NEW DELHI : India’s Armed Forces’ top brass are a happier lot since the Narendra Modi Government took over and have been gushing over the ‘decisiveness’ of the NDA Government at meetings and during private conversations.
The latest to do so, that too publicly, was Army General Bikram Singh at a farewell tea hosted by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley last week.
At the get-together of all top officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) above the Joint Secretary rank and senior officials from the Armed Forces Singh said, in the presence of Jaitley, that he was “very happy” with the quick decision-making capabilities of the Defence Minister and the government’s political leadership. “During the brief time-period in which I worked with the new government, I was impressed with the decisiveness that was shown,” he was quoted as saying at the farewell by the ministry officials.
Just days ahead of the farewell meeting, Singh’s Navy counterpart Admiral Rabindra Kumar Dhowan was “very impressed” with the manner in which Jaitley had conducted his first-ever Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting, on a Saturday, when the government offices usually remain closed.
The Armed Forces have a reason to rejoice. Not only did Jaitley, as Finance Minister, hike the defence capital budget by `5,000 crore for this fiscal to `94,588 crore, which was announced by the previous UPA Government in February, he also set aside `1,000 crore from the hiked amount for creating rail networks along Pakistan and China border for quicker and easier movement of troops and their equipment.
Jaitley also hiked the allocation for ‘One Rank, One Pension’ for ex-servicemen from `500 crore to `1,500 crore. The government also took less time to prune the list of items that are to be manufactured under the MoD’s license. The Modi Government also quickly decided to hike the Foreign Direct Investment cap from the one-and-a-half-decade-old policy of 26 per cent to 49 per cent through Foreign Investment Promotion Board’s approval.
If these decisions came about in the Budget, the NDA Government surprised the Armed Forces, with the Ministry of Environment and Forests under Prakash Javadekar announcing that a policy framework for speedier clearances to key border infrastructure and roads was being prepared. This would mean at least 80 key border roads of approximately 6,000 km along the China border would get the much needed impetus.
On the issue of Northeast infrastructure, General Bikram Singh, within a month of the NDA Government assuming power, had met General (Retired) V K Singh, who is Minister of State for Development of North Eastern Region, to seek cooperation for the military projects.
Also, going by the advice of the Army, the government had recently ruled out any changes in the policy on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Jammu and Kashmir at the first meeting of the Modi-headed Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
On military acquisitions, the CCS also approved the Budgetary allocation of `19,000 crore for completing the first indigenous aircraft carrier project – the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant – at the Cochin Shipyard.
The first DAC meeting under Jaitley’s chairmanship cleared the `15,000 crore tendering process for 56 aircraft project to replace the ageing fleet of the IAF’s Avros transport aircraft.
This apart, the DAC meeting, also cleared procurement proposals worth `21,000 crore, including the supply of 32 HAL-built Advanced Light Helicopter ‘Dhruv’ to the Coast Guard and the Navy at a cost of `7,000 crore. The two maritime forces would get 16 Dhruvs each under the supply order.