By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Dec 14
Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has lambasted the government for having failed to provide the army with funds and badly needed equipment. There is also sharp criticism at the ministry of defence (MoD) for having refused to provide the committee with information it has requested.
In a report entitled “Demands for Grants (2014-15) --- Army”, one of five it presented in the Lok Sabha on Monday, the Committee paints a bleak picture of an army without adequate artillery guns, tanks, missiles and basic combat essentials like bullet-proof jackets and ammunition.
The committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member and former Uttarakhand chief minister, Major General BC Khanduri (Retired), notes: “The Committee find the entire scenario very discouraging and do not find any reason with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance for curtailment in the budget of the Army… Therefore, the Committee recommend that the Ministry of Defence should allocate the amount to the Army as per its projections to buy new weapon system and creating infrastructure for the Army so as to keep its fighting spirit high and ready to move in any eventuality (sic).”
Working under General Khanduri in the committee is an unusually heavyweight set of 21 Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha members. These include prominent BJP MPs like Murli Manohar Joshi; Hindutva champions Vinay Katiyar and Tarun Vijay; pro-military activist, Rajeev Chandrashekhar; former prime minister HD Deve Gowda; former Congress chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and cabinet minister Ambika Soni.
The MoD has long regarded meetings of the Standing Committee as a chore, keeping senior bureaucrats away from their desks. Unlike standing committees in, say, the United States, which are sworn to secrecy and presented with classified information, the MoD routinely up-ends the notion of parliamentary oversight and cites “national security” to avoid answering awkward questions.
The current Committee tersely states that it is “dismayed over the fact that while replying the Ministry tried to conceal even the overt information, which is unacceptable to them (the MPs).”
On the continuing shortfall of 186,138 bullet proof jackets that were sanctioned in 2009, the report notes: “The Committee are perturbed over the fact that such an important life saving device has not been purchased by the Ministry jeopardizing the lives of thousands of soldiers… They are not happy over the state of affairs in the Ministry where such an important purchase could not be materialized even after a lapse of five years.”
While India has fought shy of officially naming China as the reason for raising a new army Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) of 60,000 soldiers, the Committee leaves little to doubt. The report disguises China as “@@@”, but the context makes things clear.
It quotes the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCAS), who briefed the Committee that the decision to raise an MSC “started with our analysis of the threat perception after 15 years and in that analysis it was predicted that the way @@@ has been getting more aggressive in resolving its disputes with neighbours, especially, in view of what we have seen with its maritime disputes in the South China Sea, it was our attempt to make sure that we are fully prepared to deal with this threat if at any time @@@ decides to raise the ante and get more aggressive (sic)”.
The report reveals that two mountain divisions (about 35,000 soldiers) were raised in the 11th Plan to plug gaps in our defences; while the MSC will now be raised.
The committee sharply criticises the defence ministry for making neither funds nor equipment available for the new MSC. The VCAS is quoted saying: “we have dipped into our War Wastage Reserves (WWR)”, which is actually equipment kept in reserve for wartime.
While the MSC will cost Rs 67,000 crore over a period of seven years, the VCAS has told the Standing Committee that no additional money has been allocated for this. He says: “We are not getting additional budget. A certain amount of about Rs. 5,000 crore has been set aside saying that this is meant for the Mountain Corps. But this is not over and above the budget. So, we need money over and above the budget if we are able to make up all the stores and weapons which we have pulled out from the War Wastage Reserves for the initial raisings”.
Criticising this, the Committee notes: “It seems very impractical and incongruous that a new Corps is being raised with war wastage reserves. The Committee feel that the Ministry should do away with its proclivity of ad-hoc planning and provide adequate budgetary support commensurate with the requirement of Mountain Strike Corps (sic).