Chill in the air? Antony walks down the flight deck of INS Vikramaditya in Russia with his former navy chief
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Mar 2014
In an unprecedented public relations offensive, the ministry of defence (MoD) has issued a 26-page document that credits Defence Minister AK Antony for the achievements of the MoD; as well as the successes of the military, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
Entitled “Shri AK Antony as Defence Minister --- A Look Back”, the first accomplishment listed against his name is longevity, for having occupied his South Block corner office for seven and a half years after succeeding Mr Pranab Mukherjee in 2006. Antony is India’s longest-serving defence minister.
The release claims that the defence budget has grown by an average of 12.58 per cent annually under Antony, more than doubling since 2006. However, an analysis shows that, when inflation and the rupee’s erosion are factored in, modernisation expenditure has remained flat or even fallen.
There is statistical jugglery in the MoD’s claim that it utilised 102 per cent of the funds allocated for modernisation during 2006-2013. This claim is based on the revised estimates. Calculating on the budget allocation, the MoD has underspent a whopping Rs 27,213 crore during this period. This year, too, it surrendered an additional Rs 7,870 crore from the modernisation budget.
The MoD credits Antony with pushing through five long-delayed projects --- the Arjun tank; the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA); the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya; India’s first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant; and the underwater launched ballistic missile, the BO5, which recently completed trials.
He is also credited with boosting India’s naval power by acquiring the P-8I Maritime Surveillance Aircraft; inducting 28 ships, including six modern frigates; and launching GSAT-7, the navy’s dedicated communications satellite.
Yet there is silence on the most worrying gap in India’s maritime capability --- in sub-surface vessels. The Rs 18,798 crore contract for six Scorpene submarines, signed in 2006, is running 3-4 years late, with the first vessel now likely to be completed only in June 2015. Antony has not yet even tendered for the next six submarines, which are to be bought under Project 75I.
For the Indian Air Force (IAF), Antony is credited with buying a range of foreign aircraft --- the C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft; Russian-Israeli airborne control aircraft, or AWACS; the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer; and Russian Mi-17V5 helicopters. The release claims that the purchase of 126 Rafale fighters is on track; as are the projects to co-develop with Russia a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), and a Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MTA).
The release ignores the profligacy of these purchases, with the bulk of India’s modernisation budget now going on instalments for them. With little left for new purchases, the incoming government will have to sharply raise the defence budget to buy the Rafale, and other planned aircraft.
Antony is credited with “breaking India’s strategic planning out of the cocoon,” by raising a mountain strike corps (MSC) for the China border, which will give the army “decisive lightning reaction offensive capabilities.” The Rs 65,000 crore MSC followed the raising of two additional mountain infantry divisions, at a time when most of the world’s armies, including China’s, is cutting down numbers to boost technology and firepower.
The MoD release ignores the financial effect of raising the army’s numbers by almost 1,50,000 troops. With the army already spending two-third of its revenue budget on salaries, and the 7th Pay Commission having been constituted, these added numbers are a fiscal time bomb.
Meanwhile, the army’s most vital equipment shortages are ignored. No artillery has been purchased, even after five rounds of trials a decade ago. And with the MoD dithering for years over the contract for ultralight howitzers, BAE Systems has shut down its production line. This will mean more expensive guns whenever they are bought.
Mr Antony justifiably lays claim to galvanizing the creation of a coastal security network after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Even so, the project remains worrying incomplete.
Ironically, kudos are heaped on the Border Roads Organisation, which has managed to build a mere 12 out of the 73 roads sanctioned for the Himalayan border. The MoD’s upbeat claims entirely ignore the fact that construction is running years behind schedule. With the BRO riven by an internal factional struggle between its army and civilian cadres, has little hope of improvement.
There is substance in the MoD’s claim of having improved soldiers’ lives, through measures like including eggs and fruits in the ration scales of the jawan, which earlier only officers got. Mr Antony also fulfilled a long-standing demand in approving “one-rank-one-pension.” Even so, the goodwill from these measures cannot wash away the bitterness created by the MoD’s Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare. The DESW has systematically stonewalled the payment of benefits to long-retired servicemen, even countering court orders by filing repeated appeals in higher courts. Since pensioners can ill afford to litigate, the MoD often wins by default. This has so alienated ex-servicemen that an upbeat press release, even listing some genuine accomplishments, is likely to arouse only cynicism.