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Bureaucracy must back army in decision-making

THE light of the announcement on the Seventh Pay Commission, air chief marshal NAK Browne, chairman, chiefs of the staff committee (COSC), has pitched for a common pay commission for the armed forces and demanded that it must have full representation from their side. DR PK Vasudeva writes

chandigarh Updated: Oct 23, 2013 10:19 IST
DR PK Vasudeva

THE light of the announcement on the Seventh Pay Commission, air chief marshal NAK Browne, chairman, chiefs of the staff committee (COSC), has pitched for a common pay commission for the armed forces and demanded that it must have full representation from their side.

In his letter to union defence minister AK Antony, the COSC also wanted that the commission’s terms and references must include all those anomalies which have crept in the emoluments of armed forces over the decades.

But the underlying message is clear: the forces do not have faith in the civilian dispensation – largely, the bureaucracy — to “fully grasp the unique challenges” of military service. Hence, address long-standing concerns over their eroding “status, parity and equivalence” as compared to their civilian counterparts.

The politico-bureaucratic resistance to the critical reforms in the country’s higher defence management — suggested by late K Subramanyam-led Kargil Review Committee and the 2001 group of ministers’ report on “reforming the national security system” as well as the 2012 Naresh Chandra

Task Force Committee report is one of the main reasons for the failure to bridge the divide.

On the recommendations of the Subramanyam Committee report on Kargil for the appointment of chief of the defence staff (CDS), the government appointed a task force under the former minister of state for defence Arun Singh to give its recommendations on defence and security matters.

Arun Singh also strongly recommended the formation of the CDS on the lines of other world democracies. Finally, a group of ministers (GoM) under the chairmanship of then Deputy Prime

Minister LK Advani also recommended the appointment of the CDS in rotation.

The government accepted the GoM report with a rider that various political parties be consulted on the CDS recommendation. The process of consultation with political parties was initiated in 2006. However, only four political parties sent their response.

Among the numerous controversies triggered during Gen VK Singh’s tenure as chief of army staff, perhaps the worst-kept secret was the lack of “defence preparedness.” Most informed analysts know about the deficiencies stemming from higher defence mismanagement, but the leak of Gen Singh’s confidential letter to the Prime Minister made this public.

The other controversies around civil-military relations revealed the crisis of confidence and trust deficit between military officers and civilian bureaucrats in the ministry of defence (MoD). Antony admitted it as much when he referred to the “bitterness” between them. While the reasons for this are many, including the legacy of the controversies over the Sixth Pay Commission, it’s a structural problem arising from at least three peculiarities in our institutional structures.

In view of the large number of legal complaints in various courts against the MoD on pay and allowances discrepancies, defence procurement scams and lurking threat perception from our adversaries China and Pakistan, the Naresh Chandra Committee, a 14-member task force on national security, was set up by the union government on June 21, 2012, to suggest ways to revamp defence management in the country.

The main objective behind the constitution of the committee was to contemporarise the Kargil Review Committee’s recommendations, which was tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2000. Besides, the task force was also asked to examine the state of the country’s border management and restructuring system. The committee submitted its report to the government on August 8, 2012.

The Naresh Chandra Task Force on national security, in its report had recommended a permanent COSC chairman to exercise “administrative control” over the nuclear arsenal, head a separate joint special forces command, prioritise modernisation of the armed forces and prepare annual defence
operational status reports.

This General No 1, a fourstar officer like the three service chiefs with a fixed two-year tenure, would have been the principal military adviser to the government and an “invitee” to the cabinet committee on security. He would have also helped usher in some desperately needed synergy among the army, navy and air force in planning, procurement, operational and doctrinal issues.

Similarly, another key recommendation that was junked was “cross-staffing” — posting of military officers to the MoD. More than a decade ago, in his report, the late strategic doyen, Subramanyam, had said, “India is perhaps the only major democracy where the armed forces headquarters (HQs) are outside the apex governmental structure.”

The situation remains somewhat similar till this day. The three service HQs, once merely “attached offices”, have been rechristened “integrated HQs of ministry of defence” with some delegation of financial powers. But the nomenclature change is perceived to be “largely cosmetic”. Till the armed forces get some concrete institutional role in policymaking, along with effective cross-staffing, the divide and drift will continue.

It is not only surprising but also shocking as to why should the government appoint high-powered committees when it is not going to implement is recommendations. Why should taxpayers’ money be wasted over such an expensive exercise? The bureaucracy needs to be tamed and controlled so that the political leadership, in the interest of national security, overrules its objections.

The writer can be reached at vasu022@gmail.com.

He is a commentator on defence issues. Views expressed are personal