NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to crack the whip on India’s scientific community, and the first to be hit is the hapless Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), headed by S Christopher. Perturbed over DRDO’s inability to meet deadlines for key projects that led to huge cost overruns, Modi has now asked all project in-charges to submit a monthly report to the highest offices of the government, including the Council of Ministers, Defence minister and the Cabinet Secretariat.
Underlying nine incomplete key projects on which the government has spent Rs 16,708 crore, the government’s move is towards fixing “accountability” on the project in-charges. “Projects in-charges are requested to send update on test and trials conducted in the month along with crucial milestones achieved to the office of the Cabinet Secretariat, Raksha Mantri and Council of Ministers by 5th of every month,” states an official note from government on August 25, a copy of which is with Express.
In his first interaction with DRDO scientists last year, the Prime Minister sent out a strong message by flaying the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of defence scientists and asked them to complete projects before deadlines to put India ahead in the world. A year later, things have not changed much in the defence manufacturing sector and the Indian armed forces continue to import arms and ammunition. With imports of around 70 per cent of its military purchases, India is the world’s biggest weapons importer, ahead of China. This figure will be much higher if the total value of the foreign components in the equipment, platforms assembled and manufactured in India is computed.
“Repeated delays can be attributed to many factors, including lack of infrastructure development. With this new instruction to submit monthly reports to higher ups in the government, we can also convey issues and problems that scientists face during tests and trials of projects,” said a senior scientist who did not wish to be named. Key projects such as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Phase-II, scheduled to be completed by December 2008, has now been given fresh deadline of 2015-end. The government had sanctioned Rs 5,777 crore for the project. The first of the LCAs, conceived in 1983, is yet to see its first induction in the IAF. Technology denial by advanced countries, inadequate production facilities and unanticipated complexities faced in the structural design were cited as key reasons for its delay.
Similarly, the Rs 1,714.98 crore Naval Light Combat Aircraft project, which was given the probable date of completion of March 2010, is under revision. One of the reasons for the delay is that “technology challenges have been significantly higher than originally anticipated.” The much hyped Rs 2,838 crore project to develop Aero Engine Kaveri, supposed to be completed by December 1996, has already been given extended deadlines and is also under revision. Non-availability of indigenous raw materials, denial of crucial systems and components and lack of test facilities have been cited for the inability to meet the deadline. Sources in DRDO have indicated that the project has almost been shut down and will now be used as a power plant for drones.
The Air Borne Early Warning & Control System, for which the government has sanctioned Rs 2,275 crore, is four years behind. This has now been postponed to December 2015. The Rs 2,606.02 crore project to develop Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile was scheduled to be completed in 2011, but DRDO has now given a commitment to deliver by December 2015.