Monday, May 23, 2022

What’s Wrong With India’s Weapons Procurement Process? A Defence Ministry Report Reveals Major Lapses

What’s Wrong With India’s Weapons Procurement Process? A Defence Ministry Report Reveals Major Lapses
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A defence ministry report has listed out in black and white what is ailing India’s weapons procurement process, which promises years of delay between drawing up a wishlist of weapons and soldiers getting to fire one.

A Defence Ministry report, accesses exclusively by NDTV, has revealed that India's weapons procurement process has been severely affected due to "multiple and diffused structures with no single point accountability, multiple decision-heads, duplication of processes, delayed comments, delayed execution, no real-time monitoring, no project-based approach and a tendency to fault-find rather than to facilitate".

The report, prepared late last year by Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre, reveals all the loopholes in the functioning of Defence Ministry.

There has been at least seven major defence scams in India since independence, leading to the fall of government and ministers. The major one being Bofors scam in the 1980s that led to the fall of Rajiv Gandhi government over charges that the Swedish gun manufacturer paid bribes to supply howitzer. The scam generated so much heat and scare among bureaucrats that India did have howitzers for 20 long years despite being hemmed in by Pakistan and China.

The flaws have also turned out be a major obstacle for the "Make in India" initiative for the defence sector, launched in 2014.

The 27-point internal report says: Of 144 deals in the last three financial years, "only 8%-10% fructified within the stipulated time period," it says.

The report also says that the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard do not work as a system, which "puts greater strain on the limited defence budget..."

After the weapons purchase enters the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage, the average time taken to clear files is 120 weeks - six times more than rules laid down by the ministry in 2016. "The fastest RFP clearance was accorded in 17 weeks while the slowest took a monumental 422 weeks (over eight years)," the report said.

The classic example of how India’s defence procurement works is the 18-year-old process to replace its ageing MiG 21s with medium multi-role combat aircraft.

In 2000, the Indian Air Force sounded its interest in fighter jets to replace the ageing MiG 21s. Six years later, the Indian government issued tender for 126 aircraft, which saw Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Dassault, and Saab among others enter into a dogfight in the Indian sky for a share of the lucrative pie.

Though in 2012, India zeroed in on Dassault after it came up with the lowest bid, the deal was put on hold in 2014 for cash crunch though the parties spent years negotiating the deal. In 2015, Modi government ordered 36 “ready-to-fly” Rafale jets in a government-to-government deal.

But even that deal is mired in allegations of rip-off.

Earlier in January, the Union Home Ministry had cut-down on the time taken to procure latest weapons and equipment for the central armed police forces (CAPFs) like CRPF and BSF, an official had said to PTI.

The home ministry had also removed the three-stage process of procurement — authorisation, procurement and expenditure sanction — into two by clubbing authorisation and procurement, thus cutting down time substantially or by several months.

The procurement process was fast-tracked to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness of the CAPFs and continued need for modernisation of the forces, the official had said.

(With inputs from PTI)