|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
AK Anthony during his decade long tenure as defence minister maintained that budget allocations were more than adequate and more money could always be made available. It is separate issue it was difficult to establish whether he was the worst defence minister or VK Krishna Menon accredited with the Jeep Scandal and 1962 debacle, with even a former diplomats penning Anthony brought the military down to 1962 levels. To Anthony's good fortune, the Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence was headed by film star Raj Babbar (UPA idiocy) didn't go beyond Bollywood. But this changed with the Modi Government. The Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence is now headed by BJP MP Major General BC Khanduri who had proved his mettle as a Cabinet Minister during the previous NDA regime.
Now Defence Minister Mohan Parrikar has been publicly stating that the defence budget allocation for the current year is adequate, which obviously has been fed to him by the MoD bureaucrats. However, Defence Secretary Mohan G Kumar has admitted before the Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence has that India's military spending for 2016-17 "is not as per the requirements of the Services". The Committee has tabled its report in Parliament saying the meagre increase in this year's defence spending was insufficient to fulfill the military's basic needs, let alone modernization. The report said India's defence spending as percentage of government expenditure had "nose-dived" from 15.24% in 2000-2001 to 12.59% in budget estimates (BE) for 2016-17, adding, "This is highly alarming and needs to be rectified". The Committee noted that the BE for the year stood at Rs 2.7 lakh crore (gross), and if the government cannot provide additional budget, it should ensure efficiency of spending. In February 2016, government announced it would spend Rs 2.58 lakh crore on defence in 2016-17, a marginal hike of 9.7% over last year's revised estimates. This year's defence spending, excluding pensions, accounts for 1.7% of the country's gross domestic product. Experts believe the figure should be around 3% of the GDP to counter China's rapidly growing military might. The panel expressed disappointment with the government over its failure to clinch the Rafale fighter deal and bolster the IAFs offensive potential despite considerable time having elapsed. Significantly, the Committee also asked the government to create the post of CDS at the earliest.
But the mismatch between what the MoD bureaucracy would like the Defence Minister to state publicly, what the Defence Secretary had to admit to the Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence, and what the Committee submitted to Parliament id not the only faux pas. Another one was when Parrikar held a press briefing to announce OROP and mentioned VRS, without knowing there is no VRS in military. Yet another one is that MoD has failed to define what is meant by "state-of-the-art", because of which all cases of FDI in defence beyond 49% are stuck with the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). India should have a defence budget of 3% or more of the GDP for next few years considering what Anthony did to the military. The economy has begun to look up under PM Modi albeit defence has been most neglected despite every government announcing there will be no dearth of money. The DAC approved Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan 2012-2027 and the 12th Five Year Plan, were based on dfence allocation at 3% GDP but defence allocations have always been way below. Defence Budget allocations have to be in backdrop of not only enormous shortages in the military including in ammunition but also that 50% defence equipment held by the army, navy and air-force is obsolete. Sub-conventional conflict are the order of the day but Defence Budget 2016-2017 leaves only Rs 12,000 croes for modernization from the Rs 78,587 crores capital expenditure, rest being for committed liabilities.
So, what comes to the foot soldier will likely be meager, if at all. CAG reports of last five years pointing out that the equipment provided by the DRDO is sub standard and provisioned at excessive costs besides enormous amount of money and time spent on R&D without even consultation of the user (military) and some even without MoD sanction. Boosting the indigenous defence industry no doubt is excellent but the functioning and products of the governmental defence-industrial complex have been appalling. Parrikar recently released a list of achievement of DRDO but one look would tell you that there are many half truths. For example, the Akash weapon system that is being touted as a success of DRDO is a complete fiasco, forcing the army to seek imports. The army cut more than 14,000 jobs between 2005 and 2013 and has ordered another study to downsize the force. But how downsizing the civil defence employees who are expanding, upgrading and consuming 47% of the defence pension bill despite their small numbers compared to those in uniform? What the expansion of the DRDO, whereas they should actually be pruned down and tasked with only R&D, with commercial production transferred to private industry? What about the hundreds of police and CAPF battalions being raised without the CI deployment of the army going down? Our defence spending must also take into account the three plus PLA Divisions augmenting the Pakistanis along our western border, even if protecting the CPEC is the stated task. Clearly much more thought to defence must be given by the Modi government. Just saying allocations are adequate would not do.
The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.