Lack of past success no deterrent for PSU lobby
By N C Bipindra - NEW DELHI
Published: 17th Nov 2013 07:24:05 AM
Resentment from within the government has forced the Defence Ministry to put on hold a tender inviting private players to build 56 transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
The strongest voices against the tender floated in May this year was that of Congress MP Jagadambika Pal and NCP minister Praful Patel. Joining in the protests were National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC), a government body for policy dialogue to energise and sustain growth in the manufacturing sector, and Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE), an apex body of public enterprises, who took up cudgels on behalf of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML).
In his July 19 letter to Defence Minister A K Antony, NMCC chairman Dr V Krishnamurthy said there was “no merit” in excluding them from the bidding process, though the decision to make the planes in India was a welcome step.
“To subject the public sector to competition has merit, but to deny the public sector the opportunity of succeeding in a competitive bidding process seems neither fair nor appropriate,” Krishnamurthy said, claiming that only HAL was in a position to contribute to the project and keeping it away would prove counter-productive.
On October 7, the same day as Patel, SCOPE Director General Dr U D Choubey too wrote to Defence Secretary R K Mathur, who has previously served as Defence Production Secretary in charge of the PSUs under the ministry, objecting to keeping the public sector out of the tender and asking for “equal opportunity” that too “without discrimination” between private and public sector.
The PSU lobbying has carried on, despite the fact that they have not yet produced one indigenous plane of their own, be it the Light Combat Aircraft or Intermediate Jet Trainer, but only have experience in licensed manufacture of both combat and cargo planes and choppers for the Indian armed forces such as the MiGs, Sukhois, Hawks, Dorniers, Chetaks and Cheetahs.
HAL is India’s lone aerospace public sector manufacturer. BEML had, two years ago, ventured into aerospace manufacturing by setting up a facility at Aerospace Park at the Aero Special Economic Zone close to Bangalore International Airport. It has begun production and supply of ground handling equipment and ground support equipment, aerospace components, and jigs and fixtures though no aircraft yet.
The only indigenous success has been the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters, which are extensively used by all the three Indian armed forces. Dhruv has also been exported to South American nations such as Ecuador.