Defence allocation same as interim budget, customs waiver for imports
India set aside Rs 3.18 lakh crore for military spending in the Budget 2019-20, the same as the interim budget five months ago, when the government had allocated a jump of 6.87% over last year’s revised estimate of Rs 2.98 lakh crore.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who was the defence minister in the previous government, made no mention of defence except calling it a priority and announcing a customs duty waiver for import of defence equipment.
The budget includes a capital outlay of Rs 1,08,248 crore for buying new weapons and systems at a time when the military plans to upgrade its capabilities with new fighter jets, submarines, artillery and other weapons. The capital outlay stood at Rs 93,982 crore last year. Experts said they were hoping for an increase in defence funding to implement several modernisation programmes.
“Some additional funds should have been provided to make up for the immediate shortfalls in armament. I hope additional money will be made available for initiating big-ticket purchases such as 114 fighters for the Indian Air Force,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
The armed forces will have to prioritise their purchases for optimal utilisation of the available resources, said a senior army official who did not want to be named. If defence pensions and miscellaneous expenses are counted, the budget stands at more than Rs 4.3 lakh crore. At Rs 1.12 lakh crore, the outlay for pensions is more than the capital expenditure. “Defence has an immediate requirement of modernisation and upgradation.... For this purpose, import of defence equipment that are not being manufactured in India are being exempted from the basic customs duty,” Sitharaman said.
Congress former finance minister P Chidambaram said: “You don’t even tell the country what is the allocation for defence. Was it more than last year or less? If it is more than last year, what is the increase? This is the most opaque budget speech I have come across. It is very unfair to the people of India.”