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Ministry of Defense History

A Military Department was created in the Supreme Government of the East India Company at Kolkata into the year 1776, having the main function to sift and record orders relating to the Army issued by various Departments of the Govt of East India Co. The Military Department initially functioned as a branch of the Public Department and maintained a list of Army personnel.

With the Charter Act of 1833 the Secretariat of the Government of East India Company was reorganised into four Departments, including a Military Department, each headed by a Secretary to the Government. The Army in the Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay & Madras functioned as respective Presidency Army till April 1895, when the Presidency Armies were unified into a single Indian Army. For administrative convenience, it was divided into four Commands viz. Punjab (including the North West Frontier), Bengal, Madras (including Burma) and Bombay (including Sind, Quetta and Aden).

The supreme authority over the Indian Army was vested in the Governor General-in-Council, subject to the Control of the Crown, which was exercised by the Secretary of State for India. Two Members in the Council were responsible for military affairs, one of whom was the Military Member, who supervised all administrative and financial matters, while the other was the Commander-in-Chief who was responsible for all operational matters. The Military Department was abolished in March 1906 and it was replaced by two separate Departments, the Army Department and the Military Supply Department. In April 1909 the Military Supply Department was abolished and its functions were taken over by the Army Department. The Army Department was redesignated as the Defence Department in January 1938. The Department of Defence became the Ministry of Defence under a Cabinet Minister in August 1947.

The pattern of civil-military relations prevailing in India was created by the staff of Lord Mountbatten as a three-tier system extending from the prime minister to the three service chiefs. At the apex of this structure is the Political Affairs Committee of the Cabinet. The second level is the Defence Minister's Committee of the Cabinet, and the third level is the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Other committees, such as the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Defence Science Advisory Committee, and the Joint Planning Committee, assist the higher committees.

In the immediate postindependence period, the Defence Minister's Committee of the Cabinet did not play an active role in policy formulation. The higher organization of defense was vested largely with the minister of defence.

On August 15, 1947, each Service was placed under its own Commander-in-Chief. Under the Constitution, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces vested in the President. In 1955, the title of Commander-in-Chief was abolished and the three Service Chiefs were designated as the Chief of the Army Staff, the Chief of the Naval Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff.

From 1957 to 1962, the Defence Minister was V.K. Krishna Menon, whose authority far exceeded that usually accorded a minister of defence. A confidante of Nehru's through much of the late preindependence period, Menon functioned as Nehru's alter ego for national security and defense planning. Consequently, the locus of decision making shifted from the cabinet to the Defence Minister's Committee. Menon was in many ways responsible for laying the foundations of India's military-industrial base.

Among other endeavors, Menon was responsible for the development of ordnance facilities to manufacture the Ichapore semiautomatic rifle; a tank manufacturing complex at Avadi, Tamil Nadu; facilities to build frigates at the Mazagon Dock naval shipyard in Bombay; and the licensed manufacture of Soviet-designed MiG-23 fighter aircraft in Nasik, Maharashtra. However, his highly idiosyncratic manners, his high-handed ways, and his involvement in the tactical aspects of military decision making had negative consequences. For example, he quarrelled with the professional military, particularly India's third chief of army staff, General K.S. Thimayya, over Thimayya's attempt to warn Menon and Nehru about the emerging Chinese threat as early as 1959.

When Thimayya resigned in protest, Nehru prevailed upon him to withdraw his resignation. Unfortunately, when questioned in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), the lower house of the Parliament, about Thimayya's resignation, Nehru offered a rather weak defense of the general's actions and sought to deflect the criticisms of his minister of defence.

When Thimayya retired as chief of army staff in May 1961, Menon passed over Thimayya's designated successor, Lieutenant General S.P.P. Thorat, and instead appointed a junior officer, Lieutenant General P.N. Thapar. The appointment not only created a rift between the professional military and political leadership but also alienated a number of high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Defence. Menon's actions also demoralized competent personnel in the civilian and military bureaucracies, which led to important gaps in defense preparedness and planning. Menon's dominance of the defense planning process significantly contributed to the military debacle of 1962.

The Indian defeat led to the establishment of a new Emergency Committee of the Cabinet. This committee introduced a system of "morning meetings" with the minister of defence and the three service chiefs. The morning meetings, which are conducted without a predetermined agenda, deal with current defense issues on a regular basis. The meetings are also attended by the cabinet secretary, the defence secretary, and the scientific adviser to the minister of defence. These morning meetings continue to take place.

In November 1962, a Department of Defence Production was set up to deal with research, development and production of defence equipment. There were proposals in the mid-1990s to establish a joint defense staff for better integration of interservice resources, programs, policies, and operations.

In November 1965, the Department of Defence Supplies was created for planning and execution of schemes for import substitution of requirements for defence purposes. These two Departments were later merged to form the Department of Defence Production and Supplies.

In 1980, the Department of Defence Research and Development was created. Further, the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare was created in 2004.

In January 2004, the Department of Defence Production and Supplies was renamed as the Department of Defence Production. A Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister was appointed to advise him on scientific aspects of military equipment, research and design of equipment used by the Defence forces.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:43:06 ZULU