NEW DELHI: One of the most talked about points of this year’s budget announcement was the allocation for defence, but will it be sufficient to modernise the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, in addition to the required regular yearly budget for the armed forces? With the creation of the new Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a lot of defence budgeting announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be done by the CDS, General Bipin Rawat and officers belonging to the CDS and DMA for all the three armed forces of the country. To understand how they will manage the defence budget while ensuring the modernisation, salaries and pension bills of the Indian Army (the second biggest Army in the world), Navy and Air Force, this reporter spoke to multiple CDS and DMA officers who are in the process of giving the allocated amount to the defence forces the required priority.

Before going into the details of the roadmap being planned and issues being faced by the CDS and DMA, briefly, let’s first understand the defence budget for the financial year 2020-21 in numbers.

DEFENCE BUDGET for FY 2020-21

Out of the total Union Budget (Rs 3,042,230 cr) outlaid in Parliament, Rs 337,553 cr has been allocated to defence (excluding defence pension). For defence pension, an amount of Rs 133,825 cr has been provided in 2020-21. There is an increase of Rs 40,367.21 cr in the total defence allocations (Rs 471,378 cr) including defence pension over the financial year 2019-20. The total defence budget accounts for 15.49% of the total Central government expenditure for the year 2020-21. The allocation of Rs 471,378 cr represents a growth of 9.37% over Budget Estimates (Rs 431,010.79 cr) for the financial year 2019-20.

Out of Rs 337,553 cr allocated for the financial year 2020-21, Rs 218,998 cr is for revenue (Net) expenditure and Rs 118,555 cr is for capital expenditure for the Defence Services and the organisations/departments under Ministry of Defence. The amount of Rs 118,555 cr allocated for capital expenditure includes modernisation related expenditure.

CDS & DMA PLAN AHEAD

India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the top brass of the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) officers are satisfied with the amount allocated to defence in the budget but they are planning it with a different and more effective point of view. Instead of allocation of the budget, a lot of focus is being given to the management of the budget.

Prioritising the immediate requirements of the three Services in modernising the armed forces is the key area, said General Bipin Rawat, while interacting with this journalist. At least two out of the three Service Chiefs (Chief of Army Staff Gen. M.M. Nravane and Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall R.K.S. Bhadauria) in the last one month, on multiple occasions, have mentioned that the Indian armed forces are fully prepared and are ready to tackle any military challenge, giving an indication that last year’s budget has been utilised by the Services, with modernisation and priority being given to operational preparedness.

One of the senior officers from the DMA, on the condition of anonymity mentioned to this reporter that the Armed forces are keeping the purchase of a lot of items like vehicles, batteries, generators, infrastructure for house-construction on the secondary list and are giving priority to the purchase of guns, infantry rifles, bullet-proof jackets, bullet-proof helmets and night vision surveillance equipment. The same officer mentioned that Gen Rawat has suggested that there is no need to keep in reserve the stocks of items that are indigenously available.

When Gen Rawat was asked about the plan to create the other items in the list like building accommodation for married officers, he replied giving credit to the current Defence Secretary, Dr Ajay Kumar for fully supporting the Army’s plan for the optimal utilisation of a portion of the massive land resources available with the Army on the new Moti Baugh model in New Delhi.

Gen Rawat also mentioned that they can easily create a fund of approximately Rs 35,000 cr with very little land utilisation on the above mentioned model in a span of seven to eight years, in seven to eight different cities in the country.

Talking about one of the biggest areas of concern for the Indian military, former Director General of Military Operation, Lt Gen (R) Vinod Bhatia said, “The rapidly increasing pension bill of the retired officers is something that the government must think and plan about.” The pension itself has gone up to Rs 134,000 cr in the financial year 2020-21. The former DGMO suggested, “Increasing the retirement age of the jawans in the Army could be one solution. One can start with the initial aim of 50+ age in the non-combat arms and 45-50 in combat arms.” Just retired Tri-Service Chief, Lt Gen (R) Satish Dua also feels the pension bill portion of the budget takes away a large portion of the amount that can be utilised for the modernisation of the armed forces. He suggested: “Induction of trained Army jawans in the police or paramilitary services after the age of 35 could be a win-win situation for the armed forces and paramilitary and police services as they will also get trained men and women.”

When asked about the solution for the same, Gen Rawat said, “In addition to increasing the age of retirement in the Army, training and inducting more civilians in Territorial Army can reduce the salary and pension budget for the armed forces as most civilians from the Territorial Army will be ready to be deployed when the need and war like situations arise.”

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