Change of Defence Minister

Issue No. 5 | March 1-15, 2017
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


With Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar having moved to Panaji due to political expediency of the state of Goa, Arun Jaitley has been given additional charge of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). How long this temporary arrangement will continue is anybody’s guess though the social media is ripe with new rumours every day with new names every time, besides the joke circulating that “Even Defence Minister has put up his papers due to low career prospects in defence”

But then Arun Jaitley is not new to MoD, having handled defence for most part of 2014 after the present government came to power. Since he is the Finance Minister, it would probably facilitate concluding the contracts of the capital expenditure in the Rs. 86,488 crore defence outlay of the current financial year — same as he did in 2014. But what could be a very more significant contribution by him is if he would make available the additional Rs. 13,000 crore demanded by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence while drawing the attention of Parliament to the crying need for modernising the armed forces, to which the current allotment of Rs. 2,74,000 crore in defence budget 2017- 18 does little to contribute. Since Parrikar had already written to him, as reported by the media, and he now wears the twin hats of Finance Minister and Defence Minister, he should seriously consider this.

Ironically, the change of Defence Minister has come at a time when there were some indications of the government making moves to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), reorganising the MoD and some reorganisation of the military as well. The CDS was actually required a decade back and needs to be appointed without further delay. However, if his operational powers are limited to Out of Area Contingencies (OOAC) then he will hardly be able to usher true jointness in the three Services and can hardly be a single-point advisor to the government on matters military. There are also news reports that government is looking at identifying some middle-level appointments in the MoD that could be manned by military officers. This would hardly be of much advantage, amounting to the inadequate status quo since independence.

A major flaw in the MoD besides not having military professional at all levels is that MoD has no institutionalised set up for strategy formulation

A major flaw in the MoD besides not having military professional at all levels is that MoD has no institutionalised set up for strategy formulation. HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) can fill this gap very easily and the very basis of raising the HQ IDS; it was to be part and parcel of the MoD. Hence, complete merger of HQ IDS with the MoD could be a significant contribution by Jaitley towards the defence of India. There is also news about the Theatre Command where the priority must go to establishing Integrated Functional Commands first, preceded by appointing a CDS. The Indian Coast Guard is responsible for the entire 7,517 km of India’s coastline which is directly under the MoD right from its establishment in August 1978. Bringing all forces deployed on India’s 15,107 km land borders similarly under MoD can be another singular achievement of Defence Minister Jaitley. This would be the correct interpretation of the ‘One Border, One Force’ concept and true application of the Kargil Review Committee recommendations that while the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) could be tasked to augment the Army manning the borders, they should be placed under the Army. So let them be under the MoD at least.

Significantly, all Border Guard Divisions of China are directly under the command of the PLA. Then there is also the poor state of border infrastructure. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stated on Army Day this year (January 15) that of the 72 strategic roads only 22 have been completed after so many years, and all of the 14 strategic rail-lines approved remain on paper only. This issue needs immediate attention and the crux must be public-private partnership rather than continuing to depend on limited capacity of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

The progress in defence procurements including through ‘Make in India’ in the defence sector needs to focus on elimination of red tape, which doesn’t appear happening; defining strategic partnership; availability of skilled labour; assurances to investors of assured purchases by way of numbers and agreements for exports of products, and the like.

Finally are the issues like anomalies in the Seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC) particularly allowances, disbursement of, One Rank, One Pension (OROP) and disability pensions, non-functional upgradation (NFU) allowance granted to all government services less armed forces, and downgrading status of the military through MoD’s letter of October 18, 2016, on assigning duties and responsibilities — all of which have been dealt in a lackadaisical manner.

Wonder if Defence Minister Jaitley also noticed that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh were personally present to lay wreaths for the 12 martyrs of CRPF who laid down their lives at Sukma this month. How many times has such respect given to security forces martyred in Jammu and Kashmir? Post the wreath laying, Rajnath Singh announced the government will ensure that the families are given minimum Rs. 1 crore. In case of police forces, one family member of the martyr also gets an assured job. So, why do Defence Ministers of India accept armed forces being discriminated against?

The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.