Revolutionary Changes in India’s Higher Defence Set-Up –– 

An Exclusive IDC Analysis of the DECISIONS of the Go

New Delhi, 06 June 2001 

This week marks the second anniversary of the Kargil war which saw the Indian Armed Forces and the nation taken by complete surprise and the Intelligence agencies caught with their pants down. Unified command and control and single point advice were non existent and even photographic evidence that India had paid for, was not forth- coming despite a modern Defence Imaging and Processing Centre (DIPAC) in the Cantonment of Delhi.

The NDA Government with George Fernandes as Minister were naive on matters Defence and the cabinet were still getting to grips with the newly acquired Nuclear power, which was like a galloping horse needing to be corralled. The National Security Council was still-born, with a yet to deliver secretariat headed by a super efficient bureaucrat Satish Chandra of the JIC and the part-time National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra ensconced in PMO as the powerful Principal PS to the PM. The PMO was running most shows and doing the fire fighting for all ministries. The Raksha Mantri had just dismissed the Navy Chief Vishnu Bhagwat and was running the Defence Ministry as he ran the Railway Ministry –– with dispensations.

Now in hindsight, it is no wonder that India's decision to use air power to support the bogged down Army units in Kargil, was paralysed from 5 to 22 May 1999 (Chapters dealing with this are deleted from the Subrahmanyam Committee Report). It was after the CCS meeting on 22 May that the PM decided to consult the Service Chiefs, and thereafter the offensive air operations commenced in Kargil.

IDC believes that this was a time and occasion when a CDS was sorely missed, as even ‘recce’ sorties were denied to the hapless Jawans fighting the Pakistani troops up on the hills. The tide slowly but surely turned, but the Army’s losses were high and the Government realised it needed to put the country’s higher defence and intelligence systems in order. 

After a preliminary Report on facts by Mr Subrahmanyam, four Task Forces were set up to recommend corrective measures. These were Higher Defence Management (headed by Arun Singh), Intelligence (under Gary Saxena ex RAW and presently Governor of J&K), Border Management (headed by Madhav Godbole) and Internal Security (under NN Vohra). Just when the matters were being finalized came the ‘Tehelka’ bombshell toppling George Fernandes in its wake. The Defence Ministry was handed over to Jaswant Singh and this  brought him even closer to Arun Singh. Finally we have the decisions of the Group of Ministers on the path breaking recommendations of the four Task Forces which IDC now analyses.  The effects of ‘Tehelka’ have also been summarized, as we have had a lot of queries on the subject after the opening up of the Defence sector to private and foreign enterprises.

Effects of Tehelka

IDC feel that ‘Tehelka’ was the best thing that could have happened to this country after Kargil. As we have often cried out even as a lonely voice, defence agents must be legally permitted now that 26% FDI is also being allowed, otherwise touts and middlemen will make hay. Just recently Roland Dumas ex Foreign Minister of France and his mistress (some similiarity) have been fined and sentenced for making money from ELF the oil giant. What many may miss is that ELF was the conduit for money laundering in the sale of French frigates to Taiwan and its head has been prosecuted.

Admiral Mansurul Haq former CNS of Pakistan had recently been extradited from Austin, Texas (USA) to answer the charges of making money in the $ 750 million 4 Agosta 2B submarine deal from DCN of France.

It means in Defence, kickbacks are a fact of life even in France, but India has a crazy ‘no agents’ policy that makes all defence deals enigmatic and shrouded in mystery. India is negotiating with the same firm DCN for the Scorpene Type 75 submarines to be built at Mazagon Docks. DCN have no legal agents or representatives in India but may soon depend upon THALES –– formerly Thomson CSF, which has a big office in India and employs senior ex-Service officers. The whole situation is farcical. IDC has also learned that retired Maj Gen Murgai of Tehelka fame, has admitted using his professional knowledge and contacts to offer consultancy, without transgressing the Official Secrets Act in any way and firmly believes he did no wrong. Half of India’s bureaucrats and some brilliant technocrats like Dr Arunachalam former head of DRDO now in Carneige Melon University do or did just the same –– consultancy and many even hold diplomatic passports after retirement. It is ridiculous but as they say India is the best country in the world for under the table work. Rules are made to be broken or bypassed under the dictum ‘show me the face and I will show you the rule’.

Defence procurement in India has now come under scrutiny by the retired Supreme Court Justice Venkataswami who is inquiring into the corruption scandal exposed by Tehelka. Two journalists of posing as Agents of a non existent British thermal imaging firm Westend, tried to hawk their fictitious product and successfully bribed senior Army officers, bureaucrats and politicians to the tune of $28,000. They ingeniously posed as 'middlemen', because Defence Agents have been legally banned since 1986 and videotaped the entire operation stealthily. On 13 March the internet firm aired the sordid ‘expose’ on prime time TV and Indians saw it all in the comfort of their drawing rooms.  BJP Party President Shri Bangaru Laxman, was caught on camera accepting $2200.  Defence Minister George Fernandes had to resign as his close associate and Samta Party President Mrs Jaya Jaitly received $4400 at his official residence, ostensibly for the party fund.  Maj Gen P S K Chaudhry, ADG Weapons and Equipment responsible for Army’s procurement took $2200 and some other bureaucrats, Brigadiers and Colonels accepted lesser sums to assist in the selection process. A lot of muck was raked up. The five Army officers are awaiting disciplinary action, which could include Court Martial. IDC hope not as a Court Martial will rake up further muck.

Changes in Higher Defence Set-Up

The major far-reaching recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) put out in a 117 page report, omitting the Intelligence aspects, which are proposed to be implemented are tabled below with our analysis and we would welcome viewers response:

  •  A Defence Procurement Board under a Secretary is to be instituted and more financial powers would be delegated to the Service HQs, which will be integrated with the Ministry of Defence in a matter of 90 days as per the RM in a press conference.

This is good news and we see a Special Secretary with experience in procurement in London and earlier in MOD, Shri Ajay Vikram Singh has already been appointed. The IAS are already off the mark and a Vice Chief status vacancy has been made on the civil side while the Armed Forces are still to see any action.

The step will be fruitful only if the three Service Chiefs sit down and demand more powers for the Services HQ and explain to the GOI that Agents should be legalized for the sake of transparency and professionalism. Otherwise the MOD with a Special Secretary in charge will continue to perpetuate the existing system with greater impunity. At present the Service HQ go to the MOD for procurement files to be cleared, literally with begging bowls in their hands.

  • A Tri-Services Command would be set up in the Andaman Islands replacing the Fortress Commander (FORTAN), who is presently a naval Vice Admiral.

VAdm O P Bansal who has an Army Brigade under him and conducts amphibious operations regularly is the FORTAN. The Air Force as it is wont to do, operates there separately. 

This step is a beginning in the right direction, for other Tri-Service Commands to be set up. There needs to be cooperation from all the three Services to make it work. The IAF will not be too happy but then it is the writing on the wall, that with technological advances in the weapon systems and communications, the concept of C3 (command, control and communications) viz ‘Jointness’ in any operational command is inescapable. The earlier we adopt it the better. This may pave the way for more tri-service operational commands and the Command of them should be rotated or follow the principle of preponderance. That should not be difficult to work out.

  • A Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) is to be formed with national Intelligence system also duly reorganized. There will be Intelligence and Technology Coordination Groups to bring about systemic co-ordination at all levels which are presently lacking. 

However, whom the DIA will report to is a moot question at the moment. Logically it is the CDS who should control it. However, the decision to appoint a CDS has been held back. Till then tasking it and checking its funds as also its cloak and dagger doings, may immediately be done by a bureaucrat and get frozen as such –– which is exactly what should not happen. Once we know who writes the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) of the DIA Chief, we will be able to predict the success factor and how the co-ordination will flow because the status of RAW and IB Chiefs has not been clarified.

Many may not remember, but years ago Jaswant Singh was told to head a committee on reorganization of Intelligence. Nothing came of it. Intelligence is vital and India has inputs but lacks a proper processing and analysis system with due accountability. This needs tremendous skills and dedication. An IPS cadre based set up, with vested interests for promotions will not give the desired results.  In the Northeast and Kashmir the two hot spots, IDC had earlier commented that intelligence officers go on brief postings, retain houses in Delhi where they spend more than due time, without getting the feel of the place or the pulse of the local organization, so vital in intelligence work.

  • The policy of ‘One Border One Force’, will be implemented and the Home Ministry will get greater control of para military forces (PMF) like the Assam Rifles.

Thus the Coast Guard could become independent of the Navy with direct reporting to the Defence Secretary. At present the Department of Revenue funds the Coast Guard, which practice may change. The first non-naval officer, Rameshwar Singh has been appointed Director General Coast Guard and is due to retire late this year. Earlier serving naval Vice Admirals headed this organization. 

There has been an internecine battle on the issue of top command and control of para military forces. The majority of them are border forces assisting the Army. IDC had earlier pointed out India's defence budget nears 3% of GDP if expenses on  PMF are added. This dichotomy makes the unified command concept difficult to implement in the North East and Kashmir.

  • It is proposed to set up an integrated Air Command for low-level radars and aerial surveillance. 

The IAF has been worried about its secretly held responsibility to deliver the nuclear punch and possession and control of ‘space’, a new medium for warfare. This should be well left to it. The low level surveillance system should be integrated with the national ATC set up and IDC hopes IAF can maturely take charge of the coordination and control and infuse latest technology into the traffic in Indian skies. The western world has excellent coordination as technology in this sector has advanced and it is cheap, but this proposal needs to be kept out of a turf war between various Air Control Agencies.

  • A National Identity Card scheme is to be implemented and the Citizenship Act amended to deter illegal migrants.

This is common sense and long overdue. It is estimated India has 40 million immigrants from Bangla Desh alone. In fact, Election Commissioner MS Gill when he was Agriculture Secretary had stated that India’s green revolution had been possible with the cheap labour from Bangla Desh and in Delhi most of the cheaper domestic workers in jhuggi jhopris are ex Bangla Desh.  It is a pity that a few years ago, crores of rupees were spent on making voter ID cards, but local ID cards at least in border areas have not been brought into force as yet.

The task is mammoth. IDC attended a seminar at IIC, on the Bangla Desh border clashes, which hosted speakers of eminence including ex BSF Chief Prakash Singh, ex RAW and later Governor of Nagaland Srivastava, who we believe is knowledgeable and is married to a Naga. All spoke from the heart and admitted lapses on demarcating the enclaves and the remaining border. Other grey issues of smuggling between India and Bangla Desh and the Chakmas were discussed but ex Foreign Secretary K Raghunath who is due to go as our Ambassador to Russia, defended the Government well. He said only 6.5 km of border remained to be demarcated hence some credit should go the MEA. A BSF officer got up and said, “Let me tell you honestly, development work in the entire NE area has been neglected so the main vocation in the area is smuggling and illegal migration. The boats in riverine areas are not marked so when BSF catches illegal immigrants the Sarpanch identifies them as he wishes. The border is porous “. IDC admits the task is difficult but ID cards are a step in the right direction.

  • The Cabinet had approved the appointment of a four star CDS to oversee nuclear/strategic forces and provide single point advice to the Government.

But the move has been deferred thanks to the internecine turf battles over the duties and responsibilities of this post. CNS and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Sushil Kumar who was tipped for the post withdrew his name, adding to the Government's dilemma. IDC feel the key to this post lies with the Chiefs of the three Services and not the politicians. Dissension among them will only confer advantage to the bureaucrats. It is well known that most countries have a CDS over the other Chiefs, but India wants to try it otherwise. Italy tried it and IDC believes that we Indians are a little like Italians –– but it did not work. In fact things got worse and some years ago Italy decided to have a CDS over the other Chiefs with accountability and responsibility. It is working.

MOD Annual Report

Finally, the Annual Report of the Defence Ministry including some of the aspects discussed above has been released. There is nothing revolutionary except reiteration that China has ICBMs and nuclear missile capability to target Indian cities and it is helping Pakistan. India will evolve its nuclear command and control for its deterrence. A repeat of last year except that for the first time India’s security concerns have been taken beyond its physical borders, namely Persian Gulf in the West and The Malacca Strait in the East, giving a major maritime dimension to our official thinking. Wait for our full analysis on this document.


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