When you have the Indian Army Chief saying we should learn from China, you should sit up and listen. Speaking Thursday, General Bipin Rawat lamented the “economic security deficit” in the country, due to which the defence sector was not getting its due share despite overall economic growth. “There’s a general thinking that expenditure on defence is a burden on our economy ... we need to appreciate that defence and economy go hand in hand,” he said. “We need to learn from China. While they were developing the economy, development of military is a part.”
Usually, this is countered with the fact that a fair chunk of the defence budget is left unused each year. For instance, in 2016-17, there was an underutilisation of `7,393 crore (or 10.5 per cent) across Services, of which the Army accounts for over 50 per cent. But the real story is, while the funds are earmarked, the finance ministry mandarins, who have to approve each and every expense incurred by the forces, invariably wake up to the fact that they need money somewhere else, and immediately go slow on signing off on military requests.
This is done by seeking ridiculous and time consuming data from the forces, ensuring that the money cannot be released before the next budget. As one veteran explained, this could be as inane as asking why tyre jacks for military trucks could not be shared between two vehicles, instead of buying one for each. So it is not that the military is not able to spend the money allotted to it.
Given the increasingly unstable situation not just in the neighbourhood, but around the world, it is critical that the Centre, particularly the babus, understand their actions have a negative impact on our national security. If the Army has the guns but needs to justify buying each bullet, is it any wonder that senior generals are reduced to begging before arrogant finance ministry babus who have no clue about the military’s needs? If this is the lesson we need to learn from China, so be it.