Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is known for his silent work. Earlier there was a lot of noise about lack of defence infrastructure, unavailability of equipments, shortage of manpower etc but things are transforming now. The morale of soldiers has gained a positive swing. He expressed his candid views on the initiatives taken by the ministry in ensuring overall security and mitigating the security challenges with Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser and Hitesh Shankar, Editor, Panchjanya. Excerpts:
- The government has completed 2 years. What do you see your achievements since you assumed office?
There have been many positive developments (you can call them achievements if you wish) that my entire team has worked hard for, from the very first day of taking office. Defence is a large sector. Many things which we cannot even mention but what we can surely mention are the three broad areas of improvement. The first is the ‘Positive Approach’. Though Bharat is a peace loving country we are no longer a ‘defensive’ country when it comes to security. The second achievement, which is largely an offshoot of the first, is in terms of ‘Morale’. Our men in uniform feel confident in dealing with security threats in this new changed and positively charged atmosphere. Earlier the ratio of fallen soldiers while fighting enemy was 1:1.5 (i.e, 2 Indian soldier sacrificed for 3 terrorists/infiltrators killed). Today that ratio stands at 1: 4.5. For instance, till date 12 soldiers made the supreme sacrifice while neutralising 66 terrorists. For this, we had to look into Defence Preparedness, which in turn was dependent on procurement processes, which happen to be our third area of improvement. Earlier, every minor requirement like guns, bullets, jackets, required sanction from the Headquarters. I changed all that. I made procurement soldier-friendly and need basis, which is raised from 10 crores to 50 crores. The twin mantras of delegation & accessibility have yielded amazing results.
- What were your priorities and how did you execute them?
Of course, ensuring border security was the first priority. There were many gaps. There was a shortage of equipments, ammunition and infrastructure. For instance, since 2006, Airstrips were proposed on the north-eastern borders. We addressed all the pending issues and completed 6 out of 7 airstrips. The parallel road to Indo-China border, leading to Daulatbeg oldi airbase, had to be built which was pending for the last 12 years. I have delegated special powers to the local officers and half of the work is done. Motorable road will be ready by 2017, where heavy armoury like battle-tanks can be taken. Other than that we have tried to improve the quality at competitive cost in case of procuring equipments.
- There was a lot of discussion about shortage of officers. What is the status now?
Though there is a bit of shortage, I think this issue is discussed out of proportion. This is mainly due to sanctioning of large number of officers. In the last decade, numbers of officers are gone up from 42,000 to 49,000 in the Army. For the last 2-3 years we are trying to fill the gap by inducting 500-600 extra cadets. We need to understand that officers training institutes have sanctioned training capacities; we are trying to increase that. The situation in Air Force is quite comfortable. Naval capacity will be fulfilled soon.
- What about the shortage of arms & ammunition?
In the last 2 years, you must have hardly heard about the shortage of equipments or accessories for soldiers. We have purchased 50,000 bullet proof jackets and the same numbers are ordered for this year. We are also going ahead with annual procurement contract of 1,86,000. When it comes to the large armoury, we did not purchase anything in the last 33 years, after Bofors. Now we have ordered Dhanush, the 155mm artillery gun is already tested at Pokhran and being built at Ordinance Factory Board. By 2017, the entire regiment of Dhanush will be put into service. Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) scheme was in limbo for more than 3 decades. We met with all the concerned agencies for 16-17 times and thrashed out the problems to reach the solution. Last government did not do anything for 10 years. In this financial year, we plan to manufacture aircrafts of international-standard. The first world class Submarine is already pushed into service. Every 9 months there will be a new induction.
- When you took the charge, acquisition and procurement was the main issue. How did you deal with it?
It is still an issue. There are many bottlenecks, mainly because there are no procedures laid or too complicated procedures are in place. Many a times people involved in the acquisition process are not aware of the ground realities. When I took over, 329 Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) were pending for over 10 years. Almost 88 out of them were outdated, so forces themselves cancelled that order. 120 old requisitions are cleared while 10 new orders are placed. Thus, we have given the contracts of over 1,70,000 crores in the last two years. There is a need to simplify the procedures which we are working on.
- Overall, can we say that we have entered a new phase of defence management?
I repeat a very simple thing. Only 45 per cent of our aircrafts or helicopters were in use as there were no enough maintenance facilities. By just analysing the issues of related to servicing we have improved that upto 60 per cent. There were many disputes related to the illegal occupation of cantonment land, we have acquired most of that land through mutual consultation. There were issues related to usage of defence land for civil purpose, we are addressing that as well. We have initiated many schemes for the welfare of soldiers. Simply speaking, if you have the right approach and involve all the stake holders, then your decision making will be fast and implementation will be effective.
- How do you perceive the overall National Security?
This is an important matter. National security is a wholistic concept involving Food, Energy and Border Security. All 3 elements are critical. We are trying to address all the three.
- Can we say that arrival of Tejas & Arihant is the beginning of a new era?
Certainly it is a new beginning. Hindustan Aeronantics Limited (HAL) will be handing over the 3rd aircraft in July. Every alternate month they will be providing a new aircraft. The upgraded version of Tejas known as 1-A will be inducted in 2018.
- What about the technology transfer related issues in defence procurement?
We sincerely believe that as far as possible defence equipments should be made in India. The one which we are in a position to make, we are not purchasing from others. In case we do not have the necessary technology then giving the option Make in India for the foreign agencies is the second wayout. This will give us technology and employability to our people. We want to minimise the dependence on other countries as it is not good in war like situation. So, self reliance through all the possible means is our priority.
- There are lots of expectations from the NDA govt? How does this impact your performance?
See this expectation is a motivating factor for us and all of us are working day and night. If Modi ji gets 10-15 years to lead India then we will be a world leader in all fields.