The chasm between the government’s rhetoric and performance is becoming increasingly wide. The fact that the Defence Ministry is currently not even able to pay the travel expenses of soldiers underlines not only our political masters’ sanctimoniousness but also their misplaced priorities.
“Due to insufficient funds under Temporary Duty and Permanent Duty heads of Army officers, no TA/DA advances and claims can be processed till receipt of sufficient funds under the relevant heads,” reads the note issued by the Principal Controller Controller of Defence Accounts (Officers) or PCDA, Pune.
The PCDA reportedly needs about Rs 4,000 crore per year for the purpose of transport and other expenses for officers, junior commissioned officers, and jawans. This year, the amount has been scaled down to Rs 3,200 crore.
As this incensed soldiers, the Defence Ministry clarified that there is no problem regarding the availability of money. “At times, the allocated funds, which are based on predicted or envisaged expenditure, may fall short of the actual expenditure,” a Ministry spokesperson told the media. “These shortfalls are only temporary and are resolved through routine reappropriations. Additional funds will be provided if necessity arises.”
He also tweeted: “The hype created is unnecessary and needs to be avoided by all concerned.”
One hopes it was just hype, but facts suggest otherwise. Last year, a report by the Parliament Standing Committee had pointed out that Indian military didn’t have enough money to purchase new weapons systems needed to fight a 10-day intense war. In his deposition before the committee, the Vice Chief of Army Staff Sarath Chand said, “Funds allocated is insufficient and the army is finding it difficult to even stock arms, ammunition, spares for 10-day intensive war. All the three services are expected to be prepared for at least 10 days of intense battle.”
Gen. Chand went on to inform the committee that allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernization was insufficient.
Against this backdrop, ruling party leaders’ claims regarding their concern for armed forces sound hollow. Consider Finance Minister Piyush Goyal’s statement about defence allocations in his interim Budget: “Our Defence Budget will be crossing Rs 300,000 crore for the first time in 2019-20. For securing our borders and to maintain preparedness of the highest order, if necessary, additional funds would be provided.” This is about 8 per cent hike.
Similar promises were made earlier, but the result? “An eight per cent increase in the defence budget is bound to further intensify the resource problem of the MoD, which is already battling a massive shortage of funds,” Laxman K Behera, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (Idsa), wrote on the Idsa website. “However, given the election year and the ‘populist’ context of the interim budget, any substantial increase in the defence budget would have been difficult. What is of greater concern for the MoD is that its budget outlook in the medium term also looks grim in view of the recurring effects of the various benefits announced in the budget and the tight fiscal consolidation path that the government has laid down. Given this stark reality, the defence establishment has very little option but to optimize its expenses.”
Such are the wages of populism.