by Harsha Kaka
Both Army chief General Bipin Rawat and vice chief of the Army, General Sarath Chand, have through various platforms expressed frustration over the money allocated in the Union Budget to the defence sector. The Army generals have complained that the allocation hardly leaves anything for the modernisation and upkeep of the forces. In fact, it fails to account for even inflationary pressures.
The Army chief said approximately 35 per cent of the defence Budget goes in the nation-building process, aiming to prove that the armed forces are not "white elephants". Talking about how the Indian Army has not kept pace with the modernisation adopted by Chinese Army, Rawat said while the neighbouring country has made economic progress it has also modernised its army.
He said that while India is focused on economic growth, it has failed to think in terms of defence growth.
General Rawat said that at a time when the world is looking towards India to challenge China's growing regional dominance, New Delhi would not be able to rise to the challenge if it ignores the defence sector.
During his recent visit to India, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The strong survive. You make peace with the strong. Make alliance with the strong. You are able to maintain peace by being strong."
The Army chief's comments reflect frustration that built up after the Budget presented on February 1 failed to meet the armed forces' expectations.
Bipin Rawat's comments assume greater significance because he has been seen as one who has hardly any differences with the government. However, he has been compelled to speak up in the face of increasing threats from neighbouring countries and insurgencies in areas like Kashmir,and multiple delays in the procurement process of defence equipment.
The state of affairs is particularly surprising because finance minister Arun Jaitley has until sometime back been the defence minister too. For him to ignore the defence forces is worrying.
General Sarath Chand told a parliamentary standing committee on defence that the Budget allocation for 2018-19 has "dashed the hopes" of the Army and the marginal increase is barely enough to meet inflation.
In the oral deposition to the parliamentary panel, the vice Chief said the allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernisation is way below the committed payments of Rs 29,033. Highlighting the need for more funds, he said typically any modern force should have its equipment divided in one-third each covering all categories of vintage, current and state-of-the-art.
"The state today is 68 per cent vintage, 24 per cent current and 8 per cent in state-of-the-art category," he said.
He said that India faces a real threat both from Pakistan and China and must be geared up to deal with any eventuality.
He also pointed out that the Army was falling short of funds for its 25 "Make in India" projects. "As a result, many of these may end up foreclosed."
India is one of the few countries which face hostile neighbours armed with nuclear power from two sides. Both Pakistan and China aim to internally destabilise India and adversely impact its growth. While India may itself not declare a war, it has to be prepared in case of an enemy attack.
With weather conditions being extreme on both fronts, the Army needs different gear and equipment that is suited for the conditions in border areas.
With a poor research and development base and ineffective Defence Research and Development Organisation, India is compelled to import most of its military hardware.
No nation can ever become a world power by solely relying on imports, hence separate budgetary allocations are essential for turning the "Make in India" dream into a reality.
Developing capabilities is a slow process. Projects approved now will take their own time for completion. A shortfall in supplies, opens the door for adventurism by adversaries adventurism by adversaries. That's a challenge India needs to be ready to face.
While an additional allocation for defence may come at the cost of some welfare schemes from the government, this is actually a classic case of "bread versus guns" battle.
The fact is that unless there are guns, bread will remain under threat. India's military power has allowed an enabling environment for economic growth. Compromising on it could have disastrous consequences.
Among the various branches of armed forces, Navy and Air Force need the maximum funds. While the Army uses the largest manpower to save the borders in the north and Northeast, it share is the lowest.
Life of the Army jawans is so tough that they hardly get enough breaks from active service.
Many strategists have claimed that the Indian Army should cut down on its manpower and seek to maintain its forces within budgetary constraints, without realising that the Army troop strength is just about sufficient for a two-front war. It lacks modern tanks, long-range artillery and even basic infantry weapons.
However, even the Navy and Air Force are suffering due to problems of fund constraints. This does not bode well for the country.
There is a need for the nation to know that the armed forces are battling not just the country's enemies but also fund crunch.
The top leadership, responsible for the rank and file, and aware of the impact of being under-prepared and under-equipped, have voiced their concerns.
It is now for the government to decide whether it desires to enhance funds for guns or ignore guns for butter.
Despite their constraints, the armed forces without a doubt will perform to the best of their abilities. But the government must ensure that their morale is also kept high.