At a time when several corruption scandals are coming to the surface and anti-corruption movements are thick in action, the least one would hope is to wake up to fact that the very institution which safeguards our borders and keep its people safe has not been spared from the clutches of corruption. Last month, Army Chief General VK Singh alleged that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore for clearing a contract for trucks. Despite informing the Defence Minister AK Antony about it almost a year back, no action had been initiated until the General went public with his claim.
In a letter to the Prime Minster, about the poor state of country’s defence preparedness, the General stated that the country's tank fleet was "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks" and warned that air defence was "97 percent obsolete". He also outlined, "woefully" ill-equipped Special Forces and "large scale voids" in surveillance in regions where we face two "inimical neighbors" and potent terror threat. Though shocking, most of these issues are almost an open secret. Time and again, every retiring military Chief, national security advisers and other senior commanders have continued to alert the Government of our defence preparedness or rather the lack of it.
The need of the hour is modernization of our Armed Forces. Between 2006 and 2010, India surpassed China as the world’s largest importer of weapons systems, reflecting the nation’s intent to modernize its armed forces and project military capabilities beyond the subcontinent. By 2015, the government plans to spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programs.
While the intent seems to be right, are we really modernizing or making way for corruption? We need honest officers and bureaucrats to cleanse the system. But is being honest alone enough? We have a Prime Minister, Defence Minister and a General who is honest, yet there seems to be no way out. We cannot use the veneer of incorruptibility to hide our inability to take decisions. What we need today, in almost every field, is a rather competent administrator; one who can lay the groundwork for a renaissance in defence investment and procurement by creating trust and confidence to wisely use the resources allocated by Government.
There are steps that Government could take to make defence procurement more effective, including legislative reforms that allow the Defence Ministry to adopt best practices, procurement reforms that allow the armed services to undertake efficiencies instead of just layering on bureaucracy, and utilize allocated defence budget on time. One solution could be to set up an autonomous Armed Forces Commission, on the lines of CAG or Election Commission, i.e. insulated from political and bureaucratic interferences.