Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2016-05-24 12:03:52 Published on May 24, 2016
Rightsizing the military: The need for a comprehensive examination

The Defence Minister has recently announced the formation of an 11-member committee led by Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (Retd) tasked to look into areas of “overlap” and convergence within the three forces — Indian Army, Navy and Air Force — allowing for a reduction of manpower. It will also identify areas to “rationalise manpower”, examine possible areas of multi-tasking by troops and also suggest ways to “optimise” the combat potential by induction of more technology as against more boots on the ground.

This is being undertaken to primarily ensure that the burgeoning revenue expenditure, the monies spent on pay and allowances and on pensions among other things, is brought under control and to ensure more funds are available for capital expenditure, especially acquisition of modern weapon systems. As Mr. Bhartendu Kumar Singh, of the Indian Defence Accounts Service, in a recent article in the Eurasia Review points out “the Accounts Branch of the Indian Air Force, for example, has 492 commissioned officers and 7,000 men catering to the pay matters of 1,60,000 officers and men in the Air Force. On a competitive note, the same can be provided by 300 people on the civilian side very easily.”

There can be no two opinions that such a detailed examination is necessary and must be undertaken periodically, except to suggest that the period of three months given to the Committee to complete its task seems grossly insufficient, if they are to do justice to this critical issue. In fact, one can go further and suggest that the Defence Minister has not gone far enough by restricting this examination only to the military and the reasons for this are not far to seek.

The MOD, for example, has sanctioned posts of 5,85,000 civilians, which is more than the active strength of the Pakistan Army. It doesn’t end there, as the MOD spends more than ₹ 1000 crores annually on pay, allowances and establishment of Ministry of Finance personnel who are attached with it. The civilian manned Military Engineering Services spends nearly double the amount of the work it does on its own establishment costs, as is the situation with the Defence Research and Development Organization which only utilises 39% of its budget on research and development and the remainder on establishment costs.

In a similar vein, the other critical issue is that of the burgeoning pension bill, which in the current year is expected to touch ₹ 60,000 crores after having taken into account the sanctioning of OROP, though it still falls short of expectations of the veteran community. While reduction of manpower will certainly go some way in controlling this issue, the fact is that the per capita expenditure on 25 lakh military veterans or their kin amounts to approximately ₹ 1.5 lakhs annually, while the 4 lakh civilians paid from the defence pension budget receive an average of ₹ 5.38 lakhs a year, which will shoot up astronomically as and when the 7th CPC is implemented.

These examples, if taken to their logical conclusion, clearly show that priority needs to be given to reducing civilian manpower paid from Defence Estimates, before we even look at reducing non-combat manpower of the services. The fact is that civilian pensions, despite catering to one fifth the number of military pensioners, utilises approximately 36% of defence pensions, and given our difficulties in ensuring employment, even populism suggests it is better to reduce civilians who cost five times more than to reduce the military.

Finally, on the question of ensuring that capital expenditure is given pride of place in our defence budget so as to ensure our forces are adequately equipped to deal with any contingency. The truth is there is much more to this issue than just the question of adequate budgeting. If we were to look at the capital expenditure portion of our defence budget for the past few years, it is striking that on an average, between 8% to 13% of the amount allotted remains unutilised. In fact, for the FY 2015-16, it was as high as 13.4%, amounting to returning ₹ 11505 crores. This should count as criminal negligence, given the poor state of our weapons and equipment, on the part of those within the military responsible for procurement.

This, however, is where the issue gets complicated. Over decades the Government in power has always shown its “firm commitment” to protecting our national security by allotting adequate funds to the MOD, despite whatever may be the financial challenges that the government may be facing. As is the wont of any smart home-maker, the Finance Minister too, manipulates the budget to cater for unforeseen or unexpected situations. While he cannot touch revenue allotments as that is fully committed, he does take full advantage of the capital allotment to meet unexpected expenses. With the active connivance of the MOD (Finance), all bureaucratic measures are put to good use to delay or derail the procurement process, resulting in vast amounts remaining unspent. As an added bonus, these are then attributed to either failure on the part of the services to follow laid down procedures or lack to of clarity on their part.

Mr. Parrikar is well known for his remarkable intelligence and clarity of thought, like one of his earlier predecessors, Mr. Krishna Menon. Like him, he too may find his own reputation dented somewhat, if he too, continues to look at issues through blinkers and acts in haste. It makes little sense to cut off your nose to spite your face as not just the military but the complete Ministry of Defence needs to undergo extensive surgery.

To start with, instead of setting up new committees, he would do well to implement the report of the Naresh Chandra Committee and the recommendations of the Group of Ministers of the earlier NDA Government under Prime Minister Vajpayee. By just ensuring this he would have done yeoman service to this nation.

This commentary originally appeared in Indian Defence Review.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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