OFB Corporatization Decision – The Bureaucracy of Ministry of Defence Should Introspect!

The  rain  seems to have stopped temporarily but it’s still drizzling. Based on an agreement reached in the presence of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), the Indefinite Strike of  the Ordnance Factory Employees has been postponed. They are fighting  against the Government decision of Corporatizing the Ordnance Factories. www.indianpsu.com discussed the present scenario with C. Srikumar, General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) and Convener of PSU Unions of AITUC and two  major opinions emerged out of this discussion.

1. OFB Corporatization is a political decision taken by the Narendra Modi Government to favour Corporates. 

2. OFB Corporatization is a misguided proposal of bureaucrats approved by the political bosses, again to benefit the private Corporates at the cost of National Security and Defence  preparedness. 

According to a report published by the Hindustan Times during November 2019, our Prime  Minister Narendra Modi while addressing a newly selected Group ‘A’ Civil Service Officers (IAS) from  the 2020 – 21 batch, said that top bureaucrats had spoiled his first five-years tenure but he would not allow them to do the same in his second term. “Apane mere panch saal barbad kiye  hai, main apko agle paanch saal barbad nahi karne doongaa”, he  said. A large section of the people of our country are of the firm view that the present day bureaucracy is not for serving  the people, but they are interested only in saving their position or go to any extent for  getting better positions in the Government and Institutions abroad.

The first Home Minister of our country Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel while addressing Civil Servants in an Independent India laid down certain principles of “Swarajya to Surajya” or “good governance”. “Your Predecessors (In British  Raj) were  brought  up in the traditions in which they kept themselves aloof from the reach of the common people. It will be  your bounden duty to treat the common man in India as your own” he said on 21st April, 1947 and this day is celebrated in India as “Civil Service Day”. He once told IAS Officers “today my Secretary can  write a note opposed to my views.  I have given that freedom to all my Secretaries, I have told them if you don’t give your heartfelt opinion for fear that it will displease your Minister,  please then you better go, I will bring another Secretary”  “I will never be displeased over a frank expression of opinion”  said Sardar Patel to the Indian bureaucracy which he described as “ the  Steel  Frame” of India’s Government machinery. However, today the irony is that the country is debating whether it is a steel frame or a steel cage.

Dr. Ambedkar, the Architect of Indian Constitution said “People are more concerned with good administration than with good laws. Law may be good but its administration may be bad. Whatever  the administration of law turns out to  be, good or bad depends upon the freedom of the Officer who is appointed to administer it when there is only one political party, the Officer is at  the mercy of the political chief called  the  Minister. The Minister’s existence depends upon pleasing the voters and often the Minister is required to force the Officer to do wrong to  please the voters. If there was an opposition party, then such action of the Minister would be exposed and the mischief be stopped”.

Nehru  told  that  the  bureaucracy  in India  should  be  an  enlightened  one,  the  Officers  should  have  delved  deep  into  the problems  of  Indians.  They should posses  a  foresight  and  deep  vision  in  the  Administration  of  India. They should  not  passively  carry out  the  orders,  rather  they  should  give  their  valuable  suggestions  on  any  matter  whenever  their  opinion  is  sought.  This  will promote  the  Administration  in  India.

You  may  wonder  why  I  am  prolonging  the  preamble  portion  of  this  article.  I  thought  it is  essential  at  this  point  of  time  when  the  Nation  is  entangled  with  COVID-19  pandemic,  unprecedented  political  and  economical  crisis,  job  losses,  closure  of  Industries,  labour  exploitation, miseries of  farmers and  agriculture  workers, unresolved  migrant  labour problems,  outright  privatisation, sale  of  National Assets, denial  of  Justice  to  the  common  man, atrocities  against  women,  Dalits, children, minorities, India’s  slipping  down  on  all  indices  which  measure  peoples  well  being  such  as  health,  education, corruption  and  press  freedom etc.   India’s  ranking  slipping  to  103  among  119  countries  on Global Hunger  Index  and  fastest  falling  GDP (-24%)   even  below  Bangladesh.  There  is  a total  collapse  of  the Governance  and  Administrative machinery of  our  Country.  Every  IAS  Officer  who  completes  his  induction  training  in  the  Lal Bahadur Shastri  National  Acadamy  of  Administration  has  to  take  an  oath  that  he / she  shall always  uphold  the Constitution  and  abide  by  it  in discharging  his  duties . All of us know  the Civil Service  Officers  are duty bound  to  sincerely  implement  the policies  and  programme  of  a  democratically  elected  Government. Unfortunately  the  bureaucrats  forgets  that  their  services  are  not  designed  to  behave  as  the  agents  of  the  ruling  party.  They  are  not  expected  to  dance  according  to  the  tune  of  the  ruling  party.  Their  role  is  to advise  the Government  after  thorough  study  of  the proposals  of the  political  bosses,  its  implication  on  the people  and  the  Country  and  bring  to their  notice  through  noting. Their  role  is  also  not  to  misguide  the  political  basses  to  satisfy  the  wishes  of  their  political  parties  or  further  the  Agenda  of  vested  interested  groups  who  are  outside  the Government,  but  wanted  to  run  the  Government  behind the  curtain  or  through  back  seat  driving.

Now  let us  come  to  the  topic  of  our Article.  In this  article  I  have  critically  analysed  whether  the  bureaucracy in  the Government  while  processing  and proceeding  with  the  implementation  of  Corporatization  of  Ordnance Factories  have  really  done  justice  to their  service  or  has  violated  the  oath  they  have  taken  while  enrolling  in  the  IAS.

Corporatization of  OFB, Is  it  a political  decision of  a  democratically  elected  Government,  or  is  it  a  misguiding  and  misjudged proposals  of  the  bureaucracy  to  its  political  bosses. Only  the  noting  sheets  of  the Government  and  the  cabinet  note  will bring  out  the  facts .  An  RTI  application  in  this regard  is  pending.  Not  with standing  this.  I  have  gone  through  the  Election  Manifesto  of  the  BJP. No  where  it  is  mentioned  that  if  they  are  re  elected  to  power  they  will   Corporatize  the  Ordnance Factories. Then how  this has  found  a  place  in  the  100 days  agenda of  the  BJP Government.   The  inside  story from  reliable  sources  is  that  after  the  BJP  came back  to power  the  PMO  has  asked  every  Ministry  / Department  to  give  its  proposals  to  include  in  the 100 days  agenda  of  the  Modi – 02  Government. Department  of  Defence production has  given the agenda  of  Corporatization  of OFB  to  the  PMO  without  bringing  the    assurances  given by  the  previous  Defence  Ministers,  the  assurance  given  before  the  Parliament  and  also  its  own  statement  before  the  Defence  Parliamentary Standing  committee  that  Corporatization  of  OFB  is  not  a  feasible  proposal. The PMO  was  approved  the proposal  of  DDP  and  today  it  has  become  an  issue  of  major concern  for  the  country  since  the  decision  will have  far  reaching  implication  on  the  security  of our  country  and  the  future  of  80,000  employees  of  Ordnance Factories and  their  families.

The  policy  direction  of  the present  Government  is  known  to  the people  of  the  Country i.e.,  Government  Departments  should  be  Corporatized  and  Public  Sector  should  be  privatised.  The  bureaucracy  also  without  application  of  mind  and  as  an  error  of  judgment  has  fallen  in  line  with  the  political  basses  without  properly  advising  the  Government  which they  are  supposed  to  do,  since  it is  concerning  the  serious  matter  of  National Security,  Defence  preparedness  and  self  reliance  in Defence and the service of almost 80,000 strong committed and devoted workforce.

The  conspiracy  against  the  Ordnance  Factories  have  started  long  back.  After  the  late  Manohar  Parikar  left   the  Defence  Ministry,  the  Army  and  Ministry  of  Defence  have  started  reducing  the  workload  every year.  275  products  being  manufactured  in  the  Ordnance  Factories  were  declared  as  Non Core  and  to  outsource  all those products  without  any  concern  for  the  quality  of  those products  and  the  future  survival  of  more  than  25 Ordnance  Factories.  DRDO  has  been  asked  to  handover  the  newly  developed technologies  to  the  private  sector  and not  to  the  Ordnance Factories.  All the  proposals  of  the  OFB  for  modernisation,  procurement  of  plant  and machinery,  recruitment  of  manpower, cadre  restructuring  etc.,  were  outright  rejected  by the  MoD  bureaucracy.  All these decisions are  taken  only  to  favour  the  private  Corporates. The  repeated  representation  against  all these  evil  design  by  the  Trade  Unions  and  the Federations  have  been  totally  neglected.  The  bureaucrats  who  are  posted  in  the  MoD /  DDP  take  over  the  responsibilities  without  any  basic  and  fundamental  knowledge  about  Defence  Industry  its  intricacies  and  the Defence  preparedness.  They  take  all the  policy decisions  and  after  2 years  without  any accountability  they  leave  their  post  and  go  to  other  Ministries / Departments  or  back  to  their  own  states.  A  new  setup of bureaucrats again take over  and  decisions  are  taken  according to  their  whims  and  fancies. The ultimate  sufferer  is  the  Country  its  Army  and  the  poor  Soldiers.  Time  has  come  for  an  introspection  by  all concerned.  All of them in a loud voice speaks a lot about accountability of Ordnance Factories without any accountability for themselves.

From  the  foregoing,  one  thing  is  clear  that  the  decision  to  corporatize the  Indian Ordnance Factories,  whether  it  is  a political  or  otherwise,  is  ill  conceived,  in  contravention  of  the commitments  given  by  earlier  four  Defence  Ministers,  not  based  on  facts  and figures  and  not  in  the interest  of  the state  or  its  Armed  Forces,  but  only  to  appease  the  political  bosses  and  the  so  called  private  players,  whose  contribution of  illegitimate  money  fills  up  the coffers  of vested  interested  people.  If  not,  why  so  many  cooked-up  stories  are  being  floated  every  day  in  the electronic  and  print  media  by  hither  to  unknown  Brigadiers  and  Generals abusing  the  products  of  Indian  Ordnance Factories  and  its  committed  workforce,  from  the  day  one  when  the  Government  announced  that  they  are  going  to  Corporatize  the  OFB.  It  is  high time  that  the  Government  should  from  a  committee  headed  by  a  Senior  Judge  of  Supreme  Court  with  unbiased  Technical  experts /  Specialists  who  have  got  in-depth.  Knowledge  of  the  working  of  Ministry  of Defence  as  Members,  to  go  into  the  unsavoury  happenings  taking  place  in  the  name  of Corporatization  of  OFB,  so  as  to  come  out   from  all these  murky  issues  since  nobody  has  got  the  right  to  play  with  the  security  of  our  country  for  fulfilling  their  egos  and  vested  interest.

One thing  is  sure.  Inspite  of  many  experts in  the  field,  political parties, Members  of  Parliament, Trade  Unions  and  patriotic  citizens, opposing  the  decision  of   the  Government  with  logic  and  justification,  the  bureaucracy  has  taken  pain  that  all these  concerns  and  objections  against  Corporatization  of  Ordnance Factories are not  brought  to the  notice  of  the political  basses  including  the Prime  Minister. If  Government  implement  its  decision  by-passing  the  concerns  on  National Security  and  Defence  preparedness  time  will prove  that  it is  an  historical  blunder  but  by  the  time  the  damage  must  have  been  completed  and  irreparable .  Only  the  workers  movement  along with the  peoples  movement  can  save  the  precious  and  strategic  Ordnance  Factories  from  selling out  its  Rupees  One  lakh   crore  worth  of  National Assets  and  more  than  65,000  acre  lands.  I  believe  that  in  due  course of  time  the  movement  against  Corporatization  of  Ordnance Factories  will  become  a National movement,  since  Ordnance Factories  are  the  peoples  assets.

Views expressed here are those of  C. Srikumar, General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) and Convener of PSU Unions of AITUC

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