An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 05 April 2006

Large defence acquisitions in India have invariably been mired in scandals, which disrupt the acquisition process impinging on long term national security. Luckily for India its external threats have receded. Nuclear parity with Pakistan’s and the revelation of Hatf VII (Babur), a superior sub sonic cruise missile with a 500 kg nuclear war head and 300km range, makes all out war suicidal for both nations. The PM’s offer to work towards a treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship should be viewed in that light. It is a harkback to Pakistan’s earlier offer of a ‘No War Pact’, which India had rubbished. It was because America had turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear capability, and India was wary, but now the tide has turned in India’s favour. India is USA’s ally and President Bush recently cold shouldered Pakistan. The change in the balance of power equation is apparent.

With a defence budget four times larger than Pakistan’s, India can out weapon all its neighbours combined. Pakistan presently, is beset with huge internal problems of governance, while its Army is heavily deployed to quell uprisings in Baluchistan, Waziristan and by Taliban, which they claim have the hand of Indian intelligence agencies behind them –– like RAW had done for the Mukti Bahini in 1971. India’s aims in the Afghanistan and Iran border regions are unclear to most analysts. Therefore Pakistan relies on its first use nuclear arsenal kept in readiness, as an insurance against any of India’s moves that would threaten the integrity of Pakistan. India should welcome the revival of a no war pact.

In India today, unfortunately the antennae of defence and economic planners’ are tuned to catching up with China, and the Indian Maritime Doctrine looks at the Indian Ocean, as the Navy’s lake of responsibility, which raises the hackles of China. The Indian Navy’s expansion plan is the largest undertaken by any developing nation, and India’s priorities are now set to acquire strategic assets. For this submarines are a most vital component, more than aircraft carriers. All of South East Asia is acquiring submarines.

The HDW submarine scandal of the early 90s erupted when India’s Ambassador in Germany reported commission taking. This led to a drawn out CBI inquiry which came to naught. The Navy’s order for two more home built boats died along with the expertise of submarine building. Today the Navy’s operational submarine fleet of 15 with one third in refit is destined to deplete and age, unless new submarines are acquired. Media reports say that 100 Indians with families are receiving training at Sosnovy Bar a small village near St Petersburg, and Russian inputs suggest it is for two nuclear Akula submarines completing construction at Kosomolsk-on Amur. India needs to possess nuclear submarines. Admiral Zumwalt had said, “The Ocean is the area with the greatest potential to produce major shifts in the global power balance”. Submarines are ideal for stealth patrols, and nuclear boats can speedily cover vast spaces and also provide India its nuclear deterrent, so essential for India’s no first use policy.

In January INS Sindhukriti entered the cash strapped Hindustan Shipyard Ltd under the Ministry of Shipping at Vishakapatnam, for a Rs 580 crore refit, the first ever Kilo class submarine in India, replicating the refits the Navy had got done in Russia, for Klub missile conversion. Analysts say Kilo refits in India could take longer than the nearly two years it takes in Russia, because of the learning curve in Indian conditions. This needs to be factored.

The Navy’s $4b six Scorpene deal with the Armaris-Thales combine, has recently been put under CBI’s scanner as Emails, accusations and innuendoes of money taking with names have appeared in the media. Far reaching statements have been made on TV. More details keep cropping up and the issue has now got linked to the War Room Leak of 2005. Three responsible officers serving in Navy’s nerve center in South Block, were dismissed from service without pensions, by the Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee under the same draconian Art 310 linked with 311 of the Indian Constitution, which was employed by George Fernandes to summarily remove CNS Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in 1998, without rank or pension (later restored) under President’s powers.

Late Justice Shah who contributed a lot to the writing of India’s Constitution had warned Pandit Nehru not to include this colonial clause, as it was a legacy from the British, who have no written Constitution. The article was meant for the British Armed Forces who operated at great distances from Whitehall. The designated authorities were delegated powers to dismiss officers abroad and have them transported back to UK for trial. But Nehru, fearful of coups, insisted on its inclusion. Justice Shah then pleaded that since officers serve at the Pleasure of the President as the doctrine is termed, the President should be allowed to ‘apply his mind’ before enforcing the article. Panditji closed the matter saying he did not wish to have a Presidential system of governance.

The article has stayed, and has been used and misused, as a threat to make officers resign. A Navy Captain’s services were so terminated a few years ago with no publicity when he was compromised by a hostile intelligence agency. Yet despite the ramifications of the Vishnu Bhagwat case, when in 1999 the Government fell in its wake, the procedure of how this draconian power is to be exercised has not been defined. By default, as there is no reference to this Article in the lengthy Rules of Transaction of Business issued by the Government, the Defence Minister exercises the absolute power to use this powerful tool to dismiss an officer. Many feel it contradicts the tenets of article 14 of the Constitution, that of equality before law.

The Scorpene deal is witnessing a CBI inquiry, Public Interest Litigation and individual litigations in the war room leak case, and if not resolved soon, the Navy’s submarine acquisition plans could be set back once again. Competitors like HDW and the cheaper Amur offered by Russia, even when the Scorpene deal was being considered, may try to make come backs.

What has led to the machinations are now being discussed in hushed tones, and innuendoes of money taking keep appearing in the media, but the bottom line is that the Navy’s submarine acquisition plans should be safe guarded. For the future the procedure to use Article 311 must be spelt out by the Governmentin the list of Transactions of  Business. The President, Prime Minister or Cabinet should be made the referral authority, so that it is seen to be above board, as is the case in so many cases including one of a member of the Election Commission running a trust, which is presently doing the stipulated rounds.

As per the Government’s business rules the President has referred it to the Prime Minister who can close the matter, or refer it to the Election Commissioner for final disposition. The PM has chosen to seek legal advice. Officers in uniform deserve similar justice.

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