While effective national security goals and composite national defence are primary to systemic governance in representative democracies, the level of moral responsibility ascribed to all stakeholders is also high.
India is woefully dependent on the industrial capacities of the United States, Russia, the UK, Germany, Sweden and Italy, among others, to fulfil its domestic strategic supply needs; the threats to national security ensure that the processes of procurement from these nations get circumscribed by a high level of secrecy.
Four broad segments — border defence, maritime protection, air defence and internal security — get special category treatment. Accordingly, the degree of transparency in deals involving these segments is limited compared to those related to non-strategic requirements.
The fact that Indian defence deals have been consistently controversial ever since 1948 raises three important issues, calling for dimensional changes in the procurement methodology:
First, how is it that no real or enforceable correctives have been mandated by the political order responsible for these deals with foreign parties?
Second, why is it that assertive audit control measures (ACMs) do not precede a deal at an appropriate stage in the process’ narrative rather than focusing all accounting energy to conduct post-mortems after a deal goes awry during implementation? Why contemplate punitive action only after the horses have bolted, when cogent preventive action could have saved millions of dollars on deals that usually run into billions?
Third, when individuals across the Indian political chess board from the Right to the Centre to the Left have lined their pockets, is it not time to hold a special session of the Lok Sabha, possibly presided over by the president, to lay out options to identify the fault lines in defence deals since 1948?
Is this not the right time to establish, after due systemic diligence, a truly independent Union Strategic Procurement Commission (USPC) on the lines of the UPSC, with its autonomy ensured, to assist the government through seamlessly professional handling of all defence deals?
The constitution, mechanics, the limits and powers of the USPC could be fine-tuned during the special Lok Sabha session. If the government so wishes, it would be appropriate to put on hold any major defence deal till the USPC presides over procurement from foreign sources, unless national security imperatives dictate otherwise.
Mohan Das Menon is a former Union additional secretary
The views expressed are personal