Tuesday, August 14, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Chaos in MoD over revamp of info dept
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 13
The projection of self-interest and lack of control by an over burdened and Services’ biased minister has led to chaos in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the revamp of its information department.

As in the instance of lack of unanimity over the issue of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) the lack of consensus over the restructuring of the defence information set-up is also on the expected lines.

There are four separate viewpoints over the issue with each concerned, including the Services and the Information Adviser in the ministry, stressing that their suggestions should be followed while restructuring the Department of Publicity (Ministry of Defence).

However, the suggestions put forward by them smack of “self-interest” with the overall interest of the MoD being overlooked. In the entire exercise that has been undertaken over the past few months it has conveniently been forgotten that the information set-up of the MoD is governed by the “Allocation of Business Rules” of the Government of India which are approved by none other than the President of India.

Any changes unilaterally being sought in “the Allocation of Business Rules” by any ministry would require the concurrence not only of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) but also of the President of India.

A committee which was set up earlier this year to go into various aspects of the restructuring has presented its report to the Defence Secretary, Mr Yogendra Naraian, without any unanimity. Mr Ajay Prasad, Additional Secretary in the ministry who was heading the committee, which also included representatives of the three Services besides having Additional PIO (Defence) as its member secretary submitted the report on July 30.

It also had former Principal Information Officer of the country, Mr I. Ramamohan Rao, as an independent member.

Sources in the ministry say that with the minister not being fully in control the situation is that the Army and the Navy are pressing for complete overhaul of the set-up with the suggestion that the Additional PIO be allowed to speak only on policy matters. The operational matters would be taken care of by their exclusive set-ups which should be headed by an officer of the rank of a Major-General in the Army and his equivalent in the Navy.

Mr Ramamohan Rao on the other hand has suggested that the restructured set-up be headed by a Director-General of Information, who should be an integral part of the ministry and designated as Joint Secretary (Public Relations). He would work in close cooperation with the Principal Information Officer and the Joint Secretary, External Publicity.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) agrees with this suggestion only with some changes like their Commanders being allowed to interact with the media on some operational matters.

Now comes the catch. The Army has a set-up — the Army Liaison Cell (ALC) — which it would like to legitimise and handle the entire publicity for it under the charge of a Major-General. On the other hand the “information dissemination” in the Navy is at present being taken care of by an officer of the rank of a Major-General. This move would cement the position further.

Interestingly, Mr B.G. Verghese, a senior journalist who is at present the Information Adviser in the ministry, has come forward with his own independent report. He has suggested the setting up of a “high-powered Defence Information Directorate (DID)” in place of the present “anaemic Directorate of Defence Public Relations”.

While suggesting that the Defence Minister might like to distribute the copies of his report to the Service Chiefs, the Defence Secretary and other departmental heads in the MoD, Mr Verghese has recommended that the DID be headed by a Director-General who will also be the designated spokesperson in place of the present Indian Information Service cadre officer.

According to him, such a person could be a civil servant or a Service officer of two-star or higher personal rank or more importantly a mediaperson or other professional person with suitable experience, comprehension of security and public affairs and communication skills. The JS (XP) in the Ministry of External Affairs offers the nearest approximation, he says.

However, what has been overlooked is that while item no 23 of the “Allocation of Business Rules” has a provision for a JS (XP), there is no provision for restructuring of the Directorate of Publicity (MoD) on the same basis. Item no. 29 of the list of duties of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the “Allocation of Business Rules” categorically states that publicity to and for the Armed Forces would be handled by it.

Finally, the Additional PIO (Defence), Dr P.K. Bandhopadhyay, is fighting with the support of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to hold onto the present set-up with suggestions that the department is already an inter-service organisation. Besides, he has pointed out that the suggestion that the department was unable to handle information dissemination during the Kargil war was due to lack of initiative in the ministry.

He has pointed out that there are existing provisions passed by the Union Cabinet in 1966 for the setting up of mobile public relation units (MPRUs) in times of war. They were suggested after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, but were not taken advantage of by the ministry in the 1999 Kargil war.

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