Appointment of serving military officers as Additional Secretary and Joint Secretaries in the DMA is not a big deal as is being made out
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
The appointment of serving officers as Additional Secretary and Joint Secretaries for the first time is in the news. Vide circular number 36/2/2021-EO(SM-I) dated May 5, 2021, the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has approved the postings of Lieutenant General Anil Puri as Additional Secretary and Major General K. Narayanan, Rear Admiral Kapil Mohan Dhir and Air Vice Marshal Hardeep Bains as Joint Secretaries in the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Not many would know that these appointments were already being held by serving military officers in ‘officiating’ capacity for the past several months, which have now been regularised. Besides, the DMA had been asking for this since January 2020, which the government has finally acted upon after a year and a half.
Few years after New Zealand gained independence in 1907, a commission was appointed to reform the bureaucracy realising bureaucrats would not give up their British ways of being “rulers”; ignoring national interest, feathering own nests and protecting their predominant position in governance – similar to what is the state in India. The commission recommended retaining lower bureaucracy with entries from public service commission but weaning out ‘deadwood’ of higher bureaucracy and replacing 50 per cent with professionals (specialists in various fields like engineering, medical, military, chartered accountants, company secretaries, academia etc). New Zealand Parliament passed the report and speedily implemented its recommendations. Today, New Zealand is one of the best managed governments, their efficient control of COVID-19 being one proof.
India’s problem is that lawmakers remain dependent on bureaucrats and latter continue to hold lawmakers hostage.
PM Modi delivering the inaugural address at the Transforming India Lecture Series in 2016, said, "We cannot march through the 21st century with the administrative systems of the 19th century." But change effected by government was only nine joint secretaries were inducted laterally in ‘different departments’ under IAS hierarchy to tow the bureaucratic line and many left after sometime in disgust. They were not even allowed membership of the Central IAS Officers Association. India’s problem is that lawmakers remain dependent on bureaucrats and latter continue to hold lawmakers hostage. The mess in handling the second pandemic wave is a result of this Catch-22 situation.
To this end, appointment of serving military officers as Additional Secretary and Joint Secretaries in the DMA is not a big deal as is being made out. On the other hand such a measure would have been revolutionary if serving military officers were so appointed in other ministries as well, especially in Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) considering our inadequacies in dealing with the Chinese aggression last year and since the China threat is going to keep expanding.
Such a measure would have been revolutionary if serving military officers were so appointed in other ministries as well, especially in Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)
Appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was no doubt a good step but the manner in which it was implemented made the bureaucracy laugh all the way home having made a monkey out of their political masters and the military. It ensured that the CDS, heading the DMA, remains largely ineffective. The DMA is within MoD but all decisions are contingent upon the Defence Secretary heading the Department of Defence (DoD) which is separate from the DMA. DMA, having mix of military and civilians, deals with the three Services and HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Territorial Army, works relating to Services and procurements except capital acquisitions, as also promoting military jointness and promoting indigenous equipment. CDS is principal advisor to the Defence Minister, not a single point advisor to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. In effect, the CDS is another bureaucratic layer above the three services.
CDS can only work on ‘anticipated’ budget. He cannot make projections based on operational requirements directly to Cabinet/Parliament/CCS. The Finance Minister continues to arbitrarily cap the defence budget. Defence Finance continues working with Defence Secretary, as do national intelligence agencies and Defence Estates that was indicted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) as the most corrupt part of MoD, recommending it’s disbandment.
Appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was no doubt a good step but the manner in which it was implemented made the bureaucracy laugh all the way home
Despite formation of the DMA, tasks of the Defence Secretary as published in media include: Defence of India including in times of War and Defence Policy; Capital Acquisitions for Defence Services; Defence Accounts Department; Canteen Stores Department; formation of military cantonments; acquisition of land for defence; purchasing food for military requirements; veterinary and military farms; all matters related to Coast Guard; hydrographic survey; Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA); National Defence College (NDC), and; National Cadet Corps (NCC). It is not difficult to gauge why all the power and money is vested with the Defence Secretary as compared to the CDS, and wonder what defence policy is the Defence Secretary chalking out and following in the absence of a National Security Strategy? He was conspicuously under cover in face of last year’s Chinese aggression anyway.
HQ IDS established in 2004 was aimed to be ‘part’ of MoD but before Defence Minister George Fernandes could effect this, the ‘deep state’ accused him of ‘Coffingate’ knowing he would step down. HQ IDS should have been merged completely into MoD while appointing the CDS with officers of HQ IDS placed on deputation or permanently absorbed – as is the case in the US Department of Defence (DoD). Retaining HQ IDS separately is hardly in synch with government’s slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.
HQ IDS should have been merged completely into MoD while appointing the CDS with officers of HQ IDS placed on deputation or permanently absorbed
Service Chief continuing to advise the Defence Minister on respective Services blows the cover of CDS being Principal Military Adviser to Defence Minister. In the US the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff is a four star General sans operational control of Services but is military advisor to the President, not Secretary of Defence. Here the bureaucracy has cleverly killed the need for CDS to be ‘single point military advisor’ to the Union Cabinet/CCS. The roots for this were sown by the bureaucracy in the CCS note approving establishment of HQ IDS, which read, “As and when a CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights as the Service Chiefs and in case of two Service Chiefs disagreeing, MoD (read bureaucracy) will arbitrate”. Ironically, the lawmakers have no time to understand these intricacies or they deliberately ignore them. The bureaucracy will, therefore, continue to reign supreme.