By C. Srikumar
The role played by the 41 Ordnance Factories as a government of India departmental defence industry for the security and defence preparedness of our country was immense, though went unnoticed. But for them, it would have been impossible for the Indian Armed Forces to have won the Indo-Pak War of 1965, Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 and the Kargil War of 1999. Unfortunately, the present government not only failed in recognising their services, but also undermined the very existence of these 41 Ordnance Factories as a composite organisation with its unilateral decisions.
An elected government and its ministers, who were expected to run the affairs of the government as per the Constitution have sidelined all democratic ethics and decisions are taken either on the whims and fancies of the insensitive and partisan bureaucrats or on the political beliefs or inclinations. Cabinet ministers, who were expected to act in a democratic manner, by taking all the stake holders on board before taking any major policy decisions, are now a days acting on the basis of pure political considerations and blindly following the advice of the bureaucrats, who do not have the accountability of implementing the decisions which they have taken on behalf of their political bosses.
It is an established norm in democracy and also to the constitutional rule of law which rejects arbitrariness of power. Unfortunately, now a days the law has become the tool in the hands of the mighty and powerful. Three such examples are the three Agri Acts and Essential Defence Services Act which were passed in the Parliament without any discussion and the corporatisation of the 220-years-old Indian Ordnance Factories. The farmers’ agitation against the Agri Acts is now almost a year old. The Government is bent upon to not listen to the collective voice of the farmers.
This insensitive attitude of the government forced even a BJP leader and Meghalaya governor Satyapal Mallik to warn the BJP that it will not return to power unless the Centre listens to the farmers protesting the new agricultural laws. He has openly come out with a statement that “I have fought with the PM and home minister for the farmers. I have told everyone that what they are doing is wrong and they should not do it.”
The 220-years-old Indian Ordnance Factories which were functioning as a consortium of 41 Ordnance Factories under the Ordnance Factory Board has been dissolved and disintegrated by the present government into seven companies in no time. It was a long history from 1802 to 2021, developing and manufacturing all the products required for the Armed Forces for defending our country. Post-independence the Ordnance Factories with its wide range of products ranging from arms, ammunition, weapons, tanks, vehicles, extreme climate clothing, battle field dress, all types of tents, parachutes, optical instruments, etc, have become the ‘forth Arm of Defence’ and ‘the force behind the Armed Forces’.
Whether it was the Indo-Pakistan conflict of 1965, Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 and the operation in the high mountains in the Kargil Sector in 1999, it was the Ordnance Factories which was the force behind the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force for its success. During those crises period, the workforce of the Ordnance Factories stayed weeks together in their factories without even going home and doubled the production to ensure that there is no break in the supply chain. During the beginning stage of Covid-19 pandemic, when the entire country was on lockdown and under curfew, all the private industries pulled down their shutters, it was the Ordnance Factories and its employees who worked day and night risking their life and manufactured lakhs of personnel protective equipments required for the doctors, hospital staff and health workers to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ordnance Factories renowned for its dynamism have accepted and absorbed the technological developments and advancement of the 21stcentury so as to keep pace with the aspirations of the Indian Armed Forces. The inhouse R&D efforts of Ordnance Factories have resulted in developing new guns, small arms, tanks, ammunitions, optical systems, bullet resistant jacket and vest, etc. The indigenous 155mm, 45 Caliber Towed Medium Gun ‘Dhanush’ and 155mm 45 Caliber ‘Sharang’ Gun, Trichy Assault Rifle (TAR), Ghatak Rifle, indigenous engine for the tank are some of the latest products developed by the Ordnance Factories. All these achievements of the OFB were never brought to the public domain and no articles were published about those innovative work, because the Ordnance Factories always remained an unsung hero.
The government is showcasing the disintegration of the Ordnance Factories and its conversion in to seven non-viable corporations as a very big achievement. An inaugural ceremony was also held with lot of fanfare on October 15, 2021 which was addressed by the prime minister and the defence minister. The entire workforce of the Ordnance Factories and their family members boycotted the inaugural ceremony. Even the retired employees and their family members switched off the TV when the inaugural ceremony was relayed by the TV Channels.
The 220-years-old organisation is abruptly dismantled in a tearing hurry. It may be flavour of the season for abruptly dismantling government organisations without any preparation due to the conviction and compulsion of certain people at the helm of affairs, ultimately leaving chaos and confusions in its trial. A well-planned conspiracy of the private corporate has been implemented through backdoor. The agenda of destroying the Ordnance Factories started in the year 2000 through the TKA Nair Committee, followed by the Vijay Kelkar Committee in 2005 and the Raman Puri Committee in 2015.
All these tutored committees without application of mind blindly recommended corporatisation of Ordnance Factories, but great leaders like George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh, Pranab Mukerjee, A K Antony and Manohar Parrikar, who were defence ministers between 2000 and 2015 have rejected those recommendations and decided that in the interest of national security and defence preparedness of our country, the Ordnance Factories should remain with the government as a state- owned industry. However, in 2019 when the Modi-2 government came to power, the bureaucrats formulated 167 transformative ideas to be implemented in 100 days. The corporatisation of Ordnance Factories was one of the items in the agenda.
Taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2020,finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled tranches of financial package as part of the prime minister’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. On May 16, 2020 she announced the decision of the government to improve autonomy, accountability and efficiency in ordnance supplies for which the government has decided to corporatise the Ordnance Factories. Subsequently things moved so fast and to prevent the employees from protesting against the unilateral decision of the government, an Essential Defence Services Act was adopted in the Parliament. With such a weapon in their hand, ultimately the 220-years-old pioneer defence industry of the country was splintered into seven non-viable corporations from October 1, 2021.
On the one side the government has openly come out with a statement that they have approved the policy of strategic disinvestment of public sector enterprises, and in strategic sectors there will be bare minimum presence of the public sector enterprises. The remaining CPSEs in the strategic sectors will be privatised or merged or subsidiarised with other CPSEs or closed. Surprisingly though defence was listed as a strategic sector, the number of CPSEs or PSUs was not specified in the Budget speech, though it was earlier indicated in May 2020 that it would be one to four.
The defence ministry is already having nine DPSUs. With the new seven non-viable PSUs, it will be 16 DPSUs. The stiff-necked bureaucracy has laid the foundation for ultimately destroying the Ordnance Factories. The alternative and robust proposals given by the Federations of the Defence Civilian Employees for strengthening and developing the Ordnance Factories as a modern industrial production unit has been completely ignored by the bureaucracy and simply misguided the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) that the proposals given by the Federations are not viable and not implementable.
The department of defence production (DDP) bureaucracy has succeeded in fooling the political leadership in accepting their proposal that the disintegrated seven corporations will contribute to improve the efficiency, productivity and cost reductions. Ridiculous! The EGoM has also never bothered to have an interaction with the representatives of the Federations, who authored the alternative and robust proposals given to the government.
In a democratic set up like in India, political leadership is responsible for all the policy decisions and it is for the bureaucracy to execute those decisions. Indian bureaucracy very conveniently escapes from those responsibilities, since by the time the ill-effects of the decisions start coming up those bureaucrats who were party to the decision-making process will be in some other plum posts or must have conveniently retired and occupying some other political posts. Hopefully a day will come when the country will realise it sooner than later about the historical blunder of wilfully killing an unsung hero and make them pay for the ill-concerned decisions. (IPA Service)
The author is the General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation.