MoD silence is adding to confusion

Harsha Kakar
Since the announcement of the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)and the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) there has been a debate on whether the Government has given considerable thought before issuing orders for General Bipin Rawat to assume the mantle of CDS. The accusations range from providing him with lesser authority than expected and creating additional bureaucratic vacancies, within an already bureaucracy dominated Ministry of Defence (MoD), to the defence secretary continued being responsible for the defence of India and holding portfolios involving cantonments, land, which are directly linked to the armed forces.
The perception given is that the CDS would be ineffective as the DMA would be bureaucracy dominated. In addition, by divesting him of portfolios involving R and D, lands, national defence and making him as the first amongst equals, he would only be a rubber stamp. While most doubts are unfounded and premature, they are fuelled by silence on the part of MoD and the office of the CDS.
The charter of the CDS as declared by the Government include handling all military matters involving the three services, controlling all major joint training institutions including initial officer training academies and the Defence Services Staff College. It would not handle service specific institutes neither control Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis nor the National Defence College, which would remain under the defence secretary.
The DMA will also handle the cadre management of JCOs and below. In addition, would be military diplomacy with neighbouring countries, including border meetings with Pakistan and China as also supply of arms and ammunition to friendly nations. Those aspects pertaining to lands, cantonments etc, are the responsibility of different civilian cadres and being non-operational continue being controlled by the defence secretary.
The CDS would command the Andaman and Nicobar Command, Cyber and Space agencies. He would administer all other joint commands and be the military advisor to the Nuclear Command Agency, member of the defence planning council, defence planning committee and the defence acquisition council. He would also be the single point advisor to the Defence Minister on all tri-service matters.
There are other responsibilities also with the CDS, including being the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and all works related to the three services. In this role he would be assisted by HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). He is also responsible to promote jointness in planning and procurement and restructuring of the armed forces into joint commands.
In the meanwhile, a statement by the MoD mentioned that two Joint Secretaries, 13 Deputy Secretaries, 25 Under Secretaries and 22 Section officers are being appointed into the newly established DMA. On the other hand, there was a small news item which stated that service HQs have appointed one Major General rank officer from each service to the DMA. The MoD statement gave the impression that the DMA would have a bureaucratic domination.
The reality is vastly different. The DMA, based on its vast charter, would have multiple branches within it, each headed by a Joint Secretary or Major General level officer. The number of branches or its detailed organization structure has yet to be announced. The allocation of the civilian cadre by the MoD indicates that two branches would be headed by the bureaucracy, possibly the balance by uniformed.
The bureaucrats appointed to be a part of the DMA are not additional vacancies created for the civil services, including the Armed Forces HQ Cadre, but sidestepping from within the existing resources of the MoD. For creating additional vacancies, a separate procedure would have had to be adopted.
This side-stepping has been resorted to because certain responsibilities under the charter of the defence secretary have been sidestepped to that of the CDS. For the services, without any restructuring being done in HQ IDS, the vacancies within the DMA are additional. This would lead to some amount of suppressing of existing vacancies as the DMA is likely to be within the current authorized strength. Since there is some overlap in responsibilities between HQ IDS and DMA, there would in time be a reduction in the strength of the IDS.
While the MoD has announced its own set of appointments for the DMA, the armed forces have not. This has added to confusion in the public eye. The confusion gets compounded with silence from the MoD and the office of the CDS. By now, the organization structure of the DMA would have been discussed and finalized. In addition, would be the distribution of responsibilities between the uniformed and the bureaucracy.
Ideally, every branch, except those dealing with solely military matters, should have a healthy mix of bureaucrats and uniformed. This would enable smoother functioning and become a model for a futuristic MoD. There are some shortcomings within the existing establishment, however, this is just the beginning. As General Rawat stated in the Raisina Dialogue, ‘CDS is the first amongst equals but he has got clear and well-defined responsibilities. He has some authority over the service chiefs, except on operational issues.’
With the CDS not having operational control, the defence of India remains with the MoD. It is also possible that the Government has still not got over the fear of a coup, with all control being given to the CDS. This will undergo a change with the establishment of theatre commands, establishing which is one of his responsibilities. With theatre commands service chiefs would no longer be force employers but force providers. Further, the chain of command for theatre commands would be through the CDS. Hence, the responsibility of national defence would have to change.
Hence, ideally there is a need to wait and watch. With passage of time the organization structure of the DMA would be released and the doubts on domination by the bureaucracy would be set at rest. It would also indicate which branches within the DMA are the responsibility of the uniformed and those of the bureaucracy. The appointment of a CDS is a major change and patience needs to be displayed as the organization settles in, rather than criticizing the same from the outset.
The author is Major General (Retd)