In a nation not renowned for its strategic culture or security proactiveness, any measure by the government to beef up defence preparedness or reaching out to the armed forces and by extension to the large number of ex-servicemen (ESM) is more than welcome.
Thus amidst the economic gloom and doom scenario being spread by the Opposition, Union finance minister P Chidambaram’s interim budget deserves kudos for dispelling the myth of India’s economy being in the doldrums. His assertion of the reduction in the fiscal deficit and of 140 million Indians having risen above the poverty line is encouraging.
It requires no great wisdom to state that defence budgets have to be based on the nation’s assessment of the external and internal challenges. The government has budgeted Rs. 2.24 lakh crore for defence which amounts to a 10% increase since the last fiscal year. On the surface of it, this increased allocation may appear adequate, but if calculated in real terms this amount does not adequately cater for the critical modernisation programmes of the three services. Last year, the government had allocated Rs. 80,000 crore for modernisation, out of which the armed forces had spent approximately 82% for their modernisation programmes. For the next fiscal the meagre increase for capital expenditure has been only 3.2%, that is a total allocation of Rs. 89,587 crore. It remains a sad commentary for the nation that India is now the largest importer of arms and ammunition in the world — a sorry state which must be rectified by indigenous production.
The interim budget, however, will always be remembered for the much delayed announcement of a long-standing demand — One Rank-One Pension. About Rs. 500 crore have been allocated for implementing this decision from this fiscal year which will be more than welcomed by over 28 lakh ESM. This step will rightly ensure that all those who retire at the same rank, irrespective of their date of retirement, will get the same pension. That this decision, has been reportedly pushed for implementation by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, is indeed welcome for it was long overdue. The nation must never forget those who serve it with valour, sacrifice, discipline and selflessness and political parties must refrain from politicising national security matters.
Defence budgeting is an annual ritual but planning for defence preparedness is unquestionably a long-term exercise. India must factor in combat capabilities and the threats from countries in the neighbourhood. Budgetary allocations to confront these challenges thus have to be sought and made. It may be factored in by the Indian establishment that notwithstanding all the formidable challenges our defence spending relatively is low compared to our GDP than of nations which are way behind our economic strength. China spends on an average 7.5% of its GDP on defence, Pakistan spends over 5%, the United States spends 4.5%, while India spends just under 2%. It may be noted that successive standing committees of Parliament on defence have recommended this allocation to be firmed up between 3 and 3.5% if our armed forces have to be adequately modernised. Nevertheless, out of these funds, additional allocations must be made to the Defence and Research Development Organisation and all those organisations that are capable or be made capable for producing state-of-the-art equipment.
The India Story, once again, requires to be re-energised and our defence preparedness is sine-qua-non for its fruition.
Kamal Davar is a retired Lt General and was the first Chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency
The views expressed by the author are personal