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Nirmala Sitharaman rubbishes claims of financial crunch in the Armed Forces

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Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday clarified that the amount spent on defence expenditure has been highest in the last four years and since there has been a debate with regards to the armed forces facing a financial crunch, triggering scarcity of arms and ammunition, she rejected all such claims. Speculating why there was no debate over shortage before the Narendra Modi government came to power, she questioned and blamed the previous governments.

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“Why did you leave the country with this shortage?” the army had earlier noticeably red flagged that lack of funds due to the marginal increase in budget is creating hurdles in modernisation of the force. “I want to dispel the myth that funds are lesser than before,” Sitharaman said at a press conference to highlight the achievements of Ministry of Defence in the last four years.

In March, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, headed by BJP MP Maj Gen (retd) B C Khanduri, had come down hard on the government for inadequate allocation of funds to the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

Giving out data on the defence expenditure, she said that since 2004, it’s at its peak.

She said that in 2013-14, under the previous UPA government, the amount spent was Rs 79,125 crore but this has been on the rise under the Modi government.

She said in 2014-15, the amount spent was 81,886 crore, in 2015-16 it was Rs 79,958 crore, in 2016-17 it was Rs 86,370 crore and it peaked to Rs 90,460 crore in 2017-18 which is more than the capital outlay allocation of Rs 86,488 crore.

Downplaying the imminent friction between the military and the government on the sensitive issue of funds, she said, “I wouldn’t say their demand is unreasonable. They have to be up to date but there is no shortage.”

The then Army Vice Chief Lt General Sarath Chand who recently retired told a Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence in an oral deposition that the budget allocation for 2018-19 had dashed hopes of the army. He had said that the marginal increase was barely enough to meet inflation.

Highlighting the need for more funds, he said typically any modern force should have its equipment divided in one-third each covering all categories of vintage, current and state-of-the-art.

He had pointed out that the Army’s 68 per cent equipment is vintage, 24 per cent in current and 8 per cent in the state of the art category.

Recognising that there were critical deficiencies in military capabilities and internal assessments of the army indicating there was an immediate need for procurement of ammunition and upgraded military systems that could cost Rs 40,000 crore, the Vice Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force were given financial powers for emergency procurement in 2016. According to the Ministry of Defence, 100 contracts worth Rs 25,000 crore for ammunition have been finalised and deliveries have commenced and a further Rs 25,000 crore of procurement is in the pipeline.

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