Army paints grim pic­ture of fi­nances

CRIP­PLING Says al­lo­ca­tion not enough for emer­gency pur­chases fol­low­ing Pathankot, Uri at­tacks

Hindustan Times (Amritsar) - - Nation - Rahul Singh rahul.singh@hin­dus­tan­ ■

NEW DELHI: The In­dian Army has told a par­lia­men­tary panel that even as China and Pak­istan are mod­ernising their mil­i­taries at a light­ning pace, a loom­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis is crip­pling In­dia’s com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties at a time when it should be pre­pared for a two-front war.

In a se­ries of re­ports tabled in Lok Sabha on Tues­day, the army painted a grim pic­ture of how bud­getary out­lay was com­ing in the way of emer­gency pur­chases fol­low­ing the Pathankot and Uri ter­ror at­tacks, procur­ing crit­i­cal am­mu­ni­tion, and un­der­tak­ing strate­gic road projects on the Chi­nese bor­der. The army told the stand­ing com­mit­tee on de­fence that the threat of a two-front war with Pak­istan and China was “a re­al­ity” and it was cru­cial to pay at­ten­tion to the mod­erni­sa­tion of the mil­i­tary and plug­ging yawn­ing gaps in ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Bud­get 2018-19 has dashed our hopes…The mar­ginal in­crease in bud­getary es­ti­mates barely ac­counts for the in­fla­tion and does not even cater for the taxes,” army vice chief Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Sarath Chand told the panel. He said the over­all short­age un­der the cap­i­tal head stood at ₹12,296 crore.

Terming the “Make in In­dia” ini­tia­tive as a great step taken by the de­fence min­istry, he said there was not enough money avail­able for the army to take up projects un­der the pro­gramme.

The re­ports said that the al­lo­ca­tion of ₹21,338 crore for mod­ernising the force was not suf­fi­cient for the “com­mit­ted pay­ment” of ₹29,033 crore for 125 on­go­ing schemes and emer­gency re­quire­ments. The air force and navy are also lack­ing money for new schemes, ac­cord­ing to the re­ports.

The army also told the panel that it was run­ning short of ₹6,380 crore to build am­mu­ni­tion stocks nec­es­sary for fight­ing an in­tense war for 10 days.

In­dia al­lo­cated ₹2.95 lakh crore for mil­i­tary spend­ing in 2018-19, a

mod­est hike of 7.8% over last year’s bud­get of ₹2.74 lakh crore. But In­dia’s de­fence spend­ing con­tin­ues to be on the de­cline mea­sured against its GDP.

The gov­ern­ment has set June 2018 as its tar­get for meet­ing crit­i­cal short­age of am­mu­ni­tion held by the force — a de­fi­ciency that, ex­perts say, lim­its the force’s abil­ity to fight pro­longed wars.

“The state of de­fence pre­pared­ness is in­deed a cause for con­cern and army mod­erni­sa­tion has be­gun at last, but at a painfully slow pace,” said mil­i­tary af­fairs ex­pert Brig Gurmeet Kan­wal (retd).

The de­fence min­istry is ex­pected to re­spond with an ac­tion taken re­port in Par­lia­ment. The army is au­tho­rised to stock­pile am­mu­ni­tion for 40 days of in­tense fight­ing, known as war wastage re­serves (WWR) in mil­i­tary par­lance. In case that is not pos­si­ble for all types of am­mu­ni­tion, the re­quire­ment that WWR must last for at least 20 days was made manda­tory by the gov­ern­ment two decades ago.

The army also told the panel that it was sad­dled with old weapons and sys­tems -- 68 % of its equip­ment was vin­tage, 24% cur­rent and only 8% state of the art. “Mod­erni­sa­tion gets a mere 14% (of army bud­get), which is grossly in­ad­e­quate…I feel it has to be any­thing be­tween 22 and 25%,” an army rep­re­sen­ta­tive who was un­named told the panel.

The army said that this was hap­pen­ing at a time when the threat per­cep­tion was in­creas­ing, cit­ing last year’s Dok­lam bor­der row as an ex­am­ple of China’s in­creas­ingly as­sertive­ness on the north­ern bor­ders, and in­creased in­fil­tra­tion by Pak­istan-backed ter­ror groups on the western front.

“(The) mod­erni­sa­tion of both Pak­istan and China is go­ing on in full swing. China is com­pet­ing to reach the lev­els of the US… More than ever, there is an in­creas­ing obli­ga­tion to en­sure that our na­tion ce­ments its mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity…How­ever, the bud­get does lit­tle to con­trib­ute to this re­quire­ment,” the rep­re­sen­ta­tive quoted above told the panel.

The army said it was strug­gling to buy am­mu­ni­tion, spares and ar­ma­ments it short­listed af­ter Pathankot, Na­grota and Uri ter­ror strikes over the last two years. Against a pro­jec­tion of ₹2,116 crore to meet these re­quire­ments, the al­lo­ca­tion stands at ₹1,600 crore, the panel was told.

Talk­ing about fi­day­een at­tacks in Jammu and Kash­mir and tight­en­ing the se­cu­rity at mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions and can­ton­ments, the force said the min­istry had del­e­gated pow­ers to the vice chief to spend ₹14,097 crore. “How­ever, there is no sep­a­rate al­lo­ca­tion for this. So this money also has to be found from the same Bud­get,” the rep­re­sen­ta­tive said.

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