December 26, 2013
The substance of the inquiry report prepared by the Director General of Military operations on the functioning of the Technical Support Division (TSD) – a Military Intelligence (MI) unit – set up by a former Army Chief, as reported in the press1, is as follows: A secret unit was set up without the knowledge or specific approval of the Ministry of Defence (MoD)/Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the unit undertook activities that went beyond the MI’s mandate, and there was widespread misuse of powers given to the unit.
Going by this press report, MoD has instructed the Army HQ that its permission will need to be taken before changing the structure or role of the units in future. This could easily be interpreted to mean that there are no existing instructions on such vital issues. But such an impression would be wrong. Indeed, there is a large scale delegation of administrative and financial powers to various functionaries in the Services down to the unit level. There are several instructions/orders (government letters, to use the MoD parlance) that lay down what the Services can do on their own and what they cannot under the powers delegated to them. Why then, one may ask, the need arose for MoD to instruct the Army HQ that henceforth permission would need to be taken to alter the structure or the role of a unit? There are three reasons for this.
One, the government letters delegating the administrative powers are more than a decade old. The financial powers were last reviewed in 2006. Much has changed since then both in terms of what needs to be delegated as well as the manner in which the delegated powers should be exercised. For example, there were no dedicated Integrated Financial Advisors with the Service HQ when the administrative powers were last delegated. Now each Service HQ has at least a Principal Integrated Financial Advisor – an officer of the level of Additional Secretary to the Government of India. More administrative powers can easily be delegated to the Service HQ with the stipulation that those which have financial implication will be exercised with the concurrence of these advisors. Similarly, the financial powers delegated to the Services in 2006 have become grossly inadequate because of inflation and change in the exchange rate in the intervening period.
Two, the scheme of delegation of administrative and financial powers has become anachronistic. There are problems relating to interpretation of some of the provisions of the government letters and new areas of decision-making have emerged which call for delegation of powers. To illustrate: the Naval Officers heading the dockyards, though responsible for meeting the targets, do not have full financial powers to buy whatever is needed to meet those targets. Thus, the authority vested in them is not commensurate with their responsibility. A somewhat archaic notion of splitting of financial powers continues to pervade the scheme of financial delegation, resulting in frequent tussle between the financial advisors and the executive officers over its interpretation. A simple provision that the funds allotted to an authority may be spent in any manner required, as long as the requirement is managed within the allotted funds, could solve this problem. As an added measure, exercise of financial powers could be linked with measurable outcomes.