The military must get its hardware in time, Mallipudi Mangapati Pallam Raju, minister of state for defence, tells SAUBHADRO CHATTERJI
The first UPA government created a separate department for the welfare of ex-servicemen. What are your plans on this front?
Rehabilitation and resettlement of ex-servicemen are priority areas for this government. We have already created a post of director general (resettlement). Every year, 50,000 to 60,000 soldiers retire. Most of these belong to the “people below officer rank” (PBOR) segment. We believe that these ex-servicemen, who have received army training for so many years, are an asset to the nation. They pick up a number of skills during their stint with the armed forces. The age is also on their side when they leave the forces. They are in their late 30s or early 40s. The government can’t do everything on its own. So, we have tied up with the private sector for their training, resettlement and placements.
What sort of a tie-up you are aiming at?
We have already entered into agreements with business bodies like Ficci, CII and Assocham for training and placements. We look forward to more such agreements in the coming days.
Which are the sectors where ex-servicemen are finding maximum employment?
As the retail trade starts to boom, it is becoming a major employer of ex-servicemen. Reliance Retail, for example, has employed a large number of ex-servicemen. We declared 2007 the year of the ex-servicemen to boost our resettlement plans for them. We find the private sector showing increasing interest in employing ex-servicemen.
Apart from Reliance Retail, Infosys is another big company that is employing a large number of ex-servicemen.
Jairam Ramesh, the minister in charge of environment, recently told us that he wanted to take the help of ex-servicemen for a large afforestation programme.
Yes, ex-servicemen can also contribute to the environment protection programme. Earlier, there was an eco-battalion in the Territorial Army. We can raise a similar group of ex-servicemen for environment. I think my senior colleague, Defence Minister AK Antony, held a meeting with Jairam Ramesh in this regard. Task forces will be raised for afforestation in places where we are building roads.
From the infrastructure point of view, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) plays an important role. What is your road map for it?
We have 13 project groups, or set-ups, in the BRO to handle the tasks in different regions. Not only do we have our own projects, that is, the roads that are required by the defence ministry, we also get regular requests from state governments to take up their road projects.
The states of north eastern India and Jammu & Kashmir want us to execute many of their projects. But I felt the BRO was taking up too much responsibility. Now, we need to be more focused. We have to utilise our manpower and resources better.
Earlier, the BRO used to miss its targets, but now we are regularly meeting the targets. We want to improve this record.
What are the constraints you face in the BRO’s functioning?
Let me make it very clear, the budget is not at all a problem for the BRO. The allocation is made on the basis of our needs. But as I was telling you, in the North-East, our men and materials were spread over a large area. We need to change this and work in specific areas. Currently, we are executing the prime minister’s package for the North East, apart from GS (general study) roads and China Study Group roads. We have turned down a few projects from the states. We have to focus on modernisation of the BRO and get more equipment.
For the last two years, we have started quarterly meetings of the BRO board. Earlier, these meetings were not held for years.
But the biggest bottleneck is getting environmental clearances. It takes so long to get the clearances that we miss one or two seasons to work. You know, both in Jammu & Kashmir as well as in the North-East, there’s a limited period in a year during which we can work. The delay also results in high escalation of costs for our projects. Now, we have roped in the environment secretary as a member of the BRO board. We have changed our planning process too. Now, the planning is made much in advance.
Defence production is another area where we see a lot of delays.
Yes. But now our target is to get our capabilities in time for the armed forces. You see, if procurement is delayed, our armed forces suffer the most. The cost escalates and they are deprived of the hardware when they need it. Whether we get it from defence PSUs or from foreign companies is not a matter of much concern. We must get military hardware in time. At the same time, we are committed to increasing the private sector participation in defence production.