Are our politi­cians los­ing in­ter­est in In­dia’s de­fence?

Given In­dia’s in­creas­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and in­ter­na­tional de­mands to act as a net provider of se­cu­rity as a ris­ing re­gional power, the de­fence al­lo­ca­tion and ex­pen­di­ture needs to be sup­ple­mented to cre­ate the ca­pa­bil­i­ties which the armed forces will need

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - By Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik (Retd)

The Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Ma­jor Gen­eral B.C. Khan­duri (Retd), has re­cently con­veyed to the Par­lia­ment that the “growth in the bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion for de­fence is not suf­fi­cient and woe­fully inadequate for mod­erni­sa­tion.” This as­sess­ment cannot be a sur­prise to any­one, ex­cept those who have stopped tak­ing in­ter­est in In­dia’s de­fence re­quire­ments.

Af­ter Kargil war, dur­ing which I made that fa­mous state­ment: “We shall fight with what­ever we have”, In­dia’s de­fence bud­get was raised to 2.41 per cent of its GDP. Since then, there has been a steady downslide, to 1.47 per cent this year, not count­ing the thou­sands of crores sur­ren­dered by the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) near an­nu­ally.

So the De­fence Sec­re­tary G. Mo­han Ku­mar was ab­so­lutely right when he ad­mit­ted be­fore the par­lia­men­tary panel that In­dia’s mil­i­tary spend­ing for fi­nan­cial year 2016-17 is not as per the re­quire­ments of the ser­vices.

A ques­tion linked to the above-men­tioned ob­ser­va­tion would be, “Are the gov­ern­ment and po­lit­i­cal par­ties los­ing in­ter­est in In­dia’s de­fence?”

I be­lieve so: not only the National Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA) regime but all po­lit­i­cal par­ties seem to be los­ing in­ter­est in In­dia’s de­fence mat­ters when one no­tices that only 10 out of 24 po­lit­i­cal par­ties had given their views in this re­port of the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence.

As an armed forces vet­eran, I no­ticed two firsts in the an­nual bud­get pre­sented to the Par­lia­ment this year.

First, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley never men­tioned the word ‘de­fence’ in his speech. I cannot re­call that hap­pen­ing in the last five decades or more. In the bud­get 2014-15, there was a cryptic ref­er­ence to the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme in de­fence selfreliance. This year, there was not even that. To many peo­ple, this lack of men­tion would have con­veyed the im­pres­sion that In­dia’s se­cu­rity and ` 3,40,000 crore of In­dia’s de­fence bud­get (to­tal de­fence out­lay plus the pen­sions bill) is of lit­tle im­por­tance.

Sec­ond, for the first time, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter in­cluded ‘de­fence pen­sions’ as part of De­fence Min­istry Al­lo­ca­tion (Item No. 21 in the Sum­mary of De­mands for Grant). Till now, mil­i­tary pen­sions were never a part of de­fence bud­get. It was a sepa- rate al­lo­ca­tion. The Fi­nance Min­is­ter in­cluded this ex­pen­di­ture as part of the de­fence bud­get prob­a­bly for two rea­sons: to con­vey that this par­tic­u­lar item has im­pacted the rest of de­fence al­lo­ca­tion (mil­i­tary pen­sions are likely to in­crease from ` 60,238 crore in fi­nan­cial year 2015-16 to ` 82,332 crore in fi­nan­cial year 2016-17), and to con­vey that to­tal de­fence out­lay has been in­creased sub­stan­tially. What is the ac­tual de­fence al­lo­ca­tion for this year? What are its im­pli­ca­tions for the armed forces? Let me an­a­lyse and state my views.

The de­fence al­lo­ca­tion sought in the bud­get es­ti­mate (BE) for the fi­nan­cial year 2016-17 is: Rev­enue — ` 1,48,498.85 crore, Cap­i­tal — ` 78,586.68 crore, Pen­sions — ` 82,332.66 crore, Mis­cel­la­neous (other than armed forces) — ` 68,537.63 crore. On the ba­sis of BE of last year, there is an in­crease of mere 1.16 per cent. This al­lo­ca­tion does not even cover In­dia’s in­fla­tion rate and will be in­suf­fi­cient to ful­fil mil­i­tary’s ba­sic needs, let alone its mod­erni­sa­tion.

In the fi­nan­cial year 2015-16, MoD was un­able to spend ` 18,295 crore out of its al­lo­cated bud­get. This in­cluded ` 11,595 crore from the Cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture, or 13.4 per cent of the funds ear­marked to pur­chase new mil­i­tary equip­ment. The rest un­spent amount was from Rev­enue ex­pen­di­ture, mostly main­te­nance re­quire­ments of the mil­i­tary.

For the un­spent money, which leads to re­duc­tion in the re­vised es­ti­mates (RE) year af­ter year, we can blame the MoD for its cum­ber­some pro­ce­dures, and also its Fi­nance Ad­viser who takes his cues on cur­tail­ing de­fence ex­pen­di­ture from the Min­istry of Fi­nance. Usu­ally, he is seen to be more loyal to his par­ent min­istry than the one in which he is lo­cated.

For the fi­nan­cial year 2016-17, the cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture out­lay for the armed forces is ` 78,586.68 crore. Last year, at the BE stage, it was ` 85,894.44 crore. This clearly im­plies lesser money for mod­erni­sa­tion this year. Of the al­lo­cated amount, more than 80 per cent funds are ex­pected to be paid for deals which have al­ready been signed.

Lack of funds will force the MoD to cancel sev­eral projects, and even with­draw some al­ready floated ten­ders. The de­lays in the re­place­ment of the army’s ob­so­les­cent weapons and equip­ment, mak­ing up of de­fi­cien­cies in fighter squadron strength of the air force and the sub­ma­rine fleet of the navy

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