CHANDIGARH: On Feb 1, 2017 the Union Finance Minister presented the budget which has subsequently been analysed and discussed in great detail. What has been missing from the discussions and analysis is the defence budget, which was part of the main budget. Nor did the finance minister in his budget speech spell out the reason for the meagre financial allocations for defence.

This omission on the part of Minister Arun Jaitley, and absence of any worthwhile discussion in the media, both print and television, shows a general lack of interest at the national level in the vital issue of national security. This need not surprise us, because it is not something new or of recent occurrence. For decades national security has been given the back seat.

In this budget, allocation for defence has been pegged at 1.62 percent of GDP, which works out to just 6 percent increase over last years’ defence budget. That is Rs 359,8548 crores from the previous year’s Rs 345,106 crores. This increase does not cover even inflation in the cost of military weapons and equipment and the depreciation in the value of Indian rupee and the imposition of customs duty on military’s imports, ( a new feature for defence imports.) The Pension bill too has been included in the defence budget. With this scale of the defence budget, leave aside modernization, even the deficiencies in ammunition, weapons and equipment can not be made up.

The allocation for capital account has seen an increase by Rs 7,281 crores, that is, from Rs 79,207 crores of last year to Rs 86,488 crores for 2017-18, a 9 per cent hike. However this largesse is due to merging the under-spending from the current year’s capital allocation by about Rs 7000 crores.

This under spending from the capital budget is a permanent feature of defence budgets. On this there appears to be some understanding between the defence and finance ministries, else it cannot be a constant feature under capital head of budgets of the military: year after year! This under-spending is also linked to the extremely devious and involved procedures, where the process can span out to many years.

The range of deficiencies of weapons, ammunition and equipment with the defence services, particularly army and air force are indeed staggering. While the Indian Air Force is short of fighter planes, the Army does not have even a suitable rifle or a suitable bulletproof jacket. DRDO takes around 5% of defence budget but is mainly busy inventing the wheel. Ordnance Factory Board takes well over Rs 1000 crores from the defence budget and its factories, on their own mark, the price of items supplied to the military and to this MoD adds another10 percent, presumably to motivate them to keep up their inefficiency and high cost of production!

The Parliamentary Committee of Defence recommended allocation of 3 per cent of GDP to the defence on a regular basis. More recently the Ministry of Defence had recommended that the allocation for defence should be 2.5 per cent of GDP. China allocates around 3 to 4 per cent of its GDP for defence and its GDP is almost four times that of India.

Strong militaries deter an opponent undertaking any offensive against a country or even indulge in cross border terrorist attacks. India lacks that deterrence and that is one reason for Pakistan to continue with its policy of thousand cuts against India.

Aggressive moves by China in the region, the ever tightening’ ‘string of pearls’, around India’s neck, continued claim over Arunachal Pradesh, obstructing the designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist, using Pakistan a cats paw against India and generally adopting an aggressive stance are issues of concern, and the result of India’s inability to create deterrence against such moves by China. We may overlook these developments and pointers at our own peril.

Defence budget apart, failure to coordinate foreign policy with national security issues is another major failure in the Indian context. Nepal has been gradually slipping out of India’s sphere of influence and its close ties with China has very serious security implications.

China’s moved into Gilgit region ( PoK ) years earlier and presently building China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, running right through PoK and now years later the foreign secretary of India has found time to object to this move by China. China can best be dealt in the sphere of trade, where India’s official figure of trade deficit with China is 60 billion dollars and if one takes note of under invoicing by Indian traders, this figure would be much higher. With USA imposing heavy tariffs on Chinese imports, consequently threat of a similar action by India can effectively resolve some of the irritants with that country.

A number of studies conducted during the past many years, made numerous recommendations related to equipping and reorganisation of defence forces and ministry of defence, lie unimplemented. Lack of modernisation and large scale deficiencies apart, the unending assaults on military’s status, unfair hands, repeatedly dealt by successive Pay Commissions and a range of other travails have impacted its morale.

India seems to be reliving the period of 1950s, when, one part we were projecting the country in the international arena and gaining popularity internationally and on the other totally neglected national security and the armed forces: their equipping and modernization. Then came the inevitable 1962 debacle.

(Lt General Harwant Singh (Retired) is former Deputy Chief of Army Staff)