It seems that our cumbersome bureaucracy has not taken any lessons from the USS Theodore Roosevelt episode, which had led to several American sailors getting infected with COVID-19, forcing the US Navy to dock the aircraft carrier operating in the strategic Pacific maritime region. The Indian Armed Forces have been playing a crucial role in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, and have at the same time managed to stray clear of the Pandemic. Those infected have been quarantined and there have been no cases among the soldiers posted on the border, naval ships and submarines, or the Indian Air Force (IAF).
However, red-tapism in the bureaucracy could hurt the Indian Armed Forces’ battle against the novel Wuhan virus, and according to the latest India Today report, the post of Additional Director General (procurement and stores) in the Directorate General of the Armed Forces Medical Service has been lying vacant for the past three months.
Also trapped in bureaucratic red tape for the past two months is the post of Major General (Med) in the strategically critical Northern Command that covers areas with high tensions, that is, borders with Pakistan and China in the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir.
As per India Today, sources in the government attribute this delay in appointment of the top two medical posts within the Army to a tussle between a section of the top bureaucracy and the Indian Armed Forces. The appointment files have been moving up and down between the Union Ministry of Defence and the Service Headquarters.
India Today has quoted sources as saying, “At a time when India is battling the novel coronavirus on a war footing, not having ADG procurement and MG Med, northern command and other crucial appointments in western command is unfortunate. The armed forces have repeatedly reached out to the defence secretary but files remain stuck in red-tape.”
These are top-level, Major General rank posts that we are talking about, and keeping such appointments in abeyance can hurt the capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces. With appointments stuck due to red-tapism, the Army is forced to operate below capacity, and currently a Brigadier rank officer is officiating without the same financial powers and authority as a regular appointee.
Meanwhile, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said, “The transfers of several Maj Gen level officers is under consideration of Govt and orders are going to be issued shortly,” but no explanation was offered for the shocking delay in such top-level appointments that can have a debilitating impact upon the efficiency of the Indian armed forces.
This report is really an example of how a cumbersome bureaucracy and red-tapism can hurt the armed forces, especially during an ongoing Pandemic.
The fact remains that top-level medical services appointments in the Indian Armed Forces, as well as those concerned with procurement and stores are absolutely necessary to ensure that the forces can sail through the COVID-19 outbreak unscathed.
The Ministry of Defence must rise to the occasion and give up the culture of engaging in tussles with the Indian Armed Forces. This is the time to cut through red-tapism, and intervention should happen right from the top through Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to clear the present appointments and also to avoid such bureaucratic hurdles/ red tape in military appointments in the near future.