The Narendra Modi government on Wednesday sacked Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief Avinash Chander, a good 16 months before his tenure was to end.
Defence minister Manohar Parikkar said the reasons for his exit merit no controversy and he was too old for his job. Last August, the DRDO had come under some sharp criticism from Prime Minister Narendra Modi over delays and cost overruns in key military programs.
But can delay and cost overrun be the reasons to sack Chander?
Incidentally, a report by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence presented in Parliament on December 22, 2014, had criticised DRDO for chronic inefficiency and delays in executing numerous programs.
The committee said "projects are not executed according to their schedule, and inordinate delays in execution of almost all the projects [are] common phenomena".
HT looked at the report and found that 10 projects, worth an average sanctioned cost of Rs. 1,686 crore, have been delayed on an average of 5 years.
The highest delay was suffered by Aero Engine Kaveri, which is late by 4,745 days already and the revised day of completion is still under revision, followed by the phase two of the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas which is 2,555 days behind schedule. Both of the projects have a sanctioned cost of Rs. 2,839 crore and Rs. 5,777 crore respectively.
Prominent reasons for delays, as shown in the report, include lack of infrastructure and technology that led to re-designing, non-
availability of indigenous raw material to the organisation not anticipating the requirements of a few projects.
Remedial steps suggested by the DRDO range from development activities being outsourced, personnel working multiple shifts, close
monitoring by stakeholders to changing phased development approach to concurrent approach.
Significantly, around 5 projects have been closed by the DRDO in the recent past, that were sanctioned at a total cost of Rs. 65 crore, with Rs. 6 crore out of these amount already spent.
Lack of fund, manpower
The committee found that DRDO suffers from lack of funds and manpower. The organisation projected an amount of Rs. 18,495 crore, but was allocated an amount of Rs. 15,283 crore, denoting a shortfall of Rs. 3,212 crore.
Moreover, out of the total defence budget, DRDO's share was 6.98% in 2009-10, but reduced to 5.37% in 2013-14.
The share of DRDO to total GDP also declined to 0.09% in 2013-14 from 0.13% in 2009-10.
The committee also states that around 7,809 number of scientists work with DRDO as against the sanctioned strength of 7,932 as per government order in 2001.
The standing committee observed that DRDO's projects grew manifold, both in quantity and quality, but there has been no increase in the sanctioned manpower since the 2001 government order.
And around 65 scientists resigned on an average from the DRDO from 2009 to 2013. Till October 2014, around 23 scientists had resigned, mostly on personal grounds.
The solution could be to increase the budgetary provision of the DRDO, in tune with indigenisation policies of the government, and provide adequate incentive and professional growth opportunities, before sacking people.
Regardless, it must be noted that DRDO has achieved a lot with its meagre budget. For approximately Rs 70,000 crore spent in a decade (2002-12) DRDO seemingly developed various missiles, drones, radar systems and carried other forms of research.
In contrast, USA's unmanned aerial vehicle projects, the UAV Predator and the UAV Reaper, alone have a total project cost of Rs 14,000 crore and Rs 60,000, respectively.