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PM scraps DRDO’s 'retirement benefits' committee
ABHINANDAN MISHRA  New Delhi | 20th Sep 2014

Illustration: Sandeep Adhwaryu

rime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to scrap the Departmental Peer Review Committee (DPRCs) of the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) in an attempt to revamp the outfit. The main job of this committee of DRDO scientists is to grant extensions to fellow scientists. The committee has come under scrutiny after complaints that all that these scientists do is to park retiring and retired colleagues in important posts year after year. "The PM has ordered the scrapping of the committee that reviews cases to grant extension of service to scientists who are superannuating. Giving repeated extensions to scientists, whose capabilities could be questioned, is one of the major problems with the DRDO," a DRDO official said.

Sources said that 15 top scientists in DRDO, including Director General (DG) Avinash Chander, are on extension. After getting two extensions, Chander is now on contract. "What should have been an exception, has become a norm here. Every year, six to eight senior people in DRDO get extensions. This has led to an alarming attrition rate in the organisation," said a scientist who has been working with DRDO for the last 12 years. In the seven years between 2007 and 2013, at least 687 scientists left the organisation, which comes to a rate of 100 scientists leaving the organisation every year.

The DRDO, best known for missing manufacturing deadlines, is gearing up for a hard time after PM Modi told its scientists and officials that their lackadaisical approach would not be tolerated anymore. Last month, while addressing the annual award function of the organisation in the national capital, the PM expressed his unhappiness over the way things were working in the organisation.

"The Prime Minister is clearly unhappy with the way the DRDO has been functioning, as most of our projects are running years behind schedule, resulting in cost overruns and compromising of national security. During the event, he made sure that that senior officials were made aware of his views on the subject and the fact that such lackadaisical approach would not work anymore. With the government approving 49% FDI in defence, we need to start performing now," said a senior DRDO official. Modi, while commenting on DRDO said that the organisation "should not say in 2014 that a project conceived in 1992 will take some more time".

DRDO, founded in 1958, has a network of 54 laboratories, employs close to 35,000 employees including 7,500 scientists. In July this year, the BJP-led NDA government increased DRDO's budget from Rs 5,985 crore — as provided by the UPA's interim Budget in February — to Rs 9,298 crore, the largest ever increase in the organisation's history.

However, despite being treated with extreme care by successive governments, DRDO has still not been able to shake off the negative image associated with it. Most of its projects, ranging from Tejas light combat aircraft and long-range su rface-to-air missile systems to NAG missiles are running years behind schedule.

According to officials, at least ten major projects that are being worked on by the DRDO have exceeded their stipulated date. "The major ones among these are the light combat aircraft, naval light combat aircraft, aero engine Kaveri, airborne early warning and control aircraft, long range surface-to-air missile, air-to-air missile Astra, advanced lightweight torpedo, dual colour missile approach warning system for fighter aircraft. If you include the minor ones, like the NAG missile system, then the number of incomplete projects will become even more," the official stated.

According to a former bureaucrat, who had worked in the Ministry of Defence, the government has been always generous when it came to funding the DRDO. "The DRDO has never suffered from any paucity of funds. The main problem with the organisation is at the top. No accountability is fixed on them. There is no other place where you will find senior officials being given repeated extensions despite doing nothing."

The former bureaucrat added that he had come across instances where the country's defence preparedness suffered because the DRDO first made a commitment that it would manufacture the product, but when the deadline arrived, it did not have the product. And in cases where the product was there, the quality was not acceptable. "It is a shame that due to DRDO's inefficiency the country has to import more than half of its defence requirements," he said.

Even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has time and again come down heavily on the DRDO. "Year after year, the CAG has revealed the kind of mismanagement that has been happening in the DRDO. In February this year, CAG audits revealed that the DRDO spent Rs 52 crore to buy a cooling substance, which was to be used in the NAG missile system in 2007. The interesting part is that the NAG was not operational at the time and it is still not operational. Can you expect such kind of mismanagement from any other defence organisation in the world elsewhere?" an official with the DRDO said.

According to him, the onus of revamping the DRDO is with the Defence Minister. "The DRDO officials and the defence ministry bureaucrats will not take the bull by the horn; no one wants to disturb the status quo. It is the Defence Minister who needs to do it. The minister needs to implement the recommendation of the first-ever external review report of the DRDO, which was prepared by an independent committee of experts headed by P. Rama Rao, former secretary, Department of Science & Technology, and former ISRO man Dr Brahm Prakash. It had recommended a massive restructuring of the 50-year-old body to make it more effective," the official said.

However, Ravi Kumar Gupta, Director, Directorate of Public Interface, DRDO, said that the PM was very appreciative of the work being done by the organisation during his interaction with the officials last month. "He has positive views about the organisation and said that the organisation had a lot of potential and whatever we were doing, we were doing it in a professional way. He also said that just as it holds true for any other organisation, we too should not lose focus and follow the chalta hai attitude," Gupta said.

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