Grasping the defence self-reliance nettle

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Context:

The measures, recently announced by the Finance Minister, to promote self-reliance in defence production, address long-standing strategic and national security concerns about the extent of India’s external dependence for its defence-preparedness.

Data:

  • India, in the last one decade, had the dubious record of being the world’s largest arms importer, accounting for about 12% of global arms imports.
  • Saudi Arabia jumped to first place in 2018 and 2019, but India still takes over 9% of global imports.
  • new Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) 2020 are under formulation
  • A Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) tasked with promoting indigenous equipment in the armed forces, provide a conducive backdrop to this initiative.

Issues:

  • This external dependence for weapons, spares and, in some cases, even ammunition creates vulnerabilities during military crises.
  • There are a range of platforms and subsystems, developed in India and qualified in trials, some of which face hurdles to their induction by our armed forces because of foreign competition.
  • These include missile systems such as Akash and Nag, the Light Combat Aircraft and the Light Combat Helicopter, artillery guns, radars, electronic warfare systems and armored vehicles.
  • COVID-19 has, once again, focused minds on the impact of supply chain disruptions on both civil and defence sectors.

To find a solution to this ageing problem, we have the new Draft Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) 2020 and a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) tasked with promoting indigenous equipment in the armed forces.

What is Draft Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2020?

  • It aims at increasing indigenous manufacturing and reducing timelines for procurement of defence equipment by removing procedural bottlenecks.

What can be done?

Indigenization

  • In a bid to enhance self-reliance in defence production, the government would notify a list of weapons systems for sourcing entirely from Indian manufacturers.
  • The list will be expanded and widened as and when the capabilities of Indian manufacturers enhance.
  • There would be a separate Budget provision for domestic capital procurement.
  • The government has promised a time-bound defence procurement process, overhauling trial and testing procedures and establishing a professional project management unit.

Indigenization of imported spare parts would also be given priority.

  • It is also imperative that when we import weapons systems, we should plan for the ammunitions and spares for them to be eventually manufactured in India so that we are not driven to seek urgent replenishments from abroad during crises.
  • The same goes for repair, maintenance and overhaul facilities and, at the next level, the upgrade of weapons platforms.

 Corporatizing the Ordnance Factory Board.

  • Ordnance factories have been the backbone of indigenous supplies to our armed forces.
  • The principal products of the OFB include tanks and armored vehicles, artillery guns, small arms and weapons of several types and ammunition.
  • It also produces troop comfort equipment like uniforms, tents and boots.
  • Their structure, work culture and product range now need to be responsive to technology and quality demands of modern armed forces. Corporatization, including public listing of some units, ensures a more efficient interface of the manufacturer with the designer and end user.

FDI impact

  • The FDI limit in defence manufacturing under automatic route will be raised from 49% to 74%.
  • It would open the door to more joint ventures of foreign and Indian companies for defence manufacturing in India.
  • It will also sustain a beehive of domestic industrial activity in the research, design and manufacture of systems and sub-systems.
  • Indian companies, which have long been sub-contractors to prominent defence manufacturers abroad, would now get the opportunity to directly contribute to Indian defence manufacturing.

 Coexistence

  • The government has rightly clarified that self-reliance would not be sudden and hasty but gradual.
  • The thrust for indigenous research and development will coexist with the import of cutting-edge military technologies to avoid near-term defence vulnerabilities.

Challenges:

  • The decision to corporatize the OFB would require managing numerous other issues, the most pressing of them being to assuage the anxiety of its workforce, including officers.
  • The Board’s overall financial management could also pose an immediate challenge which, in turn, could become tangled in legal wrangling.
  • Further, an increase in the FDI cap to 74 per cent through the automatic route meets a longstanding demand by overseas companies and investors.
  • But how attractive or financially remunerative would it be for them to invest in India’s military-industrial complex would depend on the fine print and conditions predicated to this liberalisation.
  • The decision to notify and continuously update the list of weapons/platforms whose import would be prohibited seems equally restrictive and limiting.
  • In keeping with the procurement policy since 2016, there is no way the MoD can import material that is locally available or alternately can be indigenously manufactured.
  • It is unclear what additional purpose would be served by banning the import of these items. If anything, it will make it procedurally more complex to import any such item, should its induction become operationally necessary.
  • Other reforms announced by the Finance Minister include the establishment of a Project Management Unit (PMU) to ensure timely completion of the procurement process, facilitating quicker decision-making, formulation of realistic General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) and overhauling the Trial and Testing procedures.
  • It may be recalled that the former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had once publicly declared that some of the military’s QRs appeared to be out of ‘Marvel comic books’, as the technologies and capabilities they specified were ‘absurd and unrealistic’.
  • The April 2012 Defence Parliamentary Committee had also revealed that as many as 41 of the Indian Army’s tenders were scrapped because of the restrictive QRs.

Way forward

  • The armed forces should give industry a clear picture of future requirements, so that the industries can build a long-term integrated perspective plan.
  • DPP 2020 should incorporate guidelines to promote forward-looking strategic partnerships between Indian and foreign companies, with a view to achieving indigenization over a period of time for even sophisticated platforms.
  • To give private industry a level playing field for developing defence technologies, conflicts of interest, created by the role of our Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as the government’s sole adviser, developer and evaluator of technologies have to be addressed.

Conclusion

Investment, Indian or foreign, will be viable only if the door to defence exports is opened, with a transparent policy.


Working safely: On workplaces during the pandemic

Paper: III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Context

  • India has entered the fourth phase of its lockdown, which will continue till May 31.
  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued guidelines on preventive measures that need to be followed in workplaces to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Basic preventive measures

These measures need to be followed by employees and visitors at all times.

  • Physical distancing of at least one meter to be followed at all times.
  • Use of face covers/masks to be mandatory.
  • Practice frequent hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Respiratory etiquettes to be strictly followed. This involves the strict practice of covering one’s mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing of used tissues properly.
  • Self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness at the earliest.

Preventive measures for offices

  • Employees who feel ill or are suffering from flu-like illness are advised to not attend office and seek medical advice from local health authorities.
  • Further, “Any staff requesting home quarantine based on the containment zone activities in their residential areas should be permitted to work from home.”

What happens when someone in the office tests positive?

In case one or a few persons who share a room or a closed space are found to be suffering from symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, the following measures are recommended:

  • Place the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others at the workplace. Provide a mask/face cover till such time he/she is examined by a doctor.
  • Report to concerned central/state health authorities.
  • A risk assessment will be undertaken by the designated public health authority (district RRT/treating physician) and accordingly further advice shall be made regarding the management of a case, his/her contacts and need for disinfection.
  • The suspect case if reporting very mild/mild symptoms on an assessment by the health authorities would be placed under home isolation, subject to the fulfilment of certain criteria.
  • Suspect case, if assessed by health authorities as moderate to severe, he/she will follow guidelines released by the Ministry on the appropriate management of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • The rapid response team of the concerned district shall be requisitioned and will undertake the listing of contacts.
  • The necessary actions for contact tracing and disinfection of workplace will start once the report of the patient is received as positive. The report will be expedited for this purpose.

Closure of workplace

  • If there are one or two cases reported, the disinfection procedure will be limited to places/areas visited by the patient in the past 48 hrs.
  • There is no need to close the entire office building/halt work in other areas of the office and work can be resumed after disinfection as per laid down protocol.
  • However, if there is a larger outbreak, the entire building will have to be closed for 48 hours after thorough disinfection. All the staff will work from home, till the building is adequately disinfected and is declared fit for re-occupation.

Working from home as a viable alternative

The National Directives for COVID-19 Management said the practice of work from home should be followed to the extent possible and staggered work hours should be adopted in respect of all offices and other establishments.

  1. Institutional Challenges
  • Most organizations do not have well documented policies and guidelines to support extended work from home arrangements at scale.
  • An employer has to compute the wage of an employee based on the days and hours of work and maintain statutory registers as evidence.
  • Overtime work hours have different slabs and statutory payment requirements. In a remote work arrangement, organizations will need to manage these records such that they are admissible by the Labour Department.  
  1. Measuring Productivity
  • Employees working for the company might not have adequate power back up and reliable high-speed internet.
  • Most of them confuse work from home with a facility to lounge around.
  • There are not enough tools available to measure their availability and engagement from the remote work location.

Conclusion

There may still be occasion to resort to intermittent lockdowns if opening up leads to mounting cases.A prudent course would be to navigate the present with a minimalist approach, as the quest for a medical breakthrough makes progress.