Manohar Parrikar took over as the defence minister from Arun Jaitley in November 2014 and so 2015 has been the first full calendar year he has been in-charge. With his IIT education and record as the chief minister of Goa, Parrikar came to South Block with a heavy burden of expectations.
This year, the defence ministry was mostly in news for something which doesn’t directly concern the serving military personnel: the demand of One Rank One Pension (OROP) made by ex-servicemen. It’s been quite a drama: prolonged protests followed by a decision on OROP announced by the government, its rejection by the ex-servicemen and a renegotiation between the two sides — and finally, a government order while protests continue. With the recommendations of Seventh Pay Commission likely to be implemented in 2016, the OROP issue is likely to meld into the Pay Commission announcement.
However, the armed forces are dissatisfied with the recommendations of the Pay Commission and have conveyed their concerns to the defence minister. Parrikar will have to find a way to soothe frayed tempers sooner rather than later lest it snowballs into another OROP-like intractable issue.
To Parrikar’s credit, he has been able to finally announce the construction of a National War Memorial in Delhi. It was one of the election promises made by the BJP and one of the four announcements made in the President’s first inaugural address to Parliament in June 2014.
Last month, Parrikar also received the report of the committee of experts constituted to review service and pension matters including potential disputes, minimising litigation and strengthening institutional mechanisms related to redressal of grievances. Implementing its forward-looking recommendations will require a concerted political push from the defence minister to overcome the institutional inertia.
Parrikar has publicly committed himself to the creation of the post of a Chief of Defence Staff or a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee. This is a recommendation of the Group of Ministers pending from the era of the earlier NDA government. In his address to the Combined Commanders Conference earlier this month, the Prime Minister spoke of the need for an integrated command. That is an ambitious call and if the post of CDS or Chairman COSC is linked to the creation of integrated commands, Parrikar will find it difficult to keep his commitment in the coming year.
An unfortunate metric by which all defence ministers are now judged in India is of defence procurement. Parrikar announced a couple of
deadlines for the release of the revised Defence Procurement Procedure but they have not been met. This has led to a lack of clarity on the Make in India programme in the defence sector. While a large number of announcements have been made on the acceptance of its necessity every month by the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by the defence minister, they have not resulted in the issue of request for proposals. Even for the contracts where price negotiations have been concluded, the deals have not been inked in. In fact, the only major deal inked during the year was for Chinook and Apache helicopters signed during Prime Minister’s September trip to the US.
The delay in signing of deals has raised questions about the availability of resources for defence procurement. The acquisitions for the new China Strike Corps have also slowed down. The Revised Estimates for the funds available with the defence ministry – under capital expenditure for new procurement – which will be finalised by the finance ministry this week, will provide a better idea of the money available. If enough money is available with the defence ministry, we might see an upsurge in deals being signed in the first three months of 2016. The first among them could be the deal for 36 Rafale fighters which is supposed to be signed on the eve of French President’s Republic Day visit to India.
The defence minister has been energetic in his foreign visits, where he has displayed his commitment to the agenda of Make in India and defence diplomacy. Japan is now a permanent participant in Exercise Malabar and the Indian military is now conducting joint exercises with more than 20 countries. Parrikar became the first Indian defence minister to be invited to Hawaii-based US Pacific Command headquarters and witness aviation exercises aboard a US aircraft carrier. He also had fruitful visits to South Korea and Russia this year.
For Parrikar, who is fully settled in the job now, 2016 will be a good year to start delivering.
SOURCE - indianexpress