A “shake up” is being given to the defence ministry to speed up various acquisition projects, ensure transparency and clear backlogs for key programmes, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday.
In an address at a industry chamber, she also said the government is seriously examining functioning of around 39 ordnance factories and possible ways to boost their productivity including through joining of hands by the private sector.
She said the efforts are on to ensure that the defence acquisition council (DAC) clears all the backlog relating to various procurements by December 31, emphasising that speeding up of decision making process has been one of her focus areas.
The DAC is defence ministry’s highest decision making body on procurement.
“There is a sense of making sure that every aspect of this large ministry is given a shake up,” Sitharaman said, adding the aim is to make a difference so that the ministry, which was sort of a cocooned, do things in a faster and transparent way.
On various acquisition projects, she said, “I may be confident enough to say that by December 31, at least DAC would be on the top of it in the sense that no more waiting list would be with me.” She was addressing a FICCI event.
Sitharaman, who assumed charge of the ministry in September, also said ensuring transparency is a major priority area for her.
“The biggest compliance issue which we are definitely 100 per cent following is to have greater transparency, put everything in the public domain and make sure that every decision stands up to the principle of accountability,” she said.
Her comments came in the backdrop of the Congress accusing the government of flouting laid down norms in sealing a deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
The party had recently raised several questions about the deal including the rates, and accused the government of compromising national interest and security while promoting “crony capitalism” and causing a loss to the public exchequer. The government had rejected the allegations.
Asked about handing over of the strategically located Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease by the Sri Lankan government, she only said India has been watchful of all the developments in the neighbourhood.
On ordnance factories, she said government was doing a major review of their work and examine whether they can have joint venture or benefit benefit from technology transfer.
Talking about the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Sitharaman said it should identify the patentable products so that they can be used commercially.
Referring to the strategic partnership model, she said it was brought to support the domestic defence industry and to ensure that India, which is now a leading importer of military hardware, becomes a defence exporter.
The strategic partnership was unveiled nearly four months back under which domestic defence manufacturers can tie up with leading global defence majors to manufacture specific military platforms like fighter jets.
Sitharaman also said the government was in the process of identifying “organically grown” defence industry clusters in various parts of the country so that they can be supported.
“We are planning to tell them about the requirement of the armed forces for the next 40-50 years so that they can lay a roadmap for their capacity building,” she said.
She also said start-ups in the defence sector will be given encouragement.