Hinting that corruption was deep rooted as far as defence procurement and deals were concerned, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the government was contemplating legalising ‘representatives’ from defence firms to remove middlemen who work for kickbacks.
Speaking at the Agenda Aaj Tak – 2014 conclave, the defence minister also suggested punitive penalty for firms violating the rules, adding that there was a need to define what blacklisting a firm meant.
“A clear cut policy will be in place by January on having representatives for defence purchases,” Parrikar said.
He said the government wanted to stop middlemen and agents lobbying in defence deals.
“There should not be any kickbacks. We are working on legalising defence agents and middlemen. Whether you call them middlemen or agents or lobbyists or representatives, they should be formalised and legalised,” Parrikar said.
“I will say proper representatives (from defence firms) shall be there. There should be very clear agreement deposited with the defence ministry in advance and a very heavy penalty should be levied if you go wrong. Punishment should be punitive in nature,” he said, adding that it was just “loud thinking”.
He said the government needs to decide how long banned firms like Finmeccanica were going to remain banned, and should the government deal with subsidiaries of such firms.
“We need a clear policy, for example Finmeccanica has been blacklisted. They have 39 subsidiaries. Do we rule ourselves out to deal with all 39? I don’t think so. There shall be clear policy for that… what does blacklisting mean?” he said.
Parrikar said delays in clearance of defence projects was another reason which increases the role of middlemen.
“The more the delay, the more agents are kicked in,” he said.
Indicating at the corruption in defence procurements, the minister said the last decade was a “loss decade” for the armed forces.
“It was a ‘loss decade’ for the armed forces, but ‘gain decade’ for many others,” he said.
“I have heard that many agents (involved in defence deals) have made bungalows in Delhi with the kickbacks,” he added.
Asked about former defence minister A.K. Antony, who is known to be an honest man, Parrikar said just honesty was not enough.
“Just honesty will not bring solutions. I can vouch for my integrity. I believe to stay clean here (defence ministry) is easier than in Goa. Corruption is not just about money, it’s also nepotism and other things,” Parrikar said at the conclave.
“I agree Antony may have a clean image. That does not mean cleanliness was there in procurement,” he said.
On the one-rank-one-pension policy, which the National Democratic Alliance government had promised in its Lok Sabha election manifesto, Parrikar said: “The government is seriously considering implementing the one-rank-one-pension policy. The announcement will be made in four to eight weeks.”
He also sent strong signals to Pakistan, saying that even as India will try to use diplomatic steps to avoid a confrontation with Pakistan, one needs to teach lessons to “those who are rogue”.
“We are always prepared with counter-measures. Eye for an eye or ‘eent ka jawab patthar se’ (befitting reply) appears to be an offensive statement. But ultimately, you have to teach a lesson to those who are rogue.
“How do we do it is a part of strategy, and I won’t reveal it here. But I am definitely not closing any… harsh measures,” Parrikar said.
He, however, said this was not the only option and India would also try diplomatic measures like exerting political and diplomatic pressure.
“I know some people will say these have failed, have not yielded results, with a state like Pakistan where there is hardly any control by the political leadership.
“There cannot be always defensive measures. We can have preventive measures. We need not wait for someone to attack,” the minister said.
He was asked about the risks of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan.
“Nuclear doctrine (advocates) restraint. I don’t think any state can resort to it. A full-scale war can be linked to the nuclear aspect of it, but if there are places where you get terrorists across, there are people who do it. Those people will have to be pressurised,” he said.
“I am not talking about going across the border. Why not use the same people who attack us, as we say ‘gun ka barrel ghuma do’ (turn the barrel of the gun around),” he said.
Parrikar also promised that accountability will soon be fixed for the recent sinking of a torpedo recovery vessel, and mentioned the accident at the Air Defence College in Gopalpur.
He said India cannot lose its soldiers to accidents.
“The torpedo recovery vessel that sank… I have asked them to find reasons. People lost their lives, we cannot be that careless,” Parrikar said.
“I cannot lose soldiers while loading the gun. I cannot lose soldiers due to carelessness,” he said.