Jaitley’s budget would add to defence shortages

The common perception is that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a nationalist entity. As a consequence of its nationalistic orientation, a perception had arisen that the defence forces would receive a boost in its first full-year Union Budget. The defence budget, however, is a mere 1.75 per cent of the projected gross domestic product (GDP) for 2015-16. The sum allocated to defence budget is in accordance with the pattern set by the previous United Progressive Alliance-led governments. Such spending patterns have led India’s defence forces  to this sorry state. Those who observe defence budgets look out for two heads, namely, revenue expenditure and capital expenditure. The former is expenditure incurred on day to day expenses such as the payment of salaries etc, and the latter is expenditure set out for the process of modernisation.

 In a progressive budget the cost on modernisation should be much more than payment of salaries. In short capital expenditure should outstrip revenue. The revenue figures stands at Rs 1, 52,139 crore. Capital expenditure, meanwhile, is at a mere Rs 94, 587.95 crore. These figures imply that the bulk of the budget is being utilised for mundane purposes. After two budgets why has the BJP not lived up to its word on important issues surrounding national security. The capital expenditure on defence was pegged at Rs 78, 872.23 crore last year, a figure that may imply a certain degree of under spending.

The shortage of officers, by approximately more than 13,000, in addition to forces and equipment are endemic. The army has not acquired a gun since Bofors in the mid eighties. The air force is short by around two to three hundred fighters plus 56 transport planes. The navy is short of a dozen plus submarines and half a dozen frigates. Also, we are also short of thousand new choppers for all three forces. The infantry lacks a credible rifle and the armoured corps is short on ammunition, which has curtailed training. Can all these shortages be addressed in two budgets? The answer has been left to the reader.  India is expected to spend around $700 billion in weapons procurement over ten years and the current defence budget stands at $40 billion dollars. How does India spend 17.5 times its defence budget on arms procurement in ten years, when the revenue expenditure has been slated for $24 billion plus every year?

The defence ministry has been a habitual offender right from the days of the first National Democratic Alliance-led government in returning unspent monies to the exchequer. A look at statistics for the last fifteen years clearly shows a high amount of unspent money returned unutilised except in 2008-09, when money was paid for the sixth pay commission.

The current policy of defence modernisation is flawed and requires a systematic change. The Centre is incapable of spending funds allotted for defence. Infusion of such large funds due to years of neglect will create unforeseen problems. Weapons have a long gestation period too. Allotting funds in a year and not being able to spend those sums, therefore, leads to other accounting problems. What does the capital head of the budget this year indicate? No big deals this year. It thus means very little induction of much needed aircraft, artillery guns, and possibly submarines.

India has a problem, wherein the” Make in India” brand will take time to deliver. The nation lacks the requisite ethos to absorb technology, as mentioned in an earlier column titled “Technology first for India’s defences”, which was published on January 20. In an environment where Pakistan continues to conduct a proxy war and the Chinese flex their muscle, allied with the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan, the Indian budget has sent a message that the Centre expects to conduct business as usual.

The situation requires systematic change on war footing. This government will present only three more budgets. At the current rate, not much can be expected in the next few budgets. The Goods and Service Tax took years to bear fruit and even now it will be implemented only next year. India’s defence procurement and production system needs a revolutionary change. If a simple thing like One Rank One Pension  took up so much deliberation, changing equipment procurement mindsets, arms production, a new system, and implementing the same will be a herculean task. This task has yet not begun. The defence forces, meanwhile, continue to languish and make do with whatever they have. Has the nation learnt anything one wonders?
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