Self-reliance is a strategic necessity but to achieve it a revolution is needed in bureaucratic affairs, Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane has said while pointing out that defence modernisation is often held hostage to the processes and procedures involved.
Gen Naravane said red-tapism has made the defence acquisition process a "vicious cycle".
"We need a revolution in bureaucratic affairs to realise the vision of self-reliance," he said while speaking on the occasion of 25 years of Army-industry partnership at a virtual conference.
Talking about the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020, he said it has been aligned to empower domestic industry. He appreciated the government's initiative to increase the FDI in defence production to 74 per cent from the existing 49 per cent. But he made a point that more needs to be done.
The obstacles of process and procedures
"While all these initiatives are quite appreciable, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done," said Gen Naravane. He also quoted late Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar as saying that the "entire procurement process is based on distrust".
"There are certain inherent procedural lacunae that have crept into the acquisition process which primarily arises due to the overbearing nature of our rules, regulations and guidelines in trying to ensure zero error," said Gen Naravane adding, "This is also aggravated by our own interpretation of rules."
He said DAP 2016 which is about 450 pages and DAP 2020 has about 681 pages but it has not been able to fast track the process of acquisition. "It is because we try to cater for every contingency and plug every loophole. This results in every acquisition process being tied up in knots," he said.
In the end what happens is that the processes and procedures rather than product become paramount and these impede defence modernisation, Gen Naravane said.
He further pointed out that a qualitative requirement, for example, is formatted in a very stringent manner.
"We want the best of what is available across the world without realising overarching technological limitations that come with every feature that is expected in an equipment," Gen Naravane said.
He explained that to compound the issue, vendors also tend to overpromise and it ultimately becomes undeliverable.
The vicious cycle
Gen Naravane said the labourious, time consuming and often rigid acquisition process also in itself creates delays in the acquisition cycle.
"During the cycle better version of the equipment is available than is in the original contract. But there is still no scope for negotiation to incorporate these new features and to make any mid-course correction," he said.
He also pointed out that any contemplated change takes this already delayed cycle back to the starting point and then it has to start once again. "It becomes a vicious cycle," he said.
He also talked about fast tracking the removal of such hurdles.
"Since we have made rules, we should have latitude to override them. There is no excuse or there is no provision. We made the rules. We should have the override facility. Rules have to be user friendly. Both for the customers, end users, for the armed forces as well as the manufacturers," he said.
The process should be only to help these two ends and waiver clauses must be there to cater to operational conditions and logic and to accommodate different specifications that were originally promulgated.
The aim should be to end up with the product faster rather than go through all the processes, stages, as a mandatory kind of requirement. He said that bureaucratic revolution is needed.
(With inputs from agency)