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Is the defence budget enough?

Is the defence budget enough?
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First Published: Tue, Feb 24 2009. 09 35 PM IST

StockXpert
StockXpert
Updated: Tue, Feb 24 2009. 09 35 PM IST
The acting finance minister did better than possibly the most sanguine estimates for allocations to defence in the vote on account for 2009-10. The Rs1.41 trillion bounty was an increase of 23% over revised estimates for fiscal 2009 at Rs1.14 trillion. But going beyond the numbers, the key question is: Will this outlay of 13% of our government spending protect us, common citizens?
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In layman’s terms, defence budgets provide for men and material that guard our borders and protect us from external threats while taking care of militancy within the country which are beyond the capacity of the police and paramilitary. However, in the age of fourth generation warfare, India’s security challenges go beyond that of territorial integrity to include terrorism, information warfare, disruption of space and communication networks and societal disjunction. Security is, therefore, becoming a multifunctional area of specialization not restricted to the Armed Forces. Thus, an assessment of the budget for defence and security has to broadly include allocations to the military and police and other security agencies.
From this perspective, it would be evident that the needs of the man and his family which impinge on the morale of the fighting forces seem to be reasonably well taken care of. This is reflected in the increase of Rs13,200 crore in the revenue budget of the Armed Forces and Rs1,500 crore in defence pensions, primarily a largesse catering for the Sixth Pay Commission. This has similarly catered for the paramilitary and the police.
In terms of capital budget, which contributes to hardware, allocation of Rs54,824 crore for defence represents a jump of 33.7% of the revised estimates. Preliminary indications reveal that a large portion would go towards financing the maritime security plan to include the formation of the maritime security Advisory board (MSAB), coastal command and maritime zones, along with the acquisition of offshore patrol vessels, fast-attack craft and radars for the Coast Guard and the Indian Navy. The balance is likely to be spent on servicing existing contracts such as the Awacs, Su-30s, Hawk AJT, C 130 J transport aircraft and so on. The Indian ordnance factories will get about Rs8,400 crore, which is Rs2,000 crore over and above the previous year.
This investment should deter our adversaries from launching a conventional adventure across our borders. Will it also create a capability for carrying out punitive strikes if we face another terrorist strike? The answer would lie in what the services are planning to acquire for the Special Forces, surveillance and acquisition assets, armed drones and stand-off precision guided munitions—information unlikely to be available in the public domain.
Building capacity of the police is the second aspect of the security budget. The Union government has been spending almost Rs1,300 crore per year for the past four years—as per details made available to the Rajya Sabha on 18 February—to build capacity of the police on security-related expenditure (SRE) including Naxal violence and modernization of police forces. This has not contributed to bringing down the number of casualties other than in Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, the number of deaths of civilians has risen in the North-East while in Naxal-affected states it remains double that of the militants over the period from 2005-2008, thereby indicating a major gap in capacity building.
In the budget this year, capital allotments for Central police and paramilitary forces is Rs709 crore; this amount is surprisingly less than the Rs755 crore allotted in the previous year. Another issue is that of the decentralized acquisition process of the police. Thus procurement is left very much at the discretion of the respective director generals. Tagging police requirements with that of the Armed Forces or creating a joint procurement organization needs to be considered for standardization and economy.
Border and coastal security has been given priority in the budget with the Indo-Pakistan, Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-China borders allotted Rs820 crore, which includes Rs115 crore for construction of border posts. In addition, Rs113 crore goes for coastal security and Rs220 crore for anti-smuggling equipment, while Rs3,182 crore has been sanctioned for police research.
So, where do these huge “security” investments leave us at the end of fiscal 2010 in terms of preventing another Mumbai 26/11 and executing the now famous, “all options strategy”? Incremental capability building is evident, though given the poor capacity of government agencies to absorb capital investments, how far this will reduce our vulnerabilities remains unclear.
A cross-ministerial exercise through modelling to synthesize military and policing capacities created through budgeting is necessary, and the National Security Council secretariat seems to be ideally placed for this. Whether it have the capacity to do so is another question. However, this has to be undertaken because the security risk rating of the country is going down each day, which is affecting foreign investments. Meanwhile, tourists are already shunning India, with peak season January arrivals down 17%.
Rahul K. Bhonsle is editor, South Asia Security Trends. Comment at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Feb 24 2009. 09 35 PM IST