Battle against defence corruption can bring disaster for national security
India’s punitive policies against errant arms sellers are self-defeating. India lives in a tough neighbourhood and in defence issues a greater weight should be given to practices that enhance security.comment Updated: Jan 02, 2014 23:19 IST
With polls around the corner, corruption topping the political agenda and the inclinations of the defence minister, there were few raised eyebrows when India terminated its contract to buy 12 helicopters from AgustaWestland due to allegations of illegal payoff against the deal.
The government has struggled with the decision for several months, ever since allegations of bribes to Indian officials emerged in an Italian court case regarding Agusta’s holding company, Finmeccanica.
But following the CBI’s chargesheet coupled, one suspects, with the AAP’s electoral success, the decision to terminate was inevitable. The Bofors howitzer controversy and the deserved reputation defence sales have for corruption have made the Indian polity sensitive to any whiff of scandal regarding arms. It does not help that arms sales are shrouded in some secrecy and often include a geopolitical element that cannot be put down in a ledger.
Nonetheless, there is a need to recognise that an overzealous battle against defence corruption can have a disastrous fallout on national security — with potential costs of which would far outweigh the economic price of a kickback. This is not only because a certain degree of opacity is inevitable in such purchases.
The Indian Army has a very limited set of options when it comes to weapon sources. Many vendors are monopoly producers. They cannot buy from certain countries.
The Services will only seek weaponry that is superior to their likely opponents. An honestly-bought fighter that can be shot down at will is a case of morality taken to the point of absurdity. Finally, India’s defence is unusually dependent on imports for a large country.
All of these mean that India’s punitive policies against errant arms sellers are self-defeating.
The defence ministry, for example, has blacklisted so many artillery makers that India is struggling to find a replacement for the Bofors gun. The Naresh Chandra committee on defence preparedness is only the latest panel to recommend India consider punishments like fines and imprisonment rather than broad brush actions like blacklists.
Even cancelling contracts should be weighed against other possible punishments. It often incurs enormous costs to the exchequer and results in inferior replacements. India lives in a tough neighbourhood and in defence issues a greater weight should be given to practices that enhance security.