How to buy better: India needs new mechanisms for defence purchases, for enhancing both efficiency & reputation

News: French portal Mediapart recently claimed in a new report that it has evidence of kickbacks[1] being paid by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation to help secure the sale of Rafale fighter aircraft to India.

Reports have further alleged that the CBI and the ED had evidence of bribes being paid since October 2018 but did not pursue the matter.

It is time for India to formulate a robust procedure for defence acquisition from foreign manufacturers.

What factors should India consider for designing an efficient defence acquisition policy?

First, as is the case now, armed forces should decide what suits them best, via multi-vendor trials and budget permitting.

Second, the process of acquisition must be undertaken by a specially tasked unit. This can draw talent from bureaucracy, armed forces, lateral recruitment from the private sector, carefully vetted specialists from law and finance.

It should report to the political executive and must operate separately from armed forces and the bureaucracy.

Its mandate will be fast and clean acquisition, both goals clearly defined.

Third, there must be true parliamentary oversight on defence acquisition process. A select committee of MPs from all parties should have the power to ask questions, even if in-camera, of the specialised body doing the deal.

Fourth, once a deal is through, all relevant papers, including all financial details, must be placed in full Parliament. Security-sensitive details can be left out.

What is the way forward?

The country’s security challenges are growing, and sadly domestic defence manufacturing ability is limited, so foreign weapons and technology will remain relevant for a long time.

Hence, a clear and efficient defence acquisition procedure will be best for India’s defence readiness and to its standing on the world stage.

[1]: A kickback is a form of negotiated bribery in which a commission is paid to the bribe-taker in exchange for services rendered.

Source: This post is based on the article “How to buy better: India needs new mechanisms for defence purchases, for enhancing both efficiency & reputation” published in TOI on 10th Nov 2021.

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