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Friday, Aug 16, 2019

Defence ministry brushes aside concerns about fund crunch, says ‘things are happening’

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman dismissed concerns about a possible financial crisis, saying resources are adequate to modernise the armed forces.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2018 21:56 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said she wanted to remove doubts that “nothing is happening in the ministry”.
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said she wanted to remove doubts that “nothing is happening in the ministry”. (PTI File Photo)

The government brushed aside on Wednesday concerns about a looming financial crisis that could cripple India’s combat capabilities, saying “things are happening in the defence ministry” and “resources are adequate” to modernise the armed forces.

Speaking to journalists on the opening day of DefExpo-2018, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the National Democratic Alliance government’s focus was on prioritising weapon purchases that had not progressed during the last 10 to 20 years, and ensuring maximum utilisation of funds.

She was responding to a Hindustan Times query on a recent parliamentary report in which the army had painted a grim picture of how poor budgetary outlay was coming in the way of emergency purchases, procurement of critical ammunition, and the construction of strategic road projects on the Chinese border.

“The parliamentary standing committee on defence has said that (fund crunch) and it has also said a lot more. I wish anyone who is present here has read the entire report. Read the report in full to know what is really happening in MoD,” the minister said at DefExpo-2018, a biennial military systems exhibition being attended by close to 680 Indian and foreign firms.

She said the ministry had just signed a Rs 639-crore contract with an Indian firm for supplying 1.86 lakh bullet proof jackets to the army, and progress on that project wasn’t made after the panel tabled its report in Parliament in March. The panel looks at the defence ministry’s functioning and consists of MPs from different political parties.

“I want to remove doubts in anyone’s mind that nothing is happening in the ministry,” she said.

The army had told the panel that even as neighbouring China and Pakistan were modernising their militaries at a lightning pace, lack of resources was hurting the force at a time it should be prepared for a two-front war.

Army vice chief Lieutenant General Sarath Chand told the panel that Budget 2018-19 had dashed the army’s hopes and overall shortage under the capital head stood at Rs 12,296 crore.

Responding to another question on the military’s budget and how it has been on the decline measured against India’s gross domestic product (GDP), defence secretary Sanjay Mitra said, “Let me assure you resources are adequate at this point of time. Nearly 33% of the government’s capital expenditure is reserved for defence.”

In February, India allocated Rs 2.95 lakh crore for military spending during 2018-19, a modest hike of 7.8% over last year’s budget of Rs 2.74 lakh crore. The budget includes a capital outlay of Rs 99,563 crore for buying new weapons and systems, up from Rs 86,488 crore.

The budget breached the Rs 4 lakh crore-mark factoring in defence pensions (Rs 1.08 lakh crore). The pension outlay exceeds capital expenditure. This year the budget has slipped to a mere 1.57% of the GDP.

First Published: Apr 11, 2018 21:56 IST

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