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Spend wisely to be safe

The bottomline is that New Delhi needs to prioritise its expenditure on defence. Spending enough on internal security to make it as sturdy as possible should be right on top.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2009 22:57 IST

The 34 per cent increase in defence allocation in the interim budget was designed to send out a message that the UPA government takes the matter of national security seriously. The 26/11 attacks have meant, as Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament, that “a threshold has been crossed. Our security environment has deteriorated considerably”. The increase in defence expenditure to Rs 1,417 billion went along with an additional Rs 70 billion for various internal security arms. There is rarely any long-term thought behind an interim budget. But an exception should be made for national security. Terrorists will not adjust their activities to India’s election schedule. The problem with Indian security goes beyond simply the quantum of money being spent. That is an issue: defence expenditure last year fell below 2 per cent of the GDP for the first time in decades. While any poor country would like to avoid military spending, the truth remains that India lives in a tough neighbourhood that shows little signs of getting gentler. New Delhi had concluded last year that Pakistan was likely to resume its role as an exporter of terror. So the real problem in defence spending is how efficiently this money is spent.

Much of the increase in defence expenditure will go to salaries. As a percentage of the defence budget, capital spending will be less than last year. The defence ministry, by its own minister’s admission, continues to have an arms procurement policy so byzantine that newly-bought weapons are obsolete before they are delivered. Indians have come to expect billions of defence rupees to be unspent every year. However, the Mumbai attacks underlined that internal security is India’s Achilles’ heel. India is unlikely to ever face a military invasion. The opposite is true of terrorist attacks. Prevention is the most cost-effective means to fight internal security threats. Yet the state police forces, the weak link in India’s security, are unmentioned in the budget.

The National Investigation Agency has been allotted Rs 100 million. This amount is too little and needs to be upped considerably. The Intelligence Bureau’s 8.5 per cent budget increase, too, is in need of a spike. The bottomline is that New Delhi needs to prioritise its expenditure on defence. Spending enough on internal security to make it as sturdy as possible should be right on top.