R SUNDARAM The Hindu Business Line
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is in the news. First, the good news. It successfully test-fired nuclear-capable Agni III long range missile with a strike range of 3,000 km from the Wheeler Islands off the coast of Odisha, recently. This is a major achievement both for the DRDO and the country’s defence capability.
Now, for the bad news. DRDO’s financial and administrative powers have been whittled down or taken away. This is a blow for science and technology efforts in India.
Only two years ago, in 2010 to be precise, the delegation of powers to the DRDO was considerably liberalised. It seemed as though the government was, for once, serious about freeing scientific establishment from the proverbial red tape.
It allowed DRDO the discretion to spend up to Rs 50 crore with the concurrence of its financial advisor. It appears that a recent action of the DRDO, of approving a design and development project of Rs 49.82 crore for optical sensors to be used in unmanned aerial vehicles and airborne platforms without involving the Ministry, irked the authorities. So, the MOD has “clipped the wings” of the DRDO by re-imposing old controls.
This is a retrograde step engineered by the combined heavy hands of the entrenched babus in administration and accounts, blessed by an unenlightened and short-sighted political leadership. This flies in the face of various pronouncements of the Prime Minister during his various addresses to the scientific community.
In February 2012, Manmohan Singh in an interview to the Science magazine stated that “we need to do much more to change the face of science in India”.
I do not know if this is the change he wanted — imposing more rigorous accounting controls and stifling administrative procedures, so that DRDO becomes yet another run-of-the-mill government organisation.
Recently, the Prime Minister wanted Indian scientists “to seek newer frontiers of research, match capabilities of peers around the world and help India leapfrog”, even as one of his Cabinet ministers was busy belittling the scientific community under his watch.
From whatever can be gleaned from news reports, it appears that the recent decisions are based on a special audit conducted by the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) as ordered by the Minister. It is not clear as to how the CGDA can be considered competent to evaluate R&D activities. There are any number of forums to evaluate programmes and priorities, including peer group assessments, the Standing Committees and Consultative Committees of Parliament on defence.
Only a few years ago, we had the Rama Rao committee going into aspects of revamping defence research and development. So far, no one knows what the recommendations are, and how far these have been implemented.
Time and again, the government, particularly the MOD, tends to shoot itself in the foot by demoralising and insulting both military and civilian organisations under its fold.
(The author is former Member, Ordnance Factories)
(This article was published on October 1, 2012)