of ammunition held by the armed forces, notably the Army, but also on serviceability levels of the equipment.