EDITORIAL: Continue the drive

by Editorial Desk

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - Made in India defence products have to be of standards required by forces.

Having rightly laid emphasis on domestic production being the bedrock of military strength, the new defence minister would also be required to ensure that “made in India” products were of the standards required by the forces, and supplies of equipment and spares were not a constraint on the ‘fauj’.

Much attention will focus on how Nirmala Sitharaman will sustain the drive initiated by her predecessor, albeit toward the end of his second stint in South Block, to remove dead wood from the ordnance factories which supply (in terms of volume) a large portion of the forces’ stores. The compulsory retirement of 13 senior officers of the Indian Ordnance Factory Service sends out a signal  that needs sustained follow-up.

The Ordnance Factory Board would take umbrage at its 40-odd units being dubbed “white elephants”, but there is little need to go beyond a recent report of the Comptroller & Auditor General to determine that their functioning is slothful ~ the combined effect of a virtual monopoly in production and a captive market.

Having acquired competence and expertise in her previous assignment, Sitharaman would do well to take note of the Shekatkar committee’s recommendations on defence production (they were found good enough to result in the phased redeployment of 57,000 soldiers), maybe order a comprehensive analysis of which factories could be closed down, privatised, or re-worked as joint-ventures to make them commercially viable. The smokescreen of “patriotism” cannot be used to  camouflage inefficiency, the concept of a “bigger bang per buck” must apply across the board. 

Sadly, only limited results have been achieved in involving the private sector in defence production. True that a few leading industrial houses have entered the sector, but mostly in the hi-tech area when there is need for more cost-effectiveness in the manufacture of bulk stores.

The myth that private sector production is of dubious quality needs to be busted, no doubt there will be trade-union  resistance to revamping production but the bullet has to be bitten ~ the defence budget needs to be re-fashioned drastically.

It is, admittedly, unfair to ask Sitharaman to address shortcomings that  have been overlooked for decades, but since this government claims it has broken out of customary ‘sarkari’ lethargy, she has her task cut out. And it must be remembered that production is only one of them: in earlier times there was a separate minister of state for defence production.

She will also have to shake off some stereotyped attitudes ~ when she was elevated to Cabinet status the junior minister in South Block had nothing more positive to say than that now the demand for women in combat roles might be granted. And hopefully the “uniforms” will accept her status and not deem her a “softy”. She is anything but that.