Challenges & Priorities For Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

National Defence Bureau,
New Delhi, 08 September 2017

Nirmala Sitharaman, who has just taken over as India’s first full time woman defence minister (Raksha Mantrai @DefenceMinIndia), is to face some tough challenges. She may need to set priorities in order to achieve the goal of defence preparedness of the country. National Defence, as an independent media, highlights major areas of concern, which needs her attention in short and long term. National Defence Advisor and a leading voice on defence and strategic issues, Brigadier (R) V. Mahalingam (1971 War Hero) spells out a broader template which she may consider during her tenure. Here is an excerpt of a discussion with Brigadier Mahalingam:

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Nirmala Sitharaman’s first priority should be to prepare Indian Armed Forces for War; for which reforms and restructuring is required. She needs to empower tri-services i.e. Army, Navy and Indian Air Force, the logistic system and HRD policies. This entire thing will take time from 20 to 25 years. She should start off with the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

Brig. (R) V. Mahalingam makes an appeal to Nirmala Sitharama that don’t make the military veterans, the war veterans, the disabled and the war widows to run around the courts. He points out the broad banding of disabled approved in 2016, but the Government did not implement. Subsequently, courts gave the ruling and officers, people who got retired before 2016 have been getting these benefits, but only after going to the courts individually in every case. Why are we making people to go to courts to get this done?, asks Brigadier Mahalingam. Today, the Government’s order for disabled has come out and soldiers who retired after 2016 are getting it. This requires very careful and sympathetic consideration and should not be left to the ways of bureaucracy.

The third issue is that of reforming and changing DPP number of times; but still the lacunae and delays have been persistent. Is it necessary for the bureaucracy to be part of the process of procurement? It may be a better idea to create a professional body of people who could do everything related to procurement including the price negotiation. Thereafter the ministry including the bureaucrat get into the details and thereafter approach the payment part of it. This will eliminate the role of bureaucracy in corruption, if any.

In the present budgetary system, budget elapses at the end of the financial year and if payments are not done during that period, then you can’t make payment next year as the money expires and you again looking for funds. To get over this, it could be good idea if money can be rolled out for next year.

Make In India announced by PM Modi was with a good intent and much needed. But there has not been much of a progress. People are not aware if something is in pipeline. Nevertheless, she is coming from Commerce Ministry dealing with all these elements.  She must be having tremendous amount of ideas and she is also a post graduate related to commerce. “I think it will be a good idea for her to take a re-look at this and rehash if it need be so that we get it on priority”. “We can’t wait endlessly otherwise technology over taken by the time delays”.

However, two years time is not good enough, Brigadier realises. That is why Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)’s appointment is important and he is mandated to progress this over a period of time and his successor, that is the system we follow is armed forces, will be able to systematically make sure that the reforms are progressed. As far as the other areas are concerned, she should be able to start off the process and leave certain ground so that it can be progressed.


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