A news item published in The Tribune says that as a part of restructuring process the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has in an unprecedented step, shut down three of its Laboratories and merged its mandate and staff with other Establishments. It further says that this decision is being taken for minimizing functional overlap between Laboratories having a similar charter and also for rationalizing expenditure. More DRDO labs are also expected to be shutdown or merged in the near future. This merger and relocation of the employees has created lot of functional problems and the employees are subjected to undue hardship.
The DRDO which has completed more than 58 years was established basically for the purpose of designing and development of indigenous defence equipments and in due course of time to reduce the defence imports. When compared to many developed and developing countries, the budget allotment for Defence Research & Development work is very meager. The 52 DRDO labs located different parts of the country are involved in designing and development of various technology and products. There is always a criticism about the delay in the various projects being undertaking by the DRDO. The Trade Unions of the DRDO Employees have given various suggestions for improvement and strengthening of the DRDO. Unfortunately since the suggestions are given by the Trade Unions, no importance is given. When a High Level Committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Prof. Rama Rao, the representatives of All India Defence Employees Federation appeared before the committee and made a viable presentation for improvement of the performance of the DRDO with the aim of achieving the ultimate goal of self reliance in Defence. Prof.Rama Rao himself appreciated the role played by the Federation in making an affective presentation.
During Aug. 2020, another Committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of V.Ramagopal Rao Director of IIT, Delhi along with other four Members. The Terms of Reference given to the Committee is to review the existing structure of the DRDO and the charter of duties of its Laboratories and also to redefine the mandate of different laboratories. The DRDO Hqrs., while constituting this committee has not taken the stake holders mainly the employees and their Trade Unions in to confidence. On 27/08/2020 the AIDEF has written to Dr.G.Sateesh Reddy, Secretary/DDR&D that any arbitrary decision of restructuring of DRDO labs will not be accepted by the employees. The past experience in Govt. restructuring means reduction in permanent man power and outsource all the activities. The DRDO employee strength has come down from 26000 to 11000 within a period of 20 years. The technicians are the backbone of the DRDO. Their strength has gone done to more than 75% and the other supporting categories strength has been reduced by more than 80%. The Workshop and the scientific divisions are not been modernized. The intake of manpower has become negligible. If the situation continues it is apprehended that by 2023 – 24 the employees strength will be reduced by 90%. In this situation only DRDO has taken the decision to merge various Labs and to displace the employees.
What is required today is a fully strengthened defence R&D base by focusing on the futuristic requirements of the Armed Forces including Troop Comfort items, different types of modern weapons, electronic equipments, warships, submarines, fighter aircrafts etc. As recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on several occasions a proper planning and fixation of time limit for completion of a project is very much essential. The DRDO should involve the Ordnance Factory Board, Defence PSUs in developing new products, since they will have expertise about any short comings in the existing equipments. DRDO, OFB, DPSUs and Armed Forces cannot think and work in isolation. There should be a well planned coordinated activities amongst this 4 agencies. The technology developed by DRDO should be handed over to Ordnance Factories and to DPSUs instead of handing over the same to private corporate who are only interested to earn profit and not to serve the Nation. Therefore any restructuring should be towards developing and strengthening the DRDO labs by expanding the Research activities, recruiting trained and qualified workforce for designing, developing and manufacturing. The Federations have already demanded that any arbitrary recommendation by the committee without taking the Federations in to confidence will be opposed. DRDO is National asset and it needs to be strengthened and expanded. The AIDEF will support any steps taken by the Govt. in this direction. However any steps to destroy the DRDO, to privatise Defence R&D activities and to reduce the manpower etc., will be seriously opposed.
Views expressed here are those of C.Srikumar General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) and National Executive Committee Member of AITUC