MEERA MOHANTY, ET Bureau
Transparent policy guidelines are critical to making procurement for the armed forces more efficient, says Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Days after being entrusted with the sensitive portfolio, the former CM of Goa tells ET in an interview that his first target is to get a list of priorities drawn up. Edited excerpts:
The last time we met, in April, you said you were reluctant to leave Goa and move to the Centre?
I was reluctant but the PM and the party president were insistent. And a time comes when you cannot say no. They thought that my coming to Centre would serve a better purpose.
Is the perception correct that you have been brought into this position to bring transparency in defence procurements in particular?
Transparency was one and early decision-making was the other part of it, and both with some integrity. This (integrity) probably is something they saw in me. PM is the best judge.
How do you propose to bring transparency in the system?
I am in the process of understanding many things...a few stuck decisions. My target is to set a list of priorities. In Goa also, I got a list of local priorities drawn up - since things haven't been moving very fast on many issues. There are these tall MAP buildings, (naval quarters) you would have seen on your way to the airport. They have been stuck for the past six-seven years possibly because there isn't anyone to push it. It might be a small thing but I feel it's unfair if officers who are uprooted from somewhere else can't get accommodation for their families and that too in a peace zone. I am good at pushing things. I managed to get all the infrastructure for the Lusofonia Games (held in Goa in January) completed in ten months.
What are your priorities? Is the Rafale jet order among them?
I will not name a particular case, but yes, we need to create some policy guidelines framework along with time schedule so that procurement decisions are made quickly. You need to plan your trials and your entire procurement process so that you can receive equipment early; you do that and your procurement will be cheaper too. When people know you are going to take to time to decide they will build - I will not call it inflate - the delay into the cost.
You have also spoken against the rush to blacklist companies?
(In case of) helicopters, for example, there are hardly five-six manufacturers of a particular capability. If you blacklist three of them, then other two will blackmail you.
We need to come up with a policy spelling out who has to be blacklisted under what circumstances and for what period. For example, the Bofors guns were blacklisted long ago. My impression is they remain blacklisted. Now you have 450 guns with no spare parts coming in, you cannibalised the gun.
How do you propose to find funds for procurement?
I am going to ask the three chiefs, or four for that matter (pointing to a senior coast guard official) to prioritise their needs and then we can move forward. That is where your skill in planning comes into picture. A bullet may be procured in three months, a rocket in six months, but a fighter plane will probably take you a year or two years. We must plan accordingly.
I see it as a dilemma I faced with Goa Medical College. We buy a lot of equipment for the college but the problem starts when AMC (annual maintenance contract) kicks in. You get a very sophisticated ventilator and don't have a company maintenance contractor for it and they start breaking down after a year and remain unoperational for want of some small part. You can't do that with a gun, or a fighter plane.
That was the problem with the Sukhoi-30MKI when it was ejecting the pilots on its own. I think that has been sorted out. If I have an iPad, I can't get it serviced and am forced to buy another, but I can't replace Rs 400-cr equipment. The problem has been shifting the goal post after the tendering; you can't do that. There is also this problem, sometimes when you select an L1, the L2 who has lost out starts lobby against, digging for dirt on the L1. All these aspects have to be considered and the best solution is to ask the company to manufacture in India.
To what extent can India indigenise defence equipment? Is there an issue with offsetting where export obligations are not strictly defence related billings?
These aspects will definitely be looked into. I feel if you are indigenising with the first lot it can be to an extent of 50%. But you must understand, in a missile, if you look at the material component vis-a-vis the price, it could be just 25-30%. Technology costs. So we must look at how this 30% can be indigenised and work out a proper formula where the technology fee is very clearly defined from the material cost.
I would like to ask experts to sit with the concerned section of the forces and come out with very clear point wise answers to this.
Will you be opening up DRDO to the private sector?
DRDO is a technology producer, not a manufacturer and it can tie up with the private sector. There is no compulsion that DRDO ties up only with government companies. If there is such compulsion, then I think we should encourage them to tie up with local Indian companies to manufacture defence products.
Will Indian firms produce jets some day?
Why not? If we can send a rocket to Mars, we can definitely do it.
Did you find the NYT cartoon (making fun of India's Mars mission) offending?
It was definitely offending because we had a successful launch. But the best comeback was another cartoon, when their rocket crashed, of an Indian farmer (shading his eyes with his palm) looking at their crashed rocket far out towards the horizon. We definitely have technical capability, we have to convert this into manufacturing capability.
How do you think we can bring transparency into lobbying?
Tell me how can a company operate in India when they don't have an order? They will need a person to represent them. Anyone who is not a company employee gets labelled "lobbyist". The problem starts when you start calling him a lobbyist; it's an American term.
If companies have agencies here their agreement with the agency must be pre-disclosed. Whatever the agreement, it can be registered with the defence procurement cell. Anything not recorded can be treated as non-disclosure and the person can be pushed out.
If you need to pay them it should be with Indian rupees.
If they are foreigners and if they want to take back the balance margin they can take it but must be paid in Indian currency. Again, proper guidelines have to be issued on this.
What are the other priority areas?
We have people who are out there putting their lives at risk and I do not think their families are taken care of properly. That's something I feel strongly about. This one-rank-onepension thing is again complicated; it can't be treated as a dynamic thing where every time someone's pension comes up, everyone else's gets revised. We should have a pay scale kind of scheme, where over a particular period you fix a pension - let us not define the period because we are in active discussion on that with finance ministry - and then at the end of the period they can all get upgraded, or rationalised.
What is your view on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?
I haven't read the Act; let me go through it. But from what I understand from listening to TV debates I do not think much power is granted under AFSPA. They (army) only have power to raid, check any vehicle. It has to remain until an alternative solution can be found.
What's your view on encounters?
If something wrong has taken place, the army has acted very strongly against it, and the issue is closed. Are there no false encounters by police? Strong action has been taken, and the guilty punished.
How do you view the recent intrusions on India-China border?
Let me understand the issue (of intrusions) from external affairs (ministry) and get the Prime Minister's guidance on it before I make any comment. My agenda is very clear: empower army in such a manner that doosra hamari taraf dekhe hi nahin (no one dares to even look in our direction). Empower the forces in such a way that their presence itself acts as a deterrent.
Do we also need to empower the coast guard after the recent threat to Kolkata ports?
I think two separate issues coincided. Movement orders had already been issued for the ships much earlier and then there was the supposed threat alert.
(Source- Economic Times interview section)