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Indian defence and the Abominable No Men

January 3, 2008

By Claude Arpi
Sify News
December 31, 2007

India's defence sector is today facing one of the grimmest times 
since the debacle of 1962. Many will infer that it is because India 
is a democracy governed by the rule of law and not a totalitarian 
regime. It could be, let us first have a look at the facts.

On July 10, A K Antony, the Defence Minister, announced that the 155-
mm artillery guns fielded by Bofors and Israel's Soltam had not met 
the Army's parameters during field trials. The government had decided 
to refloat a global tender.

He explained that the Army was not satisfied with the field trials 
over four years. "We will issue fresh tenders at the earliest and 
ensure that these guns are inducted into the Army within the shortest 
possible time". Euphemism! Four rounds of trials had been conducted 
between 2002 and 2006.The then Chief of Army Staff, General J JSingh 
confirmed that the guns from Bofors and Soltam had not met 
qualitative requirements. The deal estimated at Rs 4,000 crore was 
for 400 155-mm 52-calibre guns with India showing her interest to 
manufacture more than a thousand guns under the transfer of technology.

The Pakistani newspaper Daily Times commented: "The real reason for 
issuing the fresh global tender is to avoid buying the guns from the 
company that supplied the Bofors guns in 1979, resulting in a 
political turmoil with allegations of kickbacks to the then Prime 
Minister, late Rajiv Gandhi. Fears that the Opposition would link the 
two deals, re-ignite the Bofors scandal, and use it against the 
Congress in upcoming elections, led to the move." They might be right.

By the same author: As Dalai Lama gains, Tibetans lose | Burma's 
freedom cry | India-China: Imperfect harmony

Next episode. The website, DefenseNews.com on September 3, announced: 
"The Indian Air Force's planned purchase of 18 Spyder Low Level Quick 
Reaction Missiles (LLQRMs) from Israel's Rafael Armament Development 
Authority may be in jeopardy. Defence Ministry officials have asked 
that the estimated $325 million procurement plan be reviewed by the 
Central Vigilance Commission."

Rumors spread that the ministry would cancel the contract with Israel 
following allegations of illegally influencing the purchase process. 
The site commented: "The decision of the government has come out at 
the time when India has just started the process of major upgradation 
of its air defence systems." Analysts thought that the Ministry was 
keen to diversify its procurement and that Israel would emerge as one 
of the major Indian partners, bringing a balance in the over reliance 
on Russia.

Two months later, the news broke that the order from the European 
consortium Eurocopter for 197 helicopters for the Indian Army had 
been cancelled in an abrupt communiqué. The Defence Ministry 
spokesman Sitanshu Kar gave no reason for the decision. Here again 
this comes after several long years of tenders and trials, during 
which the Eurocopter emerged as the front-runner for the deal. Kar 
just stated: "A fresh RFP will be issued shortly." Strange!

Some press agencies quoting sources in the defence establishment said 
that the negotiations were terminated because of "major deviations in 
the approved parameters of the helicopter and procedures." It was 
later denied by the representatives of the European company in a 
press conference in Delhi.

The Franco-German-Spanish Eurocopter Group is a Division of European 
Aerospace and Defence Systems (EADS), a world leader in aerospace (of 
Airbus fame) and defence. The only competitor in the race for the 
deal was Bell of the US.

It was murmured that the Bush Administration had more clout in the 
corridors of South Block than its French or German counterparts. It 
is possibly true, but the next question is, what will happen to the 
selection process for 126 fighter planes? Will it follow the same fate?

An interesting article appeared in the Business Standard written by 
Ajai Shukla, a journalist with an army background. He asked a very 
pertinent question: Did the babus, who cancelled the deal, have a 
thought about those who valiantly fight to defend India's borders? He 
particularly mentioned the troops on the Siachen glacier: "For those 
jawans, and for tens of thousands of others like them who have 
already been cut off by the snows, this decision means a clear 
reduction in chances of survival." George Fernandes had set up the 
good tradition of sending senior officers of the Ministry to the 
glacier to get direct knowledge of the consequences of their 
decision; this has probably been abandoned.

We all know the unfortunate way of planning in the land of Bharat. It 
is only after a soldier dies that someone starts thinking that 
coffins are urgently needed. Coffins are then quickly purchased, but 
soon after the CAG enters into the picture and objects: "Illegal! The 
three statutory quotations were not obtained and field trials not 
conducted". It becomes a major scam and the Ministry decides to draft 
new rules and regulations, more rigorous to avoid future scams. The 
new rules are so stringent, that hardly any deal can pass through the 
net.

In the chopper case, Shukla rightly points out: "The cancelled 
purchase from Eurocopter had taken six years to fructify. Whether 
another selection procedure will end in a perfectly objective 
decision is already well known: it will not".

As a result of "some pending decision in acquisitions", last year the 
Ministry had to return almost 3,000 crore in the capital outlay 
section itself. Under the fiscal responsibility law, the ministries, 
which are unable to spend the money allocated to them in the 
prescribed timeframe, have to return the unspent funds. Every year, 
money has thus been returned to the Consolidated Fund of India.

You will tell me: what can India do? True, the babus are ruling 
India. An IAS officer that I encountered in the past was nicknamed 
'The Abominable No Man'. This person would write 'no' to any proposal 
and find rules to justify his decision; during his long career he had 
discovered that it was the safest way to never be caught one day by 
the CAG, CVC or the dreaded RTI.

Even if politicians had the will to change this state of affairs, 
they probably won't able be able to. Babudom is too engrained in 
India's working pattern and even the CAG is said to have admitted: 
"The emphasis seems to be on technical compliance through a multitude 
of detailed rules and regulations rather than on creating a new 
organisational culture, which focuses on results."

The only solution would be to leave such decisions to the Army, but 
you will be told that it is extremely dangerous; we could end up the 
Pakistan way. "Better to rein in the Generals! And the Army is not 
what it used to be!"

Shukla also reveals that India is the only major country that plans 
its defence one year at a time. India is supposed to have a 15-year 
Long-Term Integrated Procurement Plan (LTIPP), now the CAG has 
reported that the LTIPP 2002-2017 was finalised in 2006 only. What 
about the years between 2002 and 2006? Lost! In any case, with only a 
year left for the 10th defence plan, a revised LTIPP has now been 
ordered. It should be ready in 2009. But similar fate will probably 
await the new avatar. True, it is not in the Indian psyche to think 
so much in advance. The gods are supposed provide on a daily basis 
for our basic requirements (including defence?), so why to bother?

The problem is not faced by the Army alone. The Navy has its share of 
misfortunes. Will the diplomats able to salvage the sinking deal for 
the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Purchased for one dollar (or 
rouble, I don't remember), the ship was to be refurbished in the 
Sevmach dockyards in Russia for $650 million. It was supposed to be 
ready in 2008, but Russia has now announced that it would cost $1.2 
billion and the transformation work will be completed in 2111 only. 
The Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had to speak bluntly: India 
might have to look elsewhere for hardware if contractual obligations 
are not respected. Whether India cancels the deal or not, the Navy is 
in a difficult situation today.

This sorry state of affairs of India's preparedness became even more 
apparent when Antony visited the Sino-Indian border in Sikkim: "It is 
an eye-opener for me. There is no comparison between the two sides. 
Infrastructure on the Chinese side is far superior. They have gone 
far in developing their infrastructure".

The minister honestly admitted that China was far ahead. After 
visiting Nathu La, he however promised that he would take vigorous 
steps to develop the frontier areas to match China.

Indeed, India can be proud to be the largest democracy in the world 
and the armed services can be proud to have an honest Minister, but 
it is today clearly not enough. India should be ready for any 
eventuality and for this, drastic changes in the bureaucracy are 
required. Will the Government will bold enough to take the necessary 
step is another question.

The views expressed in the article are the author's and not of Sify.com.

Claude Arpi is an expert on the history of Tibet, China and the 
subcontinent. He was born in Angoulême, France. After graduating from 
Bordeaux University in 1974, he decided to live in India and settled 
in the South where he is still staying with his Indian wife and young 
daughter. He is the author of numerous English and French books 
including 'The Fate of Tibet,' 'La Politique Française de Nehru: 
1947-1954,' 'Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement' and 'India and 
Her Neighbourhood.' He writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and 
Indo-French relations. In the present article, he analyses the 
pathetic state of the country's defence sector.
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