VK Saxena

Though SQRs once made must be firm, must have clarity & non-ambiguity, but at the same it cannot be allowed to stall the procurement process, if at a later stage, it is realised, that on a solitary point contained in the SQR, there is a reasonable something, which could not have been perceived earlier...

The majestic lion, representing the iconic identity of the "Make-in-India" initiative is just about gearing up to roar, thanks to many an initiatives taken by the Govt across a wide spectrum. A flash on the DDP website tells us about all the new things. Some arrived and some on the way.... (makeinindiadefence.com)

  • Top preference to Buy (Indian), Make (Indian) and Make over Buy (Global).
  • Easing FDI to up to 49% on the automatic route. Also allowing FVCIs to invest up to 49% (up from 24) and raising FIPB bar of approval to Rs. 5000 Crs (up from 3000 Crs) to see many proposal on a quicker approval track.
  • Putting in place, the Outsourcing and Vendor Development Guidelines for DPSUs giving a fillip to private sector, especially the MSMEs.
  • Putting on line, the entire process of Industrial Licensing.
  • Issue of guidelines and directions to open up the Test &Evaluation assets of the public sector for use by bonafide private players.
  • States (Telangana, MP, TN Orissa and more) out-beating one another in taking a lead in setting up Defence and Aerospace Parks and SEZs.
  • Liberalising Offset provisions as to change in offset partners, submission of offset workplans, scaling down limit of offset in Buy (Global), turning the entire focus from 'vendor-driven' to 'buyer demanded', and more.
  • Granting scores of Defence Manufacturing licences to Indian defence industry (and counting).
  • Proposals for recommended partnerships between OEMs and Tier I,TierII and MSMEs (though the same is not in the shape required).
  • A brand new DPP on the anvil, carrying the recommendations of the Committee of Experts as also hundreds of suggestions of the users asked from time to time.

The list could go on... but that is not the purport of this piece. There is no doubt that the things are already looking up, and will in future, look up more and more at the Macro level. However need to look at the issues at grass-root level.

Concern is about the operators of the DPP; operators of the system that is and will be put into place in times to come. A workplace, an eco system, where one has seen many a humble successes, as also, have lived through many a frustrations of nagging delays in cases and heartbreaks for cases, that fell.

We hope that this does not happen in the new emerging eco system in the defence industrial domain, need to place the piece, based on experience.

While one fully subscribe to the cardinal requirement of firmness, clarity, non-ambiguity in the SQRs once made, the same cannot be allowed to destroy years of toil (and of continued void) if at a later stage, it is realised, that on a solitary point contained in the SQR, there is a reasonable something, which either could not have been perceived earlier or about which, the situation ex the vendors became clear only down the line. We hear that the new guidelines are trying to eliminate the 'Trust Deficit' culture. In keeping with this thought, there should be a clear, quick and an automatic provision of SQR amendment without allowing it to become a 'case destroyer' or without the case being directed to an ab-initio start, taking it  many years back in the past. From personal experience, the following non-negotiable conditionalities:-

  • It is not a single vendor case all through or the above provision is not applied at a point, when the case has become resultant single vendor.
  • In no case, the proposed amendment results in inclusion/or benefits to one/or more (but not all) vendors. It must apply to all and affect all equally.
  • It must get established that the content of amendment is something that could reasonably not have been foreseen earlier.
  • It is exceptional, not routine.
  • Why have it at all, with so many conditionalities? It caters for the uncommon situation where the point in question is a common denominator for all the vendors but failure of its inclusion/ exclusion makes all of them non-compliant.
  • When will we ever get to something like this? It happened. A case matured to the trials stage, after quite a few years of toil. The SQRs laid down a certain fact or quoted in specifics. Without exclusion, while every vendor confirmed compliance to QR at the TEC query stage, it was later found, that each one was outside the specifics, only by a miniscule which could have been accepted by the user. Case went back to ab initio. If the above provision was there and was applied across board, years of toil could have been saved.

Another factor relates to part compliance and point is as under:-

  • In the Make-in-India spirit, involving Indian players, if a particular SQR/PSQR demands actions/modifications/up-gradations on a number of separate entities/weapon types and the selected vendor(s) at the end of the road, can achieve compliance/completion on all types of entities exept one/few, the user must be given the advantage of making use of the success achieved in addressing the existing voids rather than the case falling either everything or nothing? Who suffers?
  • To avoid complications by other vendors at a later stage, mention of the above provision could be made in the qualifying document ab-initio.

The author  have already  written in these columns earlier that when a SQR is getting debated and discussed in the GSEPC or similar forums, it is the User whose concerns must remain supreme rather than the "comments and observations' of 'others'. This is not to decry the supreme wisdom of the latter, but to avoid the following:-

  • User being forced to insert a specific where he, in his collective wisdom, is satisfied with a generic statement provided two things are ensured . One, the generic statement will not result in an entry of the inferior solution. Two, the user convinces how it will be ensured that the same will not result in diluted operational standard later, at the trials stage.
  • What could be these specifics? Many. Specific upper lower temperature ranges, dimensions specified to cms, specifying something that is not trialable/testable, putting unrealistic limits (-40 to +50) which the equipment in question is unlikely to see, over-specification of terrain types, technology states and others.
  • Asking for easy to state QA provisions (e.g penta five end-to-end) which later prove to be show-stoppers.

Proceeding ahead with the felt-experiences, do we require two separate categorisation Committees? The so called 'Cat' and 'Higher' Cat. Why we can trim it to one. The institutional resistance and arguments on hierarchy, core-competencies, domain knowledge of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) at one level and higher decision makers at the other etc etc.  The emerging eco system is poised for a change. It is high time! Let's make it possible.

Some other thoughts that come to mind that need to be addressed beyond the DPP...

  • The endless time taken by the prospective vendors in replying to TEC queries is one thing which needs to be axed. One has seen TECs extending to years, just because some the vendors 'choose' not to understand what is being specifically asked, or some others taking months on end to await clarifications from their decision makers overseas, and yet some others, simply delaying to 'test which way the water is flowing'. The system needs to be ruthless about it.
  • The practice of only some comments at one time must be shown the door. Initial file, initial comments, file sent back. Return after 3-4 weeks, new comments.. new replies... cycle continues.
  • Also, how many CVs (Collegiate Vettings) are really enough? CV1, CV2, CV3, CV4 each separated by at least 3-5 weeks (time required to minute the previous one and circulate the drafts for all to see). The same need to be limited drastically.

On the issue of blacklisting, it is understood that the new DPP will carry detailed guidelines and new provisions on the same. Need to "Punish the guilty; not the system". The country (Services) must not be denied the capability just because....

Finally on an 'intangible'. In simple terms, the attitude to see 'How this case can fructify rather than otherwise.  Lets pause and ponder "Who will suffer, should the 'otherwise' prevail.

The author is the Ex-Director General of Army Air Defence. (The views expressed in this article are those of the author in his personal capacity.)

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