Unprecedented standoff at LAC needed quick response: Naravane
Developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh added to challenges faced by the Indian military on the “active and disputed borders” in the western and eastern fronts, army chief, Gen MM Naravane, said on Thursday.
The “unprecedented” military standoff with China required an immediate response and large-scale mobilisation of resources at a time when the country was grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, while addressing the annual session of the PHD Chamber Of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI).
Naravane, who spoke on the theme “Resilient India”, outlined the role played by the military in countering the pandemic and the current focus on indigenisation in acquiring advanced hardware and weaponry. He called for doing away with the “L1 system” of awarding defence contracts to the lowest bidder to ensure India gets access to advanced technology.
Without naming China, Naravane highlighted the challenges posed by the standoff on the LAC, which began in May last year and resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops during a clash at Galwan Valley, the first such fatalities since 1975.
“Developments along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh added to the ongoing legacy challenges on our active and disputed borders on the western and eastern front. The unprecedented developments necessitated large-scale resource mobilisation, orchestration of forces and immediate response, all this in a Covid-infested environment,” he said.
This was done as the military reinforced the government’s efforts in tackling the health crisis. “Because of our peculiar environment of contested borders and an ongoing proxy war in the hinterland, the Indian Army is in active operations throughout the year, safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our nation,” he said.
The pandemic was a “unique and unprecedented” challenge and the air force carried out massive evacuation operations for citizens stranded in countries such as China, Iran and Kuwait while ferrying tonnes of medical supplies. The navy launched Operation Samudra Setu to transport food and medical supplies while evacuating thousands of stranded Indians from neighbouring countries. Rapid response medical teams were deployed to several countries.
Under Operation Namaste, the army established a large number of hospitals across the country. Nineteen exclusively Covid-19 hospitals and military hospitals were opened to all, and testing labs of the armed forces accounted for an increased load by working round the clock. The military also set up quarantine facilities at Manesar, Mumbai, Chennai, Bhopal, Hyderabad and other cities.
During the second wave of infections, air and naval assets airlifted oxygen cylinders, generators and concentrators, cryogenic containers and medical supplies from countries such as Australia, Germany, the UK, the UAE and Israel. Special military trains were used to send medical resources to hotspots and army technicians repaired dysfunctional oxygen plants in government and private hospitals, Naravane said.
Pointing to the mantra “reform or perish”, Naravane said the pandemic led to transformational changes across the world. “Disrupted supply chains, unreasonable price escalation and opportunistic resource denials by some greedy nations have reinforced the vision of Atmanirbharta (self reliance),” he said.
“The danger that our long-drawn procurement processes and bureaucratic speed-breakers would prevent us from acquiring cutting edge technology is a real one. Much work has been done in bringing about systemic changes with the aim of ease of doing business...There are still archaic rules and processes that defy logic and are at variance to modern best practices,” he added.
Naravane said processes in the defence industrial sector that “are out of sync with contemporary times and our future vision must be ruthlessly shed for modern best-practices”. He added, “The L1 system is one such legacy of the colonial era that has lost its relevance in a system that is pushing for indigenisation. After all, why should merely price dictate our choice, when the money is destined to be pumped back into the domestic economy? It’s time we looked at quality and transited to a T1 system, more in tune with our capability development aspirations.” L1 refers to the lowest price and T1, the best technical specification.
As part of efforts to promote domestic industry, the army has awarded contracts worth more than Rs16,000 crore to Indian firms in recent months. At the same time, development and prosperity are closely linked to security, and a safe environment is a must for investments to flow in, he said.
The emergency powers under DFPDS-2020 (delegation of financial powers to defence services) invoked in June last year and extended till August resulted in 113 contracts for procuring critical ammunition, armament, vehicles, spares and special mountaineering equipment worth almost ₹9,000 crore. Another 68 contracts for capital procurement worth ₹6,500 crore were inked, and savings of about ₹1,700 crore were made due to diligence and financial prudence of the emergency empowered committee at the service headquarters.