DRDO opposes it but House panel underlines: you need outside audit
Amitav Ranjan , Shiv Aroor
Posted: Thu Dec 28 2006, 00:00 hrs
NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 27:
The Defence Ministry strongly resisted it. The Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister discarded it as unnecessary. But the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has now categorically rejected both views and recommended that the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) be brought under the audit scrutiny of an “independent and external” panel of experts to make sure that expensive and delayed defence projects don’t remain indefinitely adrift.
The report is scheduled to be tabled in the Budget session of Parliament.
In the report, compiled after detailed testimonies from the military top brass and independent experts over several months, the Standing Committee, chaired by Balasahib Vikhe Patil, has observed, “There is no scientific audit of DRDO projects as such. However, the DRDO has mechanism of feasibility study, design and technology evaluation, project peer review. The Committee observe that inspite of that, a large number of projects are showing inordinate delay and escalation of huge cost. The Committee therefore recommends that in addition to existing audit system, DRDO’s projects must also be audited by external and independent audit group of experts duly approved by the Government of India.”
It goes on to add, “The Committee is of the view that this will facilitate the government to check on the growing cost and time overrun of the DRDO projects and also to ascertain the accountability for the delay in execution of projects.”
In just 12 of the DRDO’s most critical projects — involving systems that the armed forces need more than any other, like missiles, fighters and theatre artillery — the organisation has exceeded sanctioned estimates by Rs 6, 013.43 crore in just the last 10 years, a figure greater than its current annual budget.
This recommendation comes after the Committee conducted a thorough review recently of the country’s most crucial defence programmes, including the integrated guided missile development programme (IGMDP), the Light Combat Aircraft, the Arjun main battle tank, the Kaveri jet engine and concurrent engineering.
On November 16, as part of an investigative series on the DRDO’s delay and mismanagement, The Indian Express had reported on how the Defence Ministry had failed to act on a crucial point raised by the Vijay Kelkar committee, recommending that DRDO’s functioning as a research body needed to be under the purview of a panel of independent experts.
In fact, on the day before the report was published, Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) VN Kaul said at a defence economics seminar, “Defence R&D is an area where accountability often takes shelter under the policy of self reliance, and indigenization becomes a reason for delay… accountability of domestic R&D organizations needs to be re-emphasized to enable better assessment of return from investment. Sensitizing of the defence services to the role of public audit is essential.”
This is precisely what the Committee has now called for, virtually thrusting aside DRDO’s own contention that “accountability cannot be fixed for loss of time in projects”.
The Committee has observed, “Keeping in view the disappointing performance of DRDO, the Committee strongly recommends to the government the complete review of the functioning and structure of DRDO… by appointing an independent committee of experts/professionals, on the lines of AEC and ISRO” and said that DRDO “cannot absolve itself” from the responsibility for inordinate delay.
“The delays cause suspicion on the capability of DRDO in the eyes of the users and other nations of the world,” it says in its report.
Following The Indian Express series, Kelkar was called in by the Standing Committee last week to expand on the observation he had made 21 months ago as part of his overall recommendations on reforming defence procurement. For the Committee, this was absolutely against what DRDO itself had said in testimony on January 2: “DRDO has enough audit and reviews of the projects at various stages. It is not considered necessary to introduce additional audit and reviews.”