The TNIE exclusive that shows that India’s premier defence research agency—Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)—has a strength of more than 50,000 temporary or casual employees who have complete access to all of its classified and research activities should ring alarm bells in the corridors of power. The recent spate of arrests of contract employees working in DRDO and other defence establishments in connection with espionage cases shows they pose a strong threat to India’s security. That this has been going on for some time is an index of how vulnerable our defences have been to espionage.
The recent arrest of a photographer employed on contractual basis at DRDO’s Integrated Test Range in Chandipur for passing confidential information on various missiles test-fired from Wheeler Island to his ISI conduit in Kolkata had sent shock waves in the ministry of defence (MoD). Soon after, a contractual employee working for the MoD was picked up by the Delhi Police for espionage. The issue put South Block in panic mode and an alert was issued in March, which said that “contractual/ casual employees should not be posted in sensitive locations and not allowed to given access to the classified information”.
During the UPA regime in 2010 a high-level inquiry had been ordered by then defence minister A K Antony on the grant of a critical missile design project by a DRDO scientist to a private contractor. Despite such cases in the past, over 55 laboratories of the DRDO, mandated to develop products and technologies to modernise our armed forces ranging from missiles to combat aircraft, have roped in over 50,000 casual employees to assist scientists. The special report in TNIE reveals that contractual employees are generally hired under two categories—technical and non-technical. It is indeed time that a thorough check be made of all casual employees and they be excluded from any access to secret documents, processes and sensitive information. India’s defence secrets cannot be kept so grossly unguarded against enemy access in an atmosphere of hostility of our neighbours, Pakistan and China.