Defence should be robust

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Despite Corona threat once again increasing, India has to increase its budgetary provision on health sector. But at the same time, India faces threat perception in the self defence field as well. China with increased defence budget, Pakistan threatening daily and the clouds of Russia Ukraine war, India can not lessen its budget on defence. In the backdrop of India’s two-front threat perception, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has stressed that the enhancement of airpower is of ‘paramount importance’ and no compromise should be made in terms of combat capabilities and technology while inducting fighter jets into the Air Force. Alluding to China and Pakistan, the panel has said that the threat ‘on both sides of the Indian neighbourhood is a reality which cannot be ignored’. The progressive depletion of the squadron strength is indeed a cause for concern. This glaring gap needs to be plugged promptly, failing which hostile neighbours could pounce on it to the detriment of our national security. The committee has also recommended that adequate budgetary allocations should be made available to the armed forces. The gap between the demand of the three services for capital outlay and the actual allocation suggests that the government and the defence top brass are not on the same page on the financial front. The panel’s warning that curtailment of funds could end up compromising the operational preparedness of the forces should not be ignored by the powers that be. It’s high time the Ministry of Defence fast-tracks the establishment of the non-lapsable defence modernisation fund that could be used exclusively for the procurement of critical defence assets in crunch situations. There was a defence minister named A K Antony. He has declared now to take political recluse (Sanyas). When he was defence minister, he was never active in defence deals and used to sit on the proposed deals of modernization of military even at that time there was more threat perception than nowadays. He had not activated defence deals due to fear of corruption. In his five years of non action, Indian military had to bear huge loss. Even as India’s arms imports have fallen by 21 per cent, the country was the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2017-21, accounting for 11 per cent of the total imports during this five-year period, according to a report released recently by Sweden-based think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Cutting down on defence imports should go hand in hand with greater efforts to secure export orders for indigenously developed military platforms. The ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector should spur work on products that are good enough for our own use and for export purposes too. The sobering fact that the Defence Research and Development Organisation is facing a shortfall of 800-odd scientists — over 10 per cent of the sanctioned strength — must also necessitate timely course correction. Although committee has suggested of adequate funds for defence modernization, it is not possible for any government now to increase defence budget in the backdrop of Corona pandemic. Major chunk of money will have to earmark for health sector to cope with Corona and there are news that new waves have entered in other countries. So they are not far away from India. So, Indian finance ministry has to take into account of threat of Corona also. Not only that, the expense on petrol and diesel import will now be more as Russia-Ukraine war has escalated the fuel prices quite significantly. So substantial provision has to be made for petrol import. Against all these odds, it is very hard to implement the committee’s recommendations. But they are absolutely fair and should be in reality. India’s threat perception is more now because China has increased its defence budget in substantial portion. Its seven times more defence expense is primarily against India and for that the country should  remain constantly alert. In such situation, finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman has to find the solution very cleverly.