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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 17 August 2019
  • The Prime Minister’s announcement in his Independence Day address on Thursday,
  • appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), is one that could have a far-reaching impact on the management of defence in India.
  • The issue of efficient management of the higher defence organization came into sharp focus after the Kargil war in 1999, when the K. Subrahmanyam-headed task force was asked to examine questions about the anticipation and detection of Pakistani intrusions in Kargil and the military response. The strategic expert and his team highlighted the systemic issues bedeviling our national security structures, which included poor coordination and technological inadequacies.
  • On its recommendations, the Government tasked a Group of Ministers (GoM) in the early 2000s to undertake a review of national security management. Their recommendations covered intelligence, internal security, border management and defence. These resulted in an overhaul, which included the appointment of a National Security Adviser, a strengthening of intelligence coordination mechanisms, upgrading the technological capacity of security agencies, and sharpening institutional responses to traditional and emerging internal security challenges. Defence management was the one area in which the implementation of the GoM’s recommendations was disappointing.
  • The issues are well-known. The first is a pervasive sentiment in the armed forces that they are not formally involved in decision-making on defence planning and strategy. This perception is reinforced by the fact that the Service Headquarters are not within the Ministry of Defence; they are treated more like attached offices. This structure has led to cumbersome, opaque and antiquated decision-making processes, from administrative requirements to weapons acquisitions.

 Changing face of conflict

  • From an operational perspective, the concept of military conflict today extends beyond land, air and sea, into the domains of space, cyber, electronic and information. Effective defence preparedness requires a ‘jointness’ of the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy in incorporating these domains into their war-fighting strategies. It also requires a prioritization of the weapons requirements of the forces and optimization of their resource allocations based on a clearly defined national defence strategy.
  • The GoM had recommended better efficiency by integrating the armed forces headquarters into the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It had also pitched for the appointment of a CDS, who could promote an integrated approach to inter-service prioritization and resource allocation as well as a pooling of common structures to avoid unnecessary redundancies. The CDS was to administer tri-service institutions such as the Andaman and Nicobar Command.
  • In today’s context, his charge would also presumably include the recently established tri-service space and cyber agencies. He would provide coordinated military advice to the Defence Minister, incorporating the perspectives of the individual services. He would develop the national defence strategy, which itself should flow from a national security strategy that factors in traditional and non-traditional threats as well as internal security requirements and external strategic objectives. This would be in collaboration with the civilian defence leadership of the MoD.

A thread of resistance

  • All recommendations were accepted barring the one on the CDS. Opposition from sections of the armed forces and the bureaucracy and from a political party resulted in this last-minute decision.
  1. There was apprehension that a CDS would undermine of the authority of the three service chiefs over their forces.
  2. The establishment in many countries of theatre commands under the CDS reinforced this fear.
  3. The other concern was that an all-powerful CDS would distort the civilmilitary balance in our democracy.
  • This opposition was based on misperceptions and “turf” considerations. Many democracies have the institution of a CDS or its equivalent, with varying degrees of operational control over their armed forces. It has not diluted civilian control over their governance. Instead, it has meant greater participation of the military in defence decision-making alongside the civilian bureaucracy, enhancing the coherence and transparency of policies. In almost every case, the appointment of a CDS has been a top-down decision, to which the system has subsequently adjusted.

Need for indigenization

  • The role envisaged for a CDS in India is that of developing multi-domain military strategies, strengthening tri-service synergies and enabling perspective planning. It is only after achieving jointness in training, exercises and infrastructure that the feasibility of regional commands can be explored in the specific context of India’s geography and the nature of its internal and external threats. The CDS can contribute to rational defence acquisition decisions, preventing redundancy of capacities among the services and making best use of available financial resources.
  • While implementing this reform, we should also focus on the important objective of indigenization. It is a shame that India is still among the top arms importers. This abject dependence on other countries, for weapons systems, components and even ammunitions, does not befit an aspiring great power. There must be procedures and practices to ensure that every acquisition is structured in a way as to strengthen our indigenous technological capacities, in turn aiding defence self-reliance.
  • A corollary of the appointment of a CDS is integration of his establishment into the MoD without which he cannot meaningfully fulfil the role assigned to him. Eventually, the three Service headquarters would also need to be suitably integrated into the Ministry. It would require changing their current functional structure as well as amending the existing rules of business of the government. This was envisaged by the GoM, but when a decision on the CDS was deferred, action on it lost steam.
  • In his announcement on the CDS, the Prime Minister mentioned past reports on defence reforms, the transforming nature of military conflict, the impact of technology and the need for modernization, coordination and jointness. This leads to hope that the GoM recommendations of 2001 will be implemented. If carried out objectively, undistorted by turf considerations, this long-awaited reform would soothe frictions in civil-military relations and bring greater efficiency, transparency and accountability into decision-making on defence matters.

Making CSR work

Non-compliance by corporates should be decriminalized and made a civil offence

  • It was first encouraged as a voluntary contribution by business; six years ago it evolved into a co-option of the corporate sector to promote inclusiveness in society and now, corporate social responsibility or CSR has become an imposition on India Inc. Key amendments to the relevant sections of the Companies Act in the last session of Parliament have now made non-compliance with CSR norms a jailable offence for key officers of the company, apart from hefty fines up to ₹25 lakh on the company and ₹5 lakh on the officer in default. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is said to have assured representatives of India Inc. when they met her last week that this amendment will be reviewed. Yet, it is curious that the government rushed through with amendments on the CSR law even as a committee constituted by it was finalizing its report on the same subject. As it happened, the committee, headed by the Corporate Affairs Secretary submitted its report on August 13, well after Parliament had passed the amendments. On the specific issue of penalties, the committee has proposed that noncompliance be de-criminalized and made a civil offence. “CSR is a means to partner corporates for social development and such penal provisions are not in harmony with the spirit of CSR,” the committee’s report says and rightly so. CSR should not be treated as another tax on businesses.
  • Every company with a net worth of ₹500 crore or turnover of ₹1,000 crore or net profit of ₹5 crore should spend 2% of the average profits it made over the previous three years on social development. The experience since this provision was operationalized in 2013 has been mixed. Filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs show that in 2017-18, only a little over half of those liable to spend on CSR have filed reports on their activity to the government. The other half either did not comply or simply failed to file. The average CSR spend by private companies was just ₹95 lakh compared to ₹9.40 crore for public sector units. These are early days yet, and compliance will improve as corporates imbibe CSR culture fully.
  • The committee’s suggestion to offer a tax break for expenses on CSR makes sense as it may incentivize companies to spend.
  • It has also recommended that unspent CSR funds be transferred to an escrow account within 30 days of the end of the financial year.
  • It should be recognized that CSR is not the main business of a company and in these challenging times they would rightly be focusing their energies on the business rather than on social spending.
  • The government should be careful to not micromanage and tie down businesses with rules and regulations that impose a heavy compliance burden. Else it might end up with the opposite of what it intends — to rope in corporates as citizens to promote social inclusion.

Justice for the mob

Acquittal in the emblematic case of Pehlu Khan’s murder imperils the country’s image

  • It is a sign of the times that vigilante mobs can get away with daylight murder. Even after visual evidence becomes available; and even when the victim names his assailants in a dying declaration. The acquittal of all those charged by the Rajasthan police with beating dairy farmer Pehlu Khan to death in April 2017 is a stark reminder that there is a humongous gap between capturing video footage of a man being beaten up and bringing the culprits to book. The Additional District Judge of Alwar has given the benefit of doubt to the six men charged with Khan’s murder. A principal reason given is that the six persons named by Khan were not charge-sheeted by the police. It seems that the derailment of the prosecution case began early. Based on mobile phone call records and the statement of staff at a cow shelter, the police gave a clean sheet to the named suspects and booked a different set of people, including three minors. The police failed to conduct an identification parade, while there was an apparent contradiction between government doctors declaring that the victim died of injuries, and a private hospital’s claim that the cause was cardiac arrest. It is not difficult to surmise that infirmities were built into the case in advance. The court also need not have held inadmissible the footage of the incident, as the Supreme Court had ruled last year that authentic and relevant electronic evidence can be accepted even in the absence of the required certification under the Evidence Act.
  • Last year, Jharkhand managed to obtain convictions in two cases of lynching, but the Pehlu Khan lynching case had emblematic significance. It was vital that it was properly investigated and the culprits convicted. Unfortunately, the wholesale acquittal is a setback to combating the rampant vigilantism of our times. Each such incident imperils India’s image as a modern democracy. There is ample evidence to suggest that the institutional bias in favour of cow vigilantes is working against the interest of justice. The CID-Crime Branch took over the case two months after the incident, and filed a charge sheet. Those chargesheeted were granted bail not long after. Even after the change of regime late last year, the police obtained permission to prosecute two sons of Pehlu Khan for transporting bovines in violation of a State law. This indicates the assiduity with which cattle protection laws are implemented, while lynch mobs in the garb of cow protectors are treated with kid gloves. The Rajasthan Chief Minister, who recently got a new expansive law enacted to punish lynching, has promised to take the matter on appeal. A mere appeal may not suffice; orders for a fresh investigation and trial — one that would lead to the formal indictment of all those responsible for the murderous attack — may be needed to restore a sense of justice.