'The cost of the Rafale contract will be substantially lower than being talked about.'
'If you throw away the price they demand, our coffers will soon become empty.'
'When it comes to spending the nation's money I am very careful and stingy.'
Last week, just before he left for a four-day, two-nation tour of the Gulf countries, India's Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar found time to sit down with Rediff.com columnist and BharatShakti.in founder Nitin A Gokhale to review the performance of the defence ministry over the past two years and particular during his own 18-month stint (he took over in November 2014).
You've been the defence minister for 18 months now and, of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power for two years. When you look back, what are your major achievements in the defence ministry?
I think the ministry has started functioning and the defence forces feel confident that the government will stand by them, the requirement for modernisation is slowly but surely getting into the flow, into the pipeline and transparency has returned.
In two years, there hasn't been a single case of corruption in the defence ministry and that in itself is a big achievement.
I get the sense from industry, especially Indian industry, that the fear factor that was there in the previous government where anything to do with defence was secret and opaque is slowly changing and you are making big efforts on that front?
It will take some more time to make them more transparent and more open because somehow the psychology... in fact this psychology was created to make money.
Keep everything under wraps so that more people can't come in. Not allowing more people to participate somehow. I've seen cases where those who were most eligible have been eliminated.
Even now I don't claim that the 100 per cent are being allowed, but quite a substantial change has taken place.
Rules are being cited on many occasions to ensure that the competition gets reduced or a single vendor situation arises. There are attempts by some to do that, various lobbies and groups have been actively seeking this as means to achieve their goals.
One example of this is Agusta deal...
AgustaWestland is a typical case where probably someone decided that we've to work with this particular company and on a particular price we've to buy products from them. So, proceed.
This is the direction, do anything and everything so that only they get the order and they get it at double the price.
The new defence procurement procedure that you brought in and has been implemented from April 1 has a lot of new features. For example, timelines being reduced etc (for procurement), what are the advantages of that?
See, first let me be very clear, some people don't understand, the new defence procurement procedure does not impact earlier procurements.
Therefore, there are 285 AONs (Acceptance of Necessity -- for buying a particular equipment) still pending, down from something like 397 when I came.
Despite us clearing a lot of AONs, still 285 are left and by the end of this financial year I intend to reduce it down to less than 200.
Now, all those AONs will proceed with the earlier DPP, unless, the forces see some of them to be put with the new ones, then, they will have to come back again to the defence acquisition council.
You know now that what all is included in that; you know that the IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured) category has a top priority. So, that encourages the Indian industry in designing their own products.
You are going to encourage the Indian MSMEs and Indian defence manufacturers much more?
In Make in India also there is a reservation below Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million)and Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million) in two varieties.
There are many more factors; timeline is one, inclusion of MSMEs, preamble is very important, it is very clearly said in the end of DPP that in case of any confusion or difficulty, the preamble becomes the guideline.
That means if something is going wrong (in the procurement process) then you refer back to preamble and just like the Supreme Court derives power and guidelines from the Constitution's preamble, you derive power from the preamble and do the right thing.
That is one of the aspects which has been ensured.
There are many more, like category A QRs and category B QRs. That means you may not have a product which is required by you, market may not have that product, how do you test it? You can't.
So, you test it for the available QRs, predetermined, not done after the request for proposal is issued and you say that I want these two things more.
For example, a tank is available with specification of running at 60 kmph and a climbing ability at 15 degrees slope, but you want something which has the ability to climb at 20 degrees slope and run at 80 kmph, but you don't have it in the market, how do you test it?
It is possible if the engineering is improved, both things are possible. So, you say you pass this test of 15 degrees and 60 kmph and when you are supplying, you supply me the one with 20 degrees and 80 kmph.
Enhanced parameters, yes. Then, parameters which are more than what you require, they are essential parameters but done subsequently. After passing and after getting the order. Because you don't spend money and improve parameters just for trials, some order indent has to be there.
So, after placing order, the manufacturer develops it and gets it in. Enhanced parameter is actually another concept, you get a financial advantage under enhanced parameters, so that, item which has some additionalities, which are required, but not essential, which are welcome but not essential.
Like in a gun, if its four kilos which is essential, and if someone is giving it to me in 3.5 kilos it is definitely better for the soldier to carry half a kilo less, so, I am ready to pay him a Rs 1,000 more per unit.
That is the concept of enhanced parameters.
The other thing that you have changed is the constant discussions that go on. You are meeting with the industry and its representatives very often?
I am meeting without hesitation. I am very clear about it, just because I listen to you doesn't mean that I am going to give you orders or I agree with you, but I am going to listen to industries' various ideas.
From there sometimes something new comes up. I also learn a lot.
The other big achievement that you haven't spoken about is One Rank One Pension.
Yes, of course. After 43 years what Narendra Modiji had promised, we have kept that promise and we have paid some Rs 7,500 crore (Rs 75 billion) almost a year, a year Rs 11,000, in fact, I was checking the other day, more than 18 lakh (1.8 million) pensioners have been benefitted by some Rs 3,400 crore (Rs 34 billion) in the first tranche itself and there are four tranches that will come.
If we look in the future, one of the things that you have spoken about is increasing the combat effectiveness of the Indian military.
No doubt about it. Flab needs to be reduced.
I think we need to touch areas which the British left us, a legacy which is not required today, the army has to be lean but fit.
So, the combat soldier... the number will not be touched, maybe even increased slightly, but the ratio today to the all armed forces personnel versus combat (personnel) is almost half, may not be even 50 per cent.
I want to make that ratio into 70:30, 70 per cent combat and 30 per cent others.
Why do you require so many people when you can get readymade things. For example, I haven't gone to a tailor for the last 25 years, I buy readymade shirts. So, if I were a tailor, I would say that I do not need a tailor anymore. So, don't spend money on tailors.
Barbers for example, except on the border, you can have the commercial ones doing the job for you. I recently read a book in which they are describing in 1875, a battalion of the army moving and it describes who are there in that battalion.
I was surprised to know that the actual fighting soldiers there were only 150, now the figure has been increased to 400 to 500. It needs to be increased more. To 600 or more.
Is that why you are doing some resizing of the military...
We have appointed a very senior battle veteran, Lieutenant General (D B) Shekatkar.
He is the chairman of the committee in which with the exception of one or two, all are people from the armed forces.
We have asked them to go through all the things and come out with the areas of flab, so that in a systematic manner we can treat the issue.
That will be done in how many months, I mean is there any deadline to this?
We expect for the report to be prepared by July-end or mid-August, I have asked him to give an interim report, so that I can start quickly after 30 to 45 days on certain areas of flab.
Final report will come by August, so, by December we will have full action plan working.
You also spoke about a policy for promotions. It needs to change and that there is a need to take a lot of qualitative requirements into consideration?
See what happens, any organisation if it is not churned around and if it is not used for the purpose it is normally required to be used, slowly becomes lethargic, nepotism sets in, it's in human nature and because we didn't have any major war, obviously there is some lethargy and wrong things that might have crept in, in various procedures of the forces.
For example, someone might feel that this person is from my regiment or from the same village or speaks the same language or is from my caste etc. So, this kind of feeling is easy to occur -- and I am not pointing any fingers here.
I must make it clear that the feeling of nationalism and the spirit of patriotism is 10 times more in the armed forces.
People who join the army, 90 per cent of them and at the officer level almost 100 per cent of them have that feeling of nationalism.
Actually, that has what kept the Indian Army still fit, in spite of some black sheep.
If in our politics one expects 90 per cent black sheep, then here also some 5 to 10 per cent exists. Society's ills are also reflected here.
But many people from the army itself have pointed out some wrongs that have crept in and asked help to rectify them. But I will only correct them after examining everything through the eyes of soldiers only.
I am not going to take a decision on my own unless a soldier, a reputed soldier, double checks and endorses my decision.
So, if someone feels that the Raksha Mantri is going to introduce some private person in the selection process, then they are absolutely wrong.
But there is also no harm in some private person checking if the procedure has been followed and the procedure also doesn't give opportunity for nepotism.
Is this why you have also supported the armed forces claim on the 7th Pay Commission, which they seem to have some grievances with?
Yes, we have said that certain grievances of theirs (the armed forces) are absolutely right and particularly in the matter of pay matrix, we have suggested some positive measures.
Allowances also we strongly support, military service pay also has to be slightly improved for jawans.
You have spoken about your aim to go into more exports in Indian weapons platforms and others, so, in that respect, how are you going to enhance it, and also, what are you going to do with the DPSUs?
We have already told them (DPSUs) that 10 per cent of their products can be exported, they need not supply 100 per cent to the armed forces.
In fact, I intend to increase that by increasing their production. The armed forces will not be hampered, that is sure.
For example, the Akaash (missile). Its earlier capacity of production was 200, today we have increased it to 500. In two years it will be 800.
So, we have have enough capacity creation, you see the output in production from ordnance factories. It was merely Rs 43,000 crore (Rs 430 billion) when I came in and now it has crossed Rs 51,000 crore (Rs 510 billion).
It is a substantial improvement with reduction in manpower, per head production improvement is up by almost 33% to 35% in two years. So, there is a 10% reduction in manpower.
Basically, what I am trying to say is to make them more efficient and ask them to export on their own, but at the same time we will have to develop and promote our products and tell the outside world, wherever we can sell it of course, that we are a trusted supplier.
Quality, of course, has to be good and also the continuity of supplies.
Has Hindustan Aeronautics Limited been promoted on similar lines?
Of course, I have already written to a few countries that the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) is an excellent aircraft and that we are ready to export it to them.
So that is why there is hope for the LCA... Coming to the Rafale deal when do you expect to close it?
I cannot tell you the date. It will be completed soon. Some more weeks are needed to complete the contract.
Are you under pressure to conclude it quickly?
I am under no pressure. Why should I be? When it comes to spending the nation's money I am very careful and stingy.
What about the cost?
All that I can tell you is that the cost of the Rafale contract will be substantially lower than being talked about. We have to bring down the cost.
If you throw away the price they demand, our coffers will soon become empty.