For the evolution of healthy democratic practices, it is essential that the opposition keeps the government on its toes through unrelenting questioning of the policies and performance. However, such criticism should be objective and based on truth. False accusations invariably backfire and show the critics as unscruplous and untrustworthy entities. They lose credibility and the public starts considering them to be ‘moles and plants’ of adversarial interests. Such a development does immense damage to the body politic and psyche of the nation. Two recent incidents are recalled here.
Addl Secy-I deals with revenue expenditure and routine administrative matters of the three services. He has nothing whatsoever to do with capital procurements, not even remotely. Dy Secy (Air II) comes under JS (Air). His channel of reporting is through JS (Air) and Addl Secy-I. Indian bureaucracu is notorious for guarding its turf aggressively and brooks no interference from intruders. Why was Dy Secy (Air II) allowed to meddle in capital procurements?The Acquisition Wing under DG Acq is the executive arm of the Defence Acquisition Council and is responsible for the acquisition of new weaponry and defence systems. Contract Negotiating Committee (CNC) is constituted under the aegis of DG Acq. As per Appendix B of DPP-2013, the standard composition of CNC consists of Acquisition Manager, Technical Manager, Finance Manager, Advisor (Cost), Quality Control Officer, User Representative, Repair Agency Representative and Representative of Contract Management Branch at the Service Headquarters. Most members are of Jt Secy level. There is no representative of Addl Secy-I. Normally, Acquisition Manager heads CNC. However, DG Acqn may nominate a service officer to head CNC with the approval of the Defence Minister. In the case of the Rafale deal, Air Marshal SPB Sinha, an officer with outstanding credentials and impeccable probity record was hand picked to head CNC. The country could not have selected a more suitable officer. The question arises as to what prompted Dy Secy (Air II), a much too junior an officer, to meddle in the matters that did not concern him at all? Was it done at someone’s behest? Was it a part of a well-orchestrated campaign to derail the Rafale deal? Further, why did Dy Secy (Air II) not follow the laid-down chain of correspondence? Why did he bypass his own Jt Secy and Addl Secy-I to address the note directly to the Jt Secy of the Acqn Wing with whom he had no dealings whatsoever? More importantly, why did the Acq Manager, DG Acquisition and Def Secy not question Dy Secy (Air II) for his locus standi in the matter? Was this issue beyond the competence of these bureaucrats or were they a party to the malicious plot or did they lack courage to tick him off for interfering in matters that did not concern him. Instead they took serious cognizance of the note. Surprisingly, quite unlike the functioning of the lethargic Indian bureaucracy, the note moved with abnormal speed. Jt Secy of the Acqn Wing and DG Acqn saw the note on the day it was initiated, i.e 24 November 2015. What was the hurry? Was any higher-up overseeing and expediting the move of the file? Perhaps the most strange aspect of the whole affair is the fact that a junior officer in MoD could have the audicity to fault the functioning of PMO’s office and accusing it of weakening the negotiating position of MoD. India bureaucracy is notorious for its spinelessness and sychophancy. No junior officer will ever dare to use such harsh language for PMO’s office. Something is certainly amiss. Finally It is apparent even to the laypersons that a deliberate and concerted campaign is being carried out to tarnish the image of the government and to prevent it from placing repeat orders on Dassault. The schemers pretend to smell a rat where none exist. In fact, they are attempting to plant a rat to discredit the Rafale deal. It becomes worse when a reputed media house is seen as an unprincipled, unethical and villainous rogue, masquerading as a champion of probity in public affairs. It must be conceded that in a major procurement of this nature, all officials involved tend to offer their considered opinion and advice to make the deal rock solid. It is their duty and they are fully justified to suggest various safeguards. The final decision making powers lie in the hands of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). It is for CCS and other empowered entities to weigh all suggestions and take the final call. India bureaucracy is like a quagmire. Every bureaucrat has mastered the art of playing safe by putting up incongruous and infructuous notings on files that can stall the process for ever. If the decision makers get cowed down, no proposal will ever fructify. As the Rafale deal shows, only strong leadership can overcome these impediments. To criticise and fault the government is fully justified provided the facts support allegations. It is grossly unfair to invent wild allegations, in the hope that some accusations may stick. There has been no trail or even a hint of any sleaze money in the Rafale deal so far. There were no middlemen or agents. In fact, it should be considered a master stroke by the Indian government to make up critical deficiencies of the Air Force in an expeditious, diligent and far-sighted manner.
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