Shortage of Funds for Army

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The controversy surrounding the relatively higher expenditure on revenue vis-à-vis the capital portion of the defence budget is not new. It keeps surfacing way too often. The allegedly high defence pensions continue to be villainised. The issue needs to be viewed more objectively. 

      Every country needs funds for development. More so India, which is still categorized as a 'developing' country. 

      Whenever any government department needs additional funds, there are schemes launched by the Central government to garner and provide the same. Invariably, a cess is levied in addition to the existing taxes. As an example, the education cess was introduced in 2004-05. It was meant to finance primary education under the 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan'. Subsequently, it was raised to provide resources also for secondary education and to augment the health infrastructure. Initially, a 2% cess was levied on both the corporate and individual income. From Financial Year 2008 it was increased by another 1%. 

      Cess is thus a need-based 'tax on tax' that is imposed by the Central government for a specific reason. It is distinct from the other taxes such as excise duty and personal income tax in that, it is levied in addition to the current tax.

        Since both education and health are public services, this tax collection from the general public is fully justified. Such levy is common also for many other departments. In some cases, the cess is collected indirectly. For example, to develop highways and improvement of surface transportation, fuel cost is increased. Every user of the facility thus gets taxed. Similarly, when Railways need funds for modernization of rolling stock, increasing the number of trains or constructing additional railway stations etc, rail fares are increased. Again, the general public  pays for the additional funds needed. This system is eminently logical. 

        But there is an exception. For funds required for upgrading and modernization of defence forces, the onus apparently is put squarely on the shoulders of its members.  Their supposedly high pensions and salaries are constantly under the lens and perpetual threat exists of their curtailment with a view to pooling money required for their modernization. This prima facie seems unjustified. A soldier is not doing what he is doing for his own benefit.  Keeping the nation safe, secure, and united is surely a public service. Imagine how absurd it would sound if the teachers are tasked to raise funds for improving education standards; doctors for health infrastructure improvement or the railway employees for improvement of train services.  

        While not finding a coherent answer for the above dichotomy, one can hazard a guess. At the end of a financial year when the ubiquitous auditors arrive with their financial snares, every user is required to justify the utilization of allotted funds. The education ministry can count the number of new universities and colleges established, the health ministry can speak of new hospitals and medical clinics that have been set up, the transport ministry can rattle off figures of additional miles of highways constructed. And it goes on. But what does the national security provider say for utilization of the money allocated? To claim that the country has been kept safe and secure can neither be measured nor counted.  This vital but intangible contribution is not found convincing and the expenditure gets perceived as wasteful to a lay eye. The reality is that all other organs and departments of the government can perform their assigned functions only because the country is safe. National security is thus paramount. The rationale that a country's security forces keep the country safe by just remaining ready, gets overlooked. The famous wish for the defence forces, 'may they never be wanting, and may they never be wanted' couldn't be truer. Money spent on defence is not wasteful; it is an investment. A fully ready military is the country's best security guarantee through deterrence. 
          While perennially targeting the defence pensions, the high manpower of nearly 14 Lakh strength of active soldiers also raises eyebrows. It needs to be reiterated that the military does not decide its own numbers. These depend on the prevailing security scenario. And considering our country's size and civilian-to-soldier ratio, the long and topographically rugged and disputed borders, the numbers are certainly not unreasonably high. Technology can supplement the efforts of soldiers but cannot replace them.  

        Every Indian has a stake in living in a safe country. And security does not come free or even cheap. It extracts a price, and no price paid for keeping the country safe is too high. If the government cannot allocate the required funds for the purpose, there is a strong case for starting a separate cess for the modernization of defence forces.  

      Constant bickering about the shortage of funds and berating soldiers on account of their salaries and pensions can only be detrimental to the morale of those in uniform.

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