Friday, July 10, 2009

Defence needs reforms, not just hike in funds

July 07, 2009
First Published: 00:09 IST(7/7/2009)
Last Updated: 00:11 IST(7/7/2009)

“We will fight with whatever we have.” This disconsolate remark made by VP Malik, our army chief during the Kargil conflict, remains as true as it was 10 years ago.

India’s security remains in dire straits, with China bearing down from the Himalayas (and soon from the Indian Ocean), Pakistan brazenly persevering with sponsored terrorism, and the Naxalites placing huge swathes of the country beyond the writ of the state.

The budgetary appropriation of Rs 1,41,703 crore for defence marks an increase of 34 per cent over last year’s allocation of Rs 1,05,600 crore, but a large chunk will be absorbed by Sixth Pay Commission liabilities. Usual carping about the dwindling share of defence notwithstanding, Pranab Mukherjee, as a former defence minister, knows money is the least of his successor’s problems.

The Service chiefs may put on a brave face, but there is no denying that the modernisation, re-equipment, and even spares and ammunition procurement for their services, remain stalled. The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) outdated multi-layered structure and its Kafkaesque file-work continue to ensure that money voted by Parliament for defence of the nation remains unspent year after financial year.

The MoD has been unable to spend over Rs 7,007 crore of the total capital outlay of Rs 48,007 crore last year. It surrendered Rs 6,750 crore in the two preceding years.

The stasis that grips MoD is also attributed to allegations of corruption, which seem to dog every arms deal. With kickback allegations flying thick and fast, even reputed companies, with excellent equipment to offer, are now convinced that no Indian defence contract can be won without greasing palms, and are ready to stoop to bribery.

This phenomenon is steadily demolishing the fighting edge of India’s armed forces. Redemption for India’s security lies in the major political parties publicly declaring arms deals as “off-limits” for generating election funds — and then faithfully abiding by this renunciation.

There is worldwide recognition that the single most expensive item in defence budgets is manpower, with its “cradle to grave” liability. No wonder the revenue expenditure of Rs 86,879 crore for meeting the day-to-day expenses of the armed forces accounts for almost 62 per cent of the defence budget.

(The writer is a member of the National Security Advisory Board)

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