Budget Has Dashed Our Hopes: Army

It is most concerning and heartbreaking to learn that the Army has raised red flag over unsatisfactory Budget allocation for the next fiscal saying with a very heavy heart that, “Budget has dashed our hopes”. None other than the Vice Chief of the Army has admitted grudgingly that it may be forced to close down as many as 25 ‘Make in India’ projects. Deposing before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Vice Chief of Army Staff – Lt General Sarath Chand also said that there is no separate allocation for ensuring the safety of Army camps which have been subjected to several ‘fidayeen’ attacks.
                                           Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is red flagging all moves to allocate more funds for Army so that as we see 25 Make in India projects may be closed down permanently? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who strongly advocates that the allocation for defence should be very low just like it was in 1962 war when we lost badly to China and has actually ensured this also? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who feels that defence should be very low down on the priority list and all Indians should be proud of this as money is utilised for other purposes?  
                                         Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who feels that one should not take seriously what the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence noted in its report tabled in Parliament on March 13 that in case of Navy, dismal allocation will have “cascading” impact on operational preparedness and technological upgradation? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who has allowed the situation to come to such an abysmal pass? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is disregarding openly the huge dangerous threat posed to India not only from Pakistan but also from a bigger adversary like China who has hiked its budget to a level like never before?
                                            Can we afford to ignore all this? Who is this think tank in the Finance Ministry who is disregarding what the Army is saying that it is important to pay attention to modernization and bridging deficiencies while considering the possibilities of a two-front war about which even Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat had spoken about earlier? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is ensuring that there is a total paucity of funds for the forces as the Vice Chief has very rightly pointed out now?
                                           Highlighting the shocking shortage of funds to sustain modernization and operational preparedness, the Vice Chief informed the Parliamentary Panel headed by BJP leader Major General (retired) BC Khanduri that at present 68 percent of its equipment is in the “vintage” category! Typically, any modern Army has a mix of one-third of its equipment in the vintage category, one-third in the current category and one-third in the State of the art category. However. Lt General Chand presented a dismal view on the Army’s modernization levels which is an unpalatable truth from which we cannot run away!
                                            Simply put, the Vice Chief said that, “As far as we are concerned, the state today is 68% of our equipment is in the vintage category, with just about 24% in the current and 8% in the state of the art category”. The report said that, “All streams taken into account, the Army has an overall shortfall of around Rs 12,296 crore under the capital head. In its response, the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Maj Gen (retd) BC Khanduri observed that there is huge shortfall in projected and allocated amounts in capital head for the Services in 2018-19. The shortfall stands at Rs 17,756.92 crore, Rs 15,691.70 crore, Rs 1,392.58 crore and Rs 41,924.57 crore for Army, Navy, Joint Staff and Air Force respectively.
                                          Be it noted, the Committee is scathing on the 4.5 percent increase in the revenue component of the Army’s budget, as it will all go towards the hike in pay due to implementation of the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission. Payroll and pension costs will constitute 56%of expenditure. The Committee also notes that out of a projection of Rs 40,073 crore for operations and maintenance, only an allocation of Rs 30,791 crore has been made. The Committee said that, “The budget for operations and maintenance is a critical component for ensuring operational preparedness at any given point of time”.
                                           In its submission to the Committee, the Army had stated that, “The budget for modernisation has to be anything between 22 to 25 percent of the overall budget, lest the Army is found to be wanting” but it was “a mere 14 percent of the allocation which is grossly inadequate”. In contrast to the requirement of the armed forces to have one-third of its equipment in the vintage category, one third in the current category and one-third in the state-of-the-art category, the report states that, “The current position in the Indian Army reveals that 68 percent of equipment is of vintage category, just about 24 percent of the current category and only eight percent of the state-of-the-art category.”       
                                     This is really shocking! Who is the think tank or bureaucrat or politician who is calling all the shots in the Finance Ministry and  desiring our forces to be starved of the requisite money so that many projects are closed down as we are actually seeing now? Where is our nation heading if not towards complete disaster?            
                                       Not surprising that the Vice Chief in a candid admission said in his deposition to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the issue of capital outlay on Defence services that, “However, the Budget of 2018-2019 has dashed our hopes and most of what has been achieved has actually received a little set back. To highlight a few cases, the marginal increase in Budget estimate barely accounts for the inflation and does not cater for the taxes. Allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernization is insufficient even to cater for the committed payment of Rs 29,033 crore for 125 ongoing schemes and emergency procurements…. Committed liabilities of 2017 – which will also get passed on to 2018 – will further accentuate the situation.” Lt Gen Sarath Chand told the Panel that the sum earmarked for modernization (Rs 21,338 crore) wasn’t enough to fund the 125 ongoing schemes, emergency procurements and weapons for 10 days of intense war. Most disgraceful!
                                       This is nothing but betrayal of the supreme national interests which can never be pardoned under any circumstances!  Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is behind all this fiasco? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who still feels that everything is hunky dory and there is no need to panic about it but every reason to relax as our forces can manage with a budget which is much lesser than even the one in 1962?        
                                Truth be told, while faced with China’s vastly superior infrastructure along the 4,000 km long Line of Actual Control (LAC), including roads, the Vice Chief said that, “We have a large number of strategic roads and also infrastructural development along that border. For these infrastructure developments, the allocation is falling short by around Rs 902 crore from what we have demanded. So, there is an overall shortfall of around Rs 12,296 crore as far as capital is concerned.” Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is ensuring all this? Why is PM Narendra Modi silent on all this while speaking in his favourite programme “Mann ki Baat”? Why is our national security being taken for a ride by this think tank in the Finance Ministry who is calling all the shots?  
                                       Truly speaking, even as the Parliamentary Panel had expressed concerns over the terrorist attacks on Army establishments, including the Sunjawan camp in Jammu in February, Lt Gen Sarath Chand who is also Army’s Vice Chief said that, “The Defence MInistry empowered the Vice Chief to spend as much as Rs 14,097 crore towards security issues. However, there is no separate allocation for this so this money also to be found from the same Budget leaving with us with no choice but to re-prioritise either to reduce our requirement as far as the security of military stations are concerned or to go slow on some other acquisitions.” Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who has ensured all this? Should we all be proud of it?
                                         Let me be direct in saying: When Indian forces will suffer at the hands of better armed enemies like China which spends money like water on Army and its defence then these same politicians and think tank in the Finance Ministry will blame our forces for not fighting up to the mark! They will very conveniently exonerate themselves of all the blame for all the wrongdoings they indulged in by allowing such lapses in our national security to happen right under their very nose and with their full blessings! There can be nothing more despicable and disastrous than this!
                                        It is noteworthy that in its observations on this issue, the Parliamentary Panel said the latest attack underscores the need for speedy measures which go beyond “inquiries” and “policy announcements” so as to overhaul the security system. It said that the implementation needs to be broad based and go beyond “ad hoc measures”. The Parliamentary Panel concurred with the Vice Chief of Army’s view for having separate funds for security of military installations adding that it is essential to ensure that there is no “laxity” or “incorrect” spending of the Budget allocations.
                                    This begs the all important question: How can the think tank in the Finance Ministry disregard all this with utter brazenness by saying callously that, “2018 is not 1962. We are not what we were in 1962 ignoring conveniently that Chinese too are now not what they were in 1962”? Who will be responsible when we will suffer badly in the war with a powerful adversary like China which is making more and more roads, rails and helipads all along the border with India? How long will we live in a fools paradise by downplaying the dire threat posed directly by the Dragon which is making all plans to encircle us from all sides?
                                       Bluntly put, the Parliamentary Panel minced no words in putting across its firm view that the budgetary provisions made under the demands for grants 2018-19 do not reciprocate the “seriousness” required towards meeting perimeter security”. As regards inadequate budgetary allocation, the Panel noted that the Army projected Rs 1,96,387.36 crore (revenue and capital). The allocation made against this projection is Rs 1,53,875.22 crore. This amounts to a shortfall of Rs 42,512.14 crore or a Budget deficit of nearly 23 percent vis-à-vis the projection.
                                         To be sure, the Parliamentary Standing Committee also minced no words in making it absolutely clear that, “Keeping in view the increasing threat perception including external strife and internal dissidence such as Doklam, increased external activities in Tibet over a year, rampant cross border firing and militant activities, the current budget is not supportive to the inevitable needs of the army”. How can any responsible nation ignore the inevitable needs of the Army? Who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is ensuring all this?   
                                    Coming to the Navy, the Panel noted that the Navy’s capital Budget has declined from 12.81 percent in the year 2012-13 to 7.46 percent in the year 2017-18. It observed that, “This data itself is reflective of the unsympathetic attitude” towards the modernization drive of the Naval forces”. Noting the grossly dismal scenario, the Committee said this may lead to delay in induction of “critical capabilities”  and resultant cost overruns. The Panel said that a Budget deficit of nearly 40 percent will “indeed” have a “cascading” impact on the operational preparedness and technological upgradation of the Navy. The Navy made a projection of Rs 33,458 crore for 2018-19 but got only Rs 20,003.71 crore.                 
                                All said and done, the whole nation must remain indebted to the Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Sarath Chand especially and the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Maj Gen (retd) BC Khanduri for bringing the real picture of how the Army, Navy and Air Force are facing severe shortage of funds which directly affects our national security! Can any nation afford to compromise with it under any circumstances? Only at the cost of its own peril can any nation venture to compromise on national security! It must be found out that who is the think tank in the Finance Ministry who is behind all this fiasco and who wants to cut corners on defence needs and has also declined a fixed 3% GDP allocation for defence? This is an unpardonable offence which is far worse than beating even a Chief Secretary as we saw in Delhi as it tantamounts to throwing the whole nation to the mercy of the invading, ruthless army of enemy country without any compunction!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.