Why Modi government should handle incompetent Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) with an iron hammer
Out of 97 Nehru's grave blunders that damaged India to the extent it could take centuries for India to recover from, let's discuss one of Nehru and subsequent Congress governments blunder that still an Achilles heel for Indian army. The name of such cancer that's still plaguing the Indian army, Indian soldiers, and India's security is Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
On May 16, 2020, under stimulus measure from the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Nirman Package, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the government is going ahead corporatization (not to be confused with privatization) of Ordnance Factory Board. As a result, the left-leaning labor unions of Ordnance Factory Board along with its 82,000 employees announced an extended period of a strike. As if the communist party supported labor unions of OFB have been receiving orders from China, this strike announcement was declared within a week of Chinese aggression against India. It is important to note that corrupted OFB regularly supplies with Arms and ammunition to Maoists that are regularly used against Indian soldiers. This phenomenon was exposed multiple times like this, this and this etc., However there is no investigation or accountability into OFB so far.
OFB is only such a state-owned organization that enjoys exclusive monopoly responsible for supplying ammunition to the Indian army with no accountability. The corporatization of OFB would increase accountability, modernization, and competition which would further allow corporatized OFB that can export ammunition to the other countries. However, in the light of rogue actions of labor unions and employees of the Ordnance Factory Board, the Modi government should cure the cancer of the Ordnance Factory Board once and for all. Even though OFB relatively a small organization with just 82,000 employees in the entire country, OFB enjoys a great political influence because of its close relationship with Congress party, communist party, and other corrupted state governments.
OFB is one of the most incompetent, corrupted, and rogue Indian government organizations without any accountability that enjoyed a monopoly. Even if it comes at a cost of dismissing every employee and labor union of OFB, the Modi government should do so. What about critical ammunition that Indian army needs one might ask? Well, the issue is already solved by current OFB, as OFB fails to deliver even 20% of Indian Army needs and the Indian army is already importing critical ammunition. Not only that, OFB's lack of quality control, nepotism, and corruption contributed to thousands of Indian soldier deaths in the form of ammunition failures and loss of morale. The corruption of OFB and its incompetent 80,000 employees should not be the reason for an Indian soldier's loss of life and the diminishing of Indian army capability.
Let's revisit on how extent the cancer of the Ordnance Factory Board has been plaguing the Indian army for the past seven decades with no competition.
- OFB which was established in 1712, ironically had been a very effective organization that served the interests of Dutch and British empires well. Indian Ordnance Factories were the world's largest ammunition manufacturers in both World War 1 and World War 2. Just like every other issue where Nehru screwed India into oblivion, Nehru changed the fundamental structure of OFB turning into a typical Nehruvian style of corrupted, nepotist, incompetent non-accountable government organizations.
- Reliable ammunition manufacturing is a common expectation even for an underdeveloped nation. Imagine that the Indian Army being the world's largest standing army (incl. paramilitary) still needs to import basic critical ammunition from other countries costing defense budget tens of thousands of crores, the amount that could be spent in buying arms and other defense technology. And the sole reason for that is OFB fails to deliver ammunition to the Indian army even at 10% capacity.
- In the 1965 war with Pakistan, the biggest failure from the Indian side is OFB's incompetency and miscommunication to Army chief Gen. Chaudhari regarding ammunition stocks available to continue the war. Under the notion that India has run out of ammunition, PM Shastri agreed to a cease-fire. A typical lazy government employee from a state bank may ruin your afternoon, but in this case because of typical OFB's mistake, it cost India an opportunity to retrieve PoK Indian territories
- In 2001 then Indian PM Vajpayee ordered large scale military mobilization in order to prepare to launch a full scale attack on Pakistan, in response to Pakistani terrorists attack on Indian parliament. It was a massive failure where India spent USD $3 billions dollars in mobilizing units that took three weeks to completely move 500,000 troops. OFB contributed to this delay by taking their sweet time in coordinating with Army regarding ammunition and essential arms. Within those three weeks International community have put pressure on India to not attack Pakistan. India lost another golden opportunity to retrieve PoK territories. However the most painful result was loss of more than thousands of Indian soldiers in the preparation of war, mainly attributed faulty and defective ammo and mines manufactured by OFB.
- Regarding Indian army's service Rifle INSAS, even though it is considered DRDO laboratories designed and developed a decent technology, the disastrous OFB's widespread manufacturing defects, and quality control issues not only brought in shame for Indian indigenous defense initiative, it also contributed thousands of Indian soldiers deaths of the rampant widespread unreliability issues of INSAS rifle. These issues ranged from gun failures in cold weather, spraying oil in soldier's eyes, magazine cracking, and outright gun malfunctions as a result of criminally neglected manufacturing by OFB.
- Regularly featured in a list of Total Garbage: 5 Worst Military Rifles on the Planet, these flawed OFB's rifles were even exported to Nepal's army. In 2005, after 43 Nepalese soldiers were killed because of unreliable INSAS rifles which were pointed out by Nepal's army, instead of holding OFB accountable, the great Indian Congress government attributed the issues to "improper use", which forced Nepal to look for China for its defense imports permanently. This is after the 1999 Kargil war where failed INSAS rifles were proven to be one of the major causes of diminished Indian army capability. Indian soldiers suffer from this disaster to this day where the only hope is supposed AK-203 joint venture by India-Russia started in 2018. OFB's INSAS manufacturing disaster has also resulted in India giving up its indigenous rifle manufacturing for the decades to come.
- Year after year CAG report has been warning the dangerous situation where the Indian army has less than 20 days of ammo reserves pointing to sluggishness and corruption of OFB. Forcing the Indian army to restrict training to not waste a low supply of ammo. This is even after OFB enjoys free cash flow from the Indian government with no accountability for the past 7 decades.
- In a shocking but shameful CAG report of 2017, the CAG report stated that "Indian Army let down by Ordnance Factories". Even with the low sluggish supply of ammunition from OFB, within that short supply majority of ammunition were unusable that the army had to reject Rs 17000 crores worth of ammunition sitting idle in depots due to manufacturing defects.
- A combination of worst manufacturing and low supply from OFB forced the Modi government to open the Indian Army's supply chain to private sectors. Instead of trying to get their act together, OFB regularly involved in politics, lobbying, strikes, and corruption with the help of Congress party and Lutyens media.
- Another shameful moment to the Indian defense sector came in the form of an explosion of American Howitzer M-777 in a field test trial when used with OFB manufactured ammunition. The inquiry determined that it is OFB's faulty ammunition that damaged M-777 gun. When OFB spokesperson Uddipan Mukherjee was asked about faulty ammunition, his arrogant reply was just that - "the quality of the shell is not the only reason". Not only there is no accountability from OFB for the damage of Rs35 crores worth of gun because of faulty ammunition, but it also a reason for the low morale of Indian soldiers using OFB ammunition in imported M-777 guns that's worth of Rs 5000 crore.
- A 2017 tragic event in Maharashtra where 19 Indian soldiers were killed with another 19 severely injured in a deadly fire at a military ammunition depot. A court of inquiry has found that the cause of the fire was an explosion from 19,325 defective mines manufactured from Ordnance Factory Chanda. OFB didn't respond to any request for information. The defective mine issue was regularly reported to OFB for many years from different laboratories across India.
- According to the Army's estimation, there has been OFB ammunition related deadly accident every 5 days, making OFB the biggest cause of deaths of Indian soldiers, not Pakistan or China. In 2019, when multiple soldiers were killed during training practices in Rajasthan, because of Tank's barrel explosions from faulty ammunition. A meeting was called by senior Indian army officials inviting two officers from OFB, not only OFB officers didn't show up for the meeting, there was no response regarding reasons for ammo related accidents showcasing arrogance of OFB.
- Of course, we need to address those infamous corruption scandals of OFB. It looks like OFB believes Corruption as its birthright. There have been hundreds of incidents where OFB blatantly involved shameful scams and corruption with the help of Congress party. Like this, this, this, this, this, this and so on
Not only the Modi government should proceed with the corporatization of OFB, but also dismantle the fundamentally flawed structure of OFB with severe punishments for corruption and negligence. It's a crime that a corrupted, incompetent, and criminally negligent nepotist government organization that swallows tens of thousands of crores annually without delivering goods and killing hundreds of Indian soldiers annually to have this kind of political power. OFB should not be the reason for another lost opportunity in retrieving PoK and potential Army's diminished capability in fighting wars.
Modi government has a unique opportunity in the form of 82,000 employees of OFB planning for a strike in response to corporatization, where the Ministry of Defense can learn from Late Tamilnadu CM Jayalalitha's playbook, where she terminated the employment of lakhs of government employees who were in strike. It is a crime to not address this cancer of the Indian defense industry that's trying to bully the government while killing hundreds of Indian soldiers every year.