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Contextualizing Indian defence expenditure

Total personnel strength is about 1.3 million of which the army alone is in excess of one million.

Uday Bhaskar
Publish Date: Mar 12 2016 11:58AM | Updated Date: Mar 17 2016 4:16PM

Contextualizing Indian defence expenditure

India announced its annual defence outlay for the financial year 2016 -17 on February 29 and this was followed a few days later by a similar announcement from Beijing  (March 5 ) and the contrast is instructive.

The   estimate of India’s total defence  spending for all sectors – including pensions  – for this year (2016 -17) is pegged at  Rs. 342, 921 crores – which is US $ 50.3 billion. The Chinese defence budget was increased by 7.6 percent from the previous year to US $ 146 billion – or almost three times that of India.

However to get a more holistic context of  Beijing’s military allocation, it may be useful to note that for financial year 2016, the USA has pegged its defence outlay at US $ 534 billion – or about three and a half  times that of China.  
Hence contextualizing the Indian defence outlay in the larger global backdrop is a relatively more meaningful approach to get a sense about the  efficacy of the effort being made by Delhi.
India maintains  a man-power intensive military and the total personnel strength is  about 1.3 million of which the army alone is in excess of one million. The air force is the second largest service with about 170,000 personnel and the Indian Navy is the smallest service with a personnel strength  of about 60,000.  Consequently the revenue expenditure of the Indian military (pay and allowances, pensions and annual training and establishment costs ) is relatively higher than it is for the capital component – the latter being the  allocation for modernization and new inductions.
With pay and allowances and pensions  steadily increasing, as also the general inflation  index that adds to standing costs – for instance  food and fuel – the gap between revenue and capital allocation  is increasing with the latter shrinking. Currently the OROP  (one rank-one pension ) issue is likely to be implemented soon – and this will also add to the total defence outlay. Here it must be noted that apart from the uniformed personnel – the large number of civilians who are part of the defense ministry – including the DRDO, defence PSUs  and other allied cadres  are also part of the pension bill.
So if on one hand the gap between capital and revenue is growing – as  a percentage of the total defence budget in favor of the latter – there is another fiscal context that throws more light on the co-relation between India’s defence allocation and the actual accretion of tangible military capacity.
Some statistics are revealing.  The numerical summary is as follows against the new  budgetary format of  classifying  fiscal  allocations for the  Defence Ministry.  The total budget estimate  (BE)  for the Ministry of  Defence (that  caters to the  civilian bureaucracy,  armed forces, the DRDO,  ordnance factories and pensions )   for FY 2015-16 allocated   by the FM in end February 2015 was Rs.  3,10,079 crores.  This was the expected expenditure for the financial year  (FY) that will end on March 31, 2016.
It is instructive to note that the revised expenditure (RE) that is the amount actually spent  in FY 2015-16 is  Rs. 2,93,579 crores.  In other words, a sum of Rs. 16, 500 crores was untilized from the overall BE allocation.  Was this necessitated to balance the fiscal deficit ?  One can only speculate  at this stage.
The disaggregation is revealing.  The BE for the capital head in FY 2015-16 was  Rs. 98, 175 crores and in the  documents tabled  on Feb 29  – it was indicated that the RE for capital expenditure was Rs. 85,112 crores.  In essence – about Rs 13,000 crores  (almost US $ 2 billion)  was unspent and this at a time when the Indian military is in dire need of inventory modernization and   major platform induction.
The capital component is the critical fiscal  allocation  for capacity building of the military and the trend lines again are instructive – albeit in a  negative  manner.  If one were to review just the last three years – the following figures are relevant. The budget presented on Monday (Feb 29) provided the details of the actuals for  FY 2014 – 15.  The actual defence expenditure was Rs. 2,01, 929 crores – against a BE of Rs. 2,29,000 crores. (This classification does not include pensions – which the latest budget does in the new format.)
In that FY – namely 2014-15, the actual capital expenditure was Rs. 83,074 crores. In the following  fiscal – ie. 2015-16, the  capital component at the BE stage was Rs. 98, 175 crores – and this was revised – hence the RE was revealed (on Feb 29) to be Rs. 85, 112 crores. And for this year – i.e 2016-17, the capital component of the defence allocation is budgeted – hence BE – is Rs. 89,208 crores.
What does this mean in reality ?  India has the dubious distinction  (as per  2015 data)  of  being the world’s largest importer of arms  – so the capital component of the defense budget is being used to pay for arms that are being imported.  This has to be paid in foreign exchange  at the prevailing rate and hence indexing the capital component of the Indian defence budget  to the US dollar is again revealing.
The total capital component  in FY 2014-15  works out to US $ 13. 9 billion ; the RE of 2015-16 is  $ 13. 6 billion ; and if the Indian rupee does not slide further against the US dollar – then the amount allocated as BE in the current fiscal year   will be $ 13.03 billion.
In other words,  the fiscal ability of the Indian Defence Ministry to  redress  military inventory gaps ( artillery guns, fighter aircraft and submarines for example)  is shrinking in terms of forex value.   
So at a time when  the Indian Air Force for example is clamoring for new fighter aircraft to deal with the challenges it has to face – or the  Navy is  looking for new submarines to replace old platforms – or the Indian army is still waiting for a replacement to the Bofors gun – the value of the capital component of the Indian  defence budget  is shrinking and this poses a very complex challenge for Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and realizing the 'Make in India'  vision. 
The writer is Director,Society for Policy Studies,New Delhi