Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) holds monopoly over research and development of defence technologies in India. While there have been small openings for the private sector in defence R&D, it is mostly a preserve of DRDO. DRDO is charged with the important function of indigenising defence equipments and making India self-sufficient in defence technology. Over the last few decades DRDO has come under immense criticism for its inefficiency in developing new technologies.
The clients of DRDO - army, airforce, and navy - have been quite reluctant in inducting various products of DRDO. They prefer defence armaments procured from other countries over the armaments designed by DRDO. India is largest importer of weapons and military equipments in the World, and its not an achievement. Many times products of DRDO take years to develop and yet the forces are sceptical of the product they get from DRDO. Tejas LCA, Arjun tanks, and many other projects have seen over-shooting of both timelines and budget.
In the face of what people call dismal performance, it is increasingly felt among many policymakers and commentators that private sector should be given a chance to compete with DRDO in indigenisation efforts. It is also felt that DRDO being a government organisation is naturally inefficient.
This argument, that it being a government organisation is naturally inefficient, is farcical and illogical. Those who make such comments have not actually gone into the field and analysed how DRDO functions. ISRO is another government organisation, under ownership of the same government, and has shown immense initiative and marvellous results. ISRO is one of the best space research organisations in the world. It has not only provided quality telecommunication support to its client (Govt of India) at an affordable rate, it has managed to go commercial outside the country. Now it is a major service provider for many third world countries.
Both DRDO and ISRO are manned by Indian scientists recruited from Indian universities. So what makes DRDO different from ISRO? I believe the answer lies in how the organisations function. The answer lies in organisational psychology.
Psychologist Frederick Herzberg had forwarded the two factor theory of employee satisfaction in the workplace. There are hygiene factors and motivators. Motivators give satisfaction to employees. Hygiene factors do not give satisfaction to employees but lack of hygiene factors leads to dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors include status, job security, work conditions, vacations etc. This is where DRDO might have gone awfully wrong. Since it is a R&D organisation, work output is basically a simple summation of output of its scientists. Scientists in DRDO join at an entry level grade pay of Rs. 5,400/- just like class-1 freshers in any other organised group-A service. However, promotions happen in other services and departments at regular intervals. In case of DRDO, promotion is contingent upon performance in an interview. Some scientists take 3 years for first promotion, others take 4 years, many others take 5 years for promotion. They have to face interviews on every promotion.
This is ironic since performance can be gauged for administrative jobs; hence promotions should be linked to performance and ability for those in administrative functions. Research is an altogether different ball game and we can get output only if the scientist is intrinsically motivated to find something new, which can happen only if the scientist does not have to bother about promotions. What happens in India is exactly the reverse of common wisdom: administrators are promoted without any test to gauge their ability whereas scientists of DRDO have to worry about getting a promotion in every 3-4 years.
The work atmosphere and salary of DRDO scientists are also lamentable. Having taken specialised education they join the government at the same rank and pay as a BA or B.Com student joins after clearing the civil service examination. One may argue that a candidate clearing the civil service examination is more meritorious since he/she has cleared a difficult exam. Such arguments only go on to show how lightly we take scientific research in this country. Salary of DRDO scientists is not at par with market value that their qualification would fetch in private sector. As a result most talented students join the private sector and only the ones with low aspirations join government service.
All over the world scientists have high reputation and status in society. But in India scientists have very low social value. That's a major reason why graduates from IITs do not join DRDO but slog the UPSC examination to become civil servants. That's a major reason why PhD holders from IITs prefer to go abroad than work in DRDO. Same does not apply to ISRO because of the degree of autonomy given to ISRO. Given the sensitive nature of work of DRDO, it cannot be allowed to function independently. Yet efforts can be made to reduce their dissatisfaction and increase their satisfaction. It is very important to set right the hygiene factors of scientists at the workplace.