Six years after the UPA government was slammed over the then army chief VK Singh’s disclosure that the force was running out of ammunition, nothing seems to have changed under the Modi government as a top General painted a very grim picture before a Parliamentary panel about the army’s financial condition.
Army vice-chief Lieutenant General Sarath Chand gave a detailed account of budget constraints being faced by the force and highlighted that there wasn’t enough money for emergency purchases to augment security of military installations or buy ammunition and sustain strategic roads projects along the China border.
The army’s modernisation has been a cause of concern as the force is being prepared to face challenges on two fronts facing Pakistan and China.
But Parliamentary panel reports tabled on Tuesday showed that an allocation of Rs 21,339 crore would not even meet the committed liabilities of Rs 29,033 crore for the 125 ongoing procurement projects and emergency purchases. The building of ammunition stocks for fighting 10 days of intense war also falls short of Rs 6,380 crore.
“Budget 2018-19 has dashed our hopes and most of what has been achieved has actually received a setback. The increase in budgetary estimates accounts for inflation and does not even cater for taxes,” the senior army officer told the panel.
The army also drew comparisons with Pakistan and China where the armies are modernising rapidly. The army cited that it is spending only 14 per cent of the budget into modernisation but it should be 25 per cent.
Another highlight of the army’s disclosure was the old problem of dealing with vintage equipment. The army claimed that 68 per cent of its equipment was old, 24 per cent was off the current level and only eight per cent can be classified as state-of-the-art.
After the attacks on military installations in Pathankot, Nagrota and Uri, the government had launched a massive plan to upgrade security of sensitive locations but the army does not have enough money to buy new ammunition, spares and armament.
Adding to the problems was the lack of funds in pushing infrastructure development projects. The army is short of Rs 902 crore to build strategic roads along the China border.
The army also cited the rising threat perception like the Doklam standoff and the increasing Chinese aggression to make a case for improving funding. The panel was told that Chinese activities in Tibet had increased as there has been aggressive patrolling and more transgressions.
The defence ministry has cleared a slew of procurement projects for the army but the pace of acquisition has been sluggish to make any immediate impact on ground. The government has approved purchases of new assault rifles, armoured vehicles and other equipment. But it has been noted that the ambitious “Make in India” has failed to take-off in the defence sector adversely impacting the modernisation of armed forces. All the projects are in the pipeline only, very few seeing light of the day.