Concerned about the continued stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the Sikkim border, the parliamentary standing committee on defence has decided send a five-member delegation to ask the government to ensure that the complete defence budget is expended, and not returned unused by the ministry.
This was decided in an informal discussion in the meeting of the committee on June 30, when the committee had met to discuss its agenda for travel to defence establishments in Pune and Chennai. According to two MPs present for the meeting, many members of the committee raised the matter of the statement by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson on June 29, who had threatened India with dire consequences for the stand-off.
On the same day, the state-run Global Times ran an opinion piece which said that “This time the Indian side needs to be taught the rules. India cannot afford a showdown with China on border issues.”
The members concluded that the Chinese were able to issue such a threat due to the poor state of defence modernisation, which was caused by unutilised budgetary allocations for defence over the past few years.
In FY 2016-17, defence ministry did not use Rs 6,886 crore for defence modernisation, and the amount was transferred to revenue expenditure to meet the increased salary bill. In the past decade, Rs 51,515 crore has been similarly returned from the defence budget for capital acquisitions.
In its various reports since 2014, the committee, headed by BJP MP, Major General BC Khanduri (retd), has adversely commented upon the amount of defence budget being returned every year. It has also asked the government to ensure a mechanism such that the funds are not returned but rolled over to the next financial year.
In its 31st report presented to the parliament in March this year, the standing committee had noted that the defence ministry had “admitted the utility of creation of a non-lapsable, roll over fund for Capital cannot be completely negated as the same would help in eliminating the prevailing uncertainty in providing adequate funds for various defence capability development and infrastructure projects.” A proposal for obtaining ‘in-principle’ approval of Ministry of Finance on creation of Non-lapsable Capital Fund Account was sent by the defence ministry to the finance ministry in February, but turned down by the finance ministry.
The committee had asked the “Ministry of Finance to look at the matter afresh and work out the modalities for creation of ‘Non-lapsable Defence Capital Fund Account’ in consultation with the Ministry of Defence keeping in mind that our Forces’ plans for capacity enhancement and heightened operational preparedness would be negatively affected due to reduced allocation of funds in the Capital head and this would ultimately be detrimental to our National Security.”
Khanduri, the two MPs told The Indian Express, has been insistent on this recommendation in every meeting of the committee dealing with the defence budget. Responding to the concerns of the agitated MPs on June 30, Khanduri proposed the formation of a delegation of five member MPs who will meet Arun Jaitley and reiterate the proposal. With Jaitley holding the dual charge of finance and defence ministries, the members feel that it provides them with a great opportunity to push through the proposal.
The names of the members of this delegation will be decided by Khanduri and it will meet Jaitley during the forthcoming monsoon session of parliament, which begins on July 17.