Over the last few decades, the Indian Army has become the second-largest in the world and would continue to expand in next few years as India prepares itself for the two-front war against China.
The story is the same for the Indian Air Force, which is world's fourth largest with over 600 fighter jets and a modern fleet of transport planes, unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters.
Though the size of the forces had expanded, their management in the defence ministry had remained under a single person, the joint secretary (Ground and Air), making it difficult for the officer to focus properly on both the forces.
Along with it, organising the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations, involving parade, dance and drama shows, added to the burden.
"With such important portfolios, not only the office but the officer, too, had become overburdened. The process and speed of decision-making had also become a casualty. This was happening to others as well," an officer sitting on the first floor of the South Block told THE WEEK.
The two services had also pointed out there was too much on their plate and that the officers were not able to give much time to their respective cases.
In the past, too, there were calls from services to rejig the structure in the ministry but an overhaul did not happen.
Keeping these considerations in mind and after deliberations with his key team members and ministry officials, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has carried out the much-awaited restructuring of the babudom in his ministry.
“Under this, we have upgraded a few posts and some new offices have been created to carry out smooth functioning of ministerial work, and responsibilities have been distributed evenly among officers keeping in mind the workload aspect,” Defence Minister Parrikar told THE WEEK.
On July 25, Parrikar issued an order, a copy of which is with the THE WEEK, curtailing the powers of the joint secretary (Ground and Air) by half, making him responsible only for the ground force (army) and taking away the air force.
The incumbent Jiwesh Nandan, a UP cadre IAS officer, will now manage only the army and will be known only as joint secretary (army). The charge of the air force has been given to Himachal Pradesh cadre officer Bharat Khera.
He was in the department of defence production. A well-reputed officer, Khera has been given the charge of the newly-created office of joint secretary (air), said a top South Block official.
With this redistribution, the officers can focus more on one particular force. Also, it would help in reducing the time taken by respective officers to learn the practices and procedures of respective services as they vary from one another.
For example, Nandan had never served in the defence ministry earlier and had to learn about both the army and the air force.
"With this move, the chances of hearing stories about a babu delaying a file related to buying snow jackets for soldiers in Siachen or helicopters not flying due to want of spares would be very less," a source close to Parrikar said.
As part of the revamping, Parrikar has also done away with 'irrational' work distribution amongst his officials. Earlier, some important divisions of the army were being looked after by the officer in-charge of the navy and vice versa.
"This irrationality has been done away with, as the joint secretary looking after the navy was also looking after the important arm of ordnance in the army."
Now, ordnance has been taken away from the incumbent Rabindra Panwar, an IAS officer of the Bihar cadre. He will look after only the navy, sources said. The charge of ordnance has now been given to the joint secretary (army).
As part of the distribution of work, Parrikar got the high-profile Indian Foreign Service officer, Shambhu Kumaran, into the office of joint secretary in charge of international cooperation. The specialist post had been occupied by IAS officers for the past 15 years.
At a time when India is holding several foreign cooperation projects, including exercises and joint drills, this move is of diplomatic help to the ministry.
The officer is also helping the government get foreign cooperation for the Make in India projects, which is the key focus area of the establishment.
Parrikar has also made changes to the level of additional secretaries. K. Suresh Kumar, a 1986 Jammu and Kashmir cadre officer, has been recently empanelled as additional secretary, which has helped in reducing the workload on the two existing officers in the ministry. Kumar has not only been retained in the defence ministry, his post has also been upgraded.
Ravikant, a 1984 Bihar cadre officer, must have heaved a sigh of relief as the responsibility of looking after the joint secretary in-charge of air force has been shifted to the other additional secretary, Jurugumilli R.K. Rao, an officer from Bihar cadre of 1985 batch.
After the restructuring, Ravikant would now be supervising the work of joint secretaries looking after the army, navy and international cooperation, while Rao would do the same for officers in-charge of air force and works.
Kumar would be looking after the all-important vigilance wing and the officers carrying out day-to-day work of the ministry, along with handling a large number of litigations and court cases involving the government.
The nomenclature of these officers has also been personalised. Their offices are now known by their initials like the office of additional secretary Ravikant is known as AS(R), while JKR Rao’s office is known as AS(J) and K. Suresh Kumar has been designated AS (K). Earlier, the two additional secretaries were known as AS Alpha and AS Bravo.
Next restructuring wave in acquisition wing
As per the ministry of defence’s latest order, the all-critical acquisition wing has been left untouched. The wing is responsible for all the new purchases of weapon systems for the armed forces, including important items like Rafale combat aircraft.
"The defence minister is considering the recommendations of the Dhirendra Singh Committee, which has recommended the creation of a new procurement wing with dedicated specialist officers to buy weaponry for each service. This, at the moment, is touted to be the next wave of restructuring in the functioning of the defence ministry," said an officer.
"Based on the recommendations of the committee, an expert group under former Director General (Acquisition) Vivek Rae has been formed which will help in streamlining the acquisition process and make it timely and responsive,” a defence ministry official explained.
The delays in procurements for armed forces have been a major source of embarrassment for the defence ministry. A new acquisition wing under an additional secretary-rank officer was created over a decade ago but in vain. The present DG (acquisition) Smitha Nagaraj was brought back to the Centre by the Prime Minister’s Office to hasten the procurement process.
Old timers in the defence ministry say that attempts were made to restructure the bureaucracy in time of defence ministry when Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony were at the helm, but the plan could not succeed because of the officers themselves.
Parrikar, however, has been able to make the changes and, hopefully, it will transform the defence ministry into a well-oiled machine.