lunedì, Ottobre 25

A leaner military for India field_506ffb1d3dbe2

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New Delhi – The contentious issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP) refuses to die. Veterans are still optimistic that if anybody can do justice to them then it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But then the government, while committed to the OROP idea, is still exploring ways on how to implement it, given the financial implications.  All told, the fact remains that manpower costs in the Indian military are already massive. So much so that in the Defence budget of 2014-15, the government was forced to shift, not once but twice, money marked for the capital expenditure to the revenue side that meets the salaries, pensions and other day-to-day expenses. First time in January 2014, it was Rs 7,870 crore ( One crore is equal to 10 millions) and second time soon after an additional sum of Rs.  Rs 13,000 crore was diverted from the capital side.

Specifically talking of defence pensions, the bill is rising high with every passing year. At Rs 1,670 crore, it was 6.8% of the defence budget in 1981–82. In 2015-16, it has risen to Rs 54,500 crore, 16.5 percent of the budget. In fact, according to the latest estimate, the pension budget, which was Rs 44,475 crore in the last financial year, rose by more than Rs 10,000 crore or 20% this year. This rise in pension within one year is said to be much higher, compared to similar rises in the non-military sectors. And now that the Seventh Pay Commission award is due, the defence pension will go further up by several thousand crores. Studies show that for every Indian soldier, there are 1:7 defence pensioners. And when 70,000 personnel retire from the services every year to join the ranks of the pensioners – 2.6 million pensioners and 60,000 widows at the moment – it is understandable why the OROP (same pension for the same rank with same years of service) is a biting proposition.

In other words, with the bulk of the budget being spent on the manpower, the Indian military simply does not have enough resources to purchase or build sophisticated but vital arms and ammunitions to win wars.  What then is the solution?  In the short term, I do not see any easy way out. There is simply no way that the Modi government will be able to disown its poll promises to implement the OROP scheme. And that means that the country will continue to have the resource crunch to procure sophisticated weapons, unless the government hikes the defence budget considerably, a highly unlikely scenario. However, there are long term remedial measures. A  retired Major General had argued how soldiers, who have to leave the service at a relatively young age, should be absorbed in paramilitary jobs. But there is another measure which is not spoken much about. May be this will sound unpopular, but the bitter truth is that the Indian military just cannot afford to have such a huge manpower; it must be trimmed.

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