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More than hike, we need transparency

The increase in budget allocation for the Indian defence sector for the fiscal year 2013-14, although hailed as a welcome development by the experts from arms industry, is certainly not going to be enough to reinstall public faith in this alarmingly corrupt arena. While the defence budget has seen a steady hike every year during the past decade, amounting to roughly about 10 per cent of the previous year’s allocation, the ministry received about Rs 2,03,672 crore for the next fiscal, a rise of about Rs 25,169 crores from last year’s revised estimate of Rs 1,78,503 crore. When adjusted for inflation and fluctuating rupee value, the hike drops from a whopping 14 per cent to about 5 per cent, not a bad apportionment given the crunch time through which the economy is hurtling through presently. India, the world’s largest arms importer, is on the brink of buying 126 Rafale fighter jets from France, and is also on the verge of purchasing combat helicopters as well as other state-of-the-art war equipments from major arms manufacturing countries. The fresh inflow of capital might boost the sagging spirits of the defence industry, but it would certainly not wash away the sins of this frightfully debased sector, which is sunk in a cesspool of bribery and brokerage paid to middlemen for facilitation of shady underhand deals to stockpile outdated and even rejected models.

While the Union Budget laid stress on ‘inclusive growth’, there was hardly any mention of how to tackle the staggering corruption in various industries, particularly in the context of siphoning off chunks of tax payers’ money into the ever-deepening pockets of private businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats and servicemen who double up as full time money-launderers. What is the point of effective revenue generation and tax moderation if none of the added government income reach the sprawling poor and have-nots of this nation? While Defence Minister AK Antony has recently stressed that 70 per cent of the current year’s defence budget has already been spent on acquisition of arms and ammunitions, what has also surfaced now that substantial chunks of monies meant for boosting the Indian Air Force has gone into brokering deals in favour of some for petty personal gains and to spend money on ‘champagne and ballerinas’. Though Antony has emphasised the importance of indigenisation of the arms manufacturing industry, Indian ministers and defence personnel are busy courting companies like AgustaWestland, which already has a putrescent history of scandalous deals with India itself, with the ghost of the Westland helicopter deals of the 1980s chasing the ONGC for years and turning the Indian public sector helicopter company Pawan Hans terminally sick! All the talk of growth, justice and equitable development falls flat when faced with such gaping chasms of institutionalised swindling. Moreover, the massive disbursement on arms race eats into other crucial infrastructural needs. India is simply not in a position anymore to let the humongous defence allocations fall into stinking pits of dishonesty.
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