Raksha Mantri, Rajnath Singh, under the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has set up a 9 member High Level Committee of Experts under Prof. K. Vijayaraghavan, to review and redefine the role of DRDO and to submit its report within 3 months. Apart from Prof. K. Vijayaraghavan, the Former Scientific Advisor to Government of India, there are 8 other Members including former Deputy Chief of Army Staff, former Vice Chief of Navy Staff and former Chief of Integrated Staff from Airforce are the members of the committee.
The Committee has been asked to recommend for restructuring and redefining the role of DRDO and the Dept. of Defence R&D as well as their relationship with each other and with Academia and Industry, MSME and Start-up-Participation in the development of Cutting Edge Technologies, a system of project based manpower by a proper system of incentives and disincentives and to weed out the non performers. Like all other Government Departments and Public Sectors, the DRDO is under severe criticism with regard to their performance, especially in reducing the import dependence of the country.
After the major decision of Corporatisation of Ordnance Factories, GOCO Model in Army Base Workshops, attempt to corporatize MES, now the target of Modi Government is DRDO. Whether the Government is contemplating to corporatize the DRDO or to priviatise etc., are to be seen in the coming days. There are about 30,000 workforce including Technicians, Scientists and other category of employees at present working in the DRDO apart from a large number of Contract and Project based Casual
C. Srikumar, General Secretary of AIDEF said that having come to know about the Government’s decision to appoint such a Committee through Media, AIDEF has immediately addressed a protest letter to the Secretary/DDR&D and Chairman/DRDO and asked for the background of government appointing the Committee for restructuring the DRDO. In the past the Government appointed Prof. Rama Rao Committee and the AIDEF submitted detailed proposals for strengthening and developing the DRDO and to bring up DRDO as an international Defence Research Organisation. What happened to our proposals and the recommendations of Prof. Rama Rao Committee. Now suddenly why government has appointed Prof. Vijayaraghavan Committee. My immediate reaction is that it is going to be another historical blunder and misadventure by the government. Already the Govt. has miserably failed in its mis-adventured experiment in corporatizing the 7 Ordnance Factories and now government is asking another consultant to reduce the 7
Corporations to 4 Corporations within 2 years.
What is the role of Ministry of Defence with regard to the role and functioning of DRDO is to be at the outset critically discussed before appointing any Committees for restructuring. Appointing a High Level Committee with outsiders when more than a thousand Scientists of different levels are available in the DRDO itself is a reflection on the alleged ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Defence. The unfortunate part is bureaucrats with no Defence background, with limited understanding of the Defence matters from Animal Husbandry Department, Agriculture Department etc., are posted to the Defence Ministry and over night they become Defence Experts. After the Government’s decision was published in the Media, as usual retired Army Officers have started writing Articles abusing and mudslinging on the DRDO by completely ignoring and sidelining the achievements of DRDO to create a public opinion against the DRDO which is highly condemnable.
Whether restructuring of DRDO is a sole solution for improvement of DRDO functioning. The retired Army officer has compared ISRO with DRDO without the basic understanding about the role of ISRO and DRDO. DRDO basically caters for the Armed Forces, which means it is customer centric. ISRO is not working for any customer, ISRO is focused on only a limited role, whereas DRDO is mandated to Research on many diverse products starting from Food to Missiles. ISRO and Atomic Energy are directly under the control of the Prime Minister and with lot of autonomy and powers, whereas DRDO is another Organisation under the Ministry of Defence. Ordnance Factories and DRDO are the scapegoats of the attitude and approach of the services, because the services always preferred foreign Defence Products over indigenous products for reasons unknown and to avoid DRDO and Ordnance Factories to develop new products and to show them in poor light, they go on changing their specifications every now and then, which delayed many projects and products in the Ordnance Factories and DRDO.
It is most unfortunate that the Ministry of Defence tends to rely on so many Committees and consultants for decision making, which leads ultimately to delays and inefficiencies. Rather that targeting the DRDO in the name of restructuring a comprehensive approach could involve streamlining the decision making process within the Ministry of Defence ensuring timely evaluations and reducing bureaucratic hurdles. They are known to commit only blunders without application of mind as in the case of Corporatisation of Ordnance Factories.
The the government is interested to encourage more and more private corporate in DRDO and now 25% of the Defence R&D Budget itself is now allotted to private sector for developing new product i.e. by using the Tax payers money. Here, I want to ask our highly qualified Scientists of DRDO that with more qualified man power and more infrastructure facilities why the DRDO is subjected to such type of criticisms.
Why DRDO Scientists are not able to overcome this criticism, there are many achievements of the DRDO and those achievements why it is not been brought to the public. The latest Airbone Tracking System developed by DRDO is now been used in Delhi during the present G-20 Summit. Is it not an example for the contribution of the DRDO. Government wanted to involve private sector in the complete activities of DRDO. One should understand that L-1 cannot produce H-1 Defence Equipments. The employees of DRDO are the major stake holders in the DRDO, however it is most unfortunate that nobody bothers for their suggestions and proposals which are more realistic, practical and implementable. We have seen this during Corporatisation of Ordnance Factories. The government paid Rs. 6 Crores to KPMG Consultant for splintering the Ordnance Factories in to 7 Corporations. We the Federations within 15 days that too during the Covid-19 pandemic period worked day and night and submitted two excellent reports free of cost to the government giving alternative and robust proposals for strengthening and developing the Ordnance Factories in the Govt. setup itself. The insensitive bureaucrats of the MoD have just thrown it out in their dust baskets, because of their ego that Federations proposals should not be given any importance.
Even though it is almost a fortnight now I have not seen any reaction either from the retired DRDO Scientists or from the serving Scientists about the Government’s decision, whereas retired Army Generals have started writing Articles supporting the Government’s decision and downgrading the DRDO. It has become now a days a fashion to criticism government organizations like Ordnance Factories, Railways, DRDO and Public Sector etc. those who do that don’t have national interest, but only their own selfish Agenda before them.
In conclusion what I can say is that no doubt valuable lessons can be learned from ISROs success in leveraging indigenous technologies, involving academia etc., DRDO can also adopt similar strategies without compromising its core mission. What we are afraid of is with the experience in the present government any restructuring means destruction and privatization. In the interest of National Security and Self Reliance, there is a need for strengthening the expertise and the leadership within the Ministry of Defence. Instead of spending Crores of rupees for consultants and committees for restructuring, corporatizing and privatizing etc., efforts should be directed towards strengthening the extraordinary capabilities available with the workforce of Ordnance Factories, DRDO by involving the workers and their representatives and put a system in which a team of Manufacturing and Research specialists run the activities of Defence production within the MoD with the support of the Department of Military Affairs, which is basically run by the services.
What is required is revamping of the MoD and not the DRDO or the Ordnance Factories. Bring back Ordnance Factories to its original status as a government organisation and have a structured coordination and cooperation between OFB, DRDO and the Services with the support of political bosses with a long drawn strategy, so that the country need not depend on imports for its Defence Requirements. Hope good wisdom will prevail upon the Government, otherwise it will be only ending another historical blunder, which the nation cannot afford.
Views expressed here are those of C. Srikumar, veteran trade union leader and General Secretary of AIDEF