Case for openness

Case for openness

Inordinate delays have been a bane of the country’s defence acquisitions. Many a time these delays have been attributed to lack of transparency in the decision-making process.

 This often raises doubts about commissions and kickbacks in defence deals, making it all the more difficult to take timely decisions. Time and cost overruns have also been a fact of the country’s indigenous production of defence equipment and systems. The new NDA government under Narendra Modi has stated its resolve to expeditiously clear many pending defence procurement decisions.

Some important decisions by the defence ministry’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Arun Jaitley, at its meeting last Saturday, have put key procurement on a fast-track. The decisions taken involve capital expenditure of up to Rs 21,000 crore.

 The most important of the decisions is to give a go-ahead for acquisition of replacement aircraft for the now obsolete Avro transport aircraft of the IAF and in the process also to set up a private aerospace industry in the country, besides the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. This is a multi-billion dollar acquisition project and A K Antony, Jaitley’s predecessor in the erstwhile UPA government had initiated but failed to put the final seal on. However, the Antony-led DAC’s decision to exclude the HAL and favour the entry of private players in indigenous aerospace was questioned by the industries ministry. As a result, the issue was referred to the law ministry, which has since cleared the Antony-led DAC’s decision.

Jaitley-led DAC’s move to go ahead with the previous government’s decision takes forward the tender process, also initiated by the previous dispensation. The tender deadline has now been extended till August 28. Eleven foreign companies in aerospace sector have already evinced interest in a tender proposal in which the successful bidder will have to choose an Indian partner to set up production facilities in the country. The Tatas, the Reliance and Mahindra companies have positioned themselves to enter the new private sector venture by looking for a foreign partner.

 But given the myriad controversies of the last few years in defence procurements, the entry of private sector in the field of defence production will certainly not guarantee timely delivery of equipment for armed forces or transparency. Both the government and the nascent private sector bear the responsibility to begin a new course with utmost transparency.        

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