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Monday, 2 March 2015

From Today's Papers - 02 Mar 2015

US again rakes up issue of defence pacts
Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 1
Amid the din of the Railway Budget and the General Budget, a small script — on sharing defence technologies — has changed in India and US relations.

Washington on February 26, the day of the Railway Budget, made clear the importance of signing three “foundational agreements” on defence between the two countries, saying this will come in “handy” when transferring technology to India.

Top sources said there has been no agreement so far within the Indian establishment on signing any of these three agreements with the US. In 2010, the then Defence Minister AK Antony had rejected outright the signing of these three agreements and even termed these “intrusive”.

In June 2012, Leon Panetta, the then Secretary Defence of the US, while talking about these agreements at a function in New Delhi, had said, “These are not issues anymore.”

The Indian Air Force accepted special planes — the C-130-J Super Hercules — without five of the US-coded equipment that help in navigation and operations. New Delhi opted to buy this equipment from the open market rather than allow the agreements. Other US-made planes — the heavy lift C-17 Globemaster III and the naval surveillance Boeing P8-I — also came without the highly encrypted US technologies.

The agreements are: Communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement (CISMOA), basic exchange and cooperation agreement for geo-spatial cooperation (BECA) and the logistics support agreement (LSA).

Senior Pentagon official Frank Kendall, the US-appointed pointsman for the much-talked-about Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), was in New Delhi on February 26 to meet his counterpart, G Mohan Kumar, secretary, Defence Production.

Kendall told reporters here: “I don’t think there is a strong connection between the two (DTTI and the pacts)... these are not really under the umbrella of the DTTI.” Even as Kendall said that Kenneth Handelman, Deputy Assistant Secretary (Defence Trade Controls) in the US State Department, said these were necessary. “DTTI has progressed in the absence of the foundational agreements.. .but at some point, the foundational agreements are going to be an issue”.

News agency PTI quoted Handelman as having said: “I certainly support what Kendall said...that the foundational agreements don’t directly relate to what is being done on the DTTI right now. If all goes well and both countries expand this relationship, that would entail joint production and development of higher military technology, the agreements would be handy”.

As of now, there is no deadline. The agreements have come up for discussion for the second time in one week. On the sidelines of the Aero-India (Feb 18-22) at Bangalore, Handleman had spoken about these agreements. This is first time in three years that the US has restarted the issue of agreements.
CM stokes controversy, gives credit to Pak, militants for smooth elections
Tribune News Service

Jammu, March 1
Newly appointed Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed kicked up a controversy just after taking oath today. He said “people across the border” had allowed the democratic process to function on this side of the border during the recently held Assembly elections in the state.

Although he downplayed his statement by saying that separatist groups of the Valley had given a boycott call during the elections but had not interrupted the democratic process.
In an obvious reference towards Pakistan and some militant groups active on the other side of the border, Mufti said: “People from across the border (paar ke logo nay bhi) have allowed creating a conducive atmosphere for strengthening the democratic process in J&K during the Assembly elections. This gives us a hope.”
Flanked by newly appointed Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh and newly appointed Cabinet minister Haseeb Drabu, Mufti was addressing a press conference after releasing “Agenda of the Alliance” to run the PDP-BJP coalition in J&K.
“Peace is a pre-requisite for strengthening the democratic process. This year’s Assembly elections have strengthened democratic institutions in J&K,” the Chief Minister said.
“I want to say this on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister that we must credit the people from across the border for the conduct of the (peaceful) Assembly elections in the state,” Mufti said. He added, “If they (militants) would have done something, it would not have been possible to have smooth elections.”
Mufti said he felt proud that people of Srinagar city had come out in large numbers to vote. He thanked the “people from across the border” for the “conducive atmosphere” for the smooth conduct of the elections.             
Referring to separatist-turned-mainstream leader and People’s Conference chief Sajjad Gani Lone who was inducted into the Council of Ministers today, Mufti said Lone had made a breakthrough.
“Lone’s induction into the Cabinet would open avenues for others to follow suit. He has given an opening, an avenue for others (separatists) to follow,” Mufti said.       
Lauding then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a great statesman, Mufti said the government would take forward his philosophy of “insaniyat, jamhooriat and Kashmiriyat”.
IMA wins the running trophy at Spring Festival
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, March 1
The two-day spring festival “Vasantotsav 2015” being organised on the campus of Raj Bhavan here concluded this evening amid incessant rain.

Governor KK Paul gave away prizes to the winners of various categories of the flower exhibition, rangoli, children’s painting and photo competitions. There were 120 winners and the IMA, Dehradun, won the running trophy.

The Governor congratulated the winners and said the success of the event was the result of the policies of the state government and the hard work of flower growers.

He expressed happiness at the positive response given by Chief Minister Harish Rawat to his idea of associating neighbouring states like Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh with the festival to create a competitive environment. He said by encouraging floriculture, Uttarakhand could be projected as a land of flowers.

The Governor said some prestigious institutions and flower growers could be requested to help in maintaining the beauty of public places, crossroads, parks, bus stops, railway station and the bus terminal in the city. If flowers were displayed, people would become interested in flowers and also make the city beautiful. He said despite an inclement weather the arrival of a large number of people at the festival showed their interest in flowers and plants.

The Chief Minister said the festival on the suggestion of the Governor would now be held for three days and floriculture competitions would be organised in some cities of the state. A Governor’s Trophy would be instituted. Calendars would be printed on which the names of the winners would be published in order to inspire other people.

Harish Rawat said flowers grown in the plains as well as hill areas of Uttarakhand could be exported throughout the year. Efforts were being constantly made to ensure regular supply of flowers to the flower markets of Delhi and Mumbai. He said this would strengthen the state’s economy. Commercial training by experts from Pune and Bengaluru would help local floriculturists, he added.

Agriculture and Horticulture Minister Harak Singh Rawat said tea cultivation was being done on 1,000 hectares in the state and in the sphere of silk production Uttarakhand was moving ahead of Himachal Pradesh. The culture department presented a programme after the prize distribution.

Earlier, the two-day flower show was inaugurated by Governor KK Paul amid playing of traditional musical instruments by local _artistes yesterday.

The Governor released the first cover of ‘shank pushpi’, a herb found in the Himalayas and coveted for its medicinal qualities.

The Governor urged the Department of Horticulture and Food Processing, which organises the show every year to promote floriculture, to invite neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and other Himalayan states to participate in the show. He urged flower entrepreneurs to take to floriculture in a big way so that the state emerges number one flower producer in the country.

The show stealer this year were the brightly coloured gerbera flowers in the cut flower category. A regular participant, Balbir Pundir from Nainital, had added white hues to his collection of gerberas this time along with magenta coloured carnations and red roses.

The philately stalls put up at the Circuit House too attracted attention, with Paul lending his collection of 2,000 stamps for the exhibition. As the Governor mentioned in his note put up at the exhibition, he picked up this hobby while still in school as his father had several acquaintances who regularly corresponded with him through letters. The other highlights were judo exploits by ITBP jawans and yoga by Louise, who had come from California, USA. Around 500 children also participated in an art competition.
Arun Jaitley's budget has given no reason to cheer for the defence forces
In announcing a total defence allocation of  Rs 246,727 crore for the financial year 2015-'16,  which is a modest 11% increase over last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not spring any surprises and stuck to a predictable status quo.

Extrapolating from the estimated fiscal deficit (Rs 555,600 crore) as a percentage of GDP for the same period, it may be inferred that India’s defence budget in the year that will unfold will be under 1.75% of overall national GDP. This figure corresponds with 2014-'15, when it was 1.74% of GDP. In 2013–'14, the defence allocation was 1.8% of GDP. Thus a marginal decline relative to GDP is discernible as per the preliminary estimates. So no big surprise here.

Returned unspent

Yet another statistic that can be gleaned from the figures released on Saturday is the total amount actually spent in the last financial year.  The estimate for defence for 2014-'15 was pegged at Rs 229,000 crore in July 2014, when the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government presented an interim budget. The revised estimate tabled on Saturday stood at Rs 222,370 crores.

In other words, the defence ministry under Manohar  Parrikar returned Rs 6630 crore as the unspent amount to the  national exchequer. Again, no surprise – for this follows a pattern of the last 15 years.  When Prime Minister Vajpayee  was in the saddle during NDA I,   beginning from 2000–'01 to 2003–'04, the annual amount that was returned unspent by the defence ministry to the central pool was to the order of Rs 8,900 crore; Rs 7,700 crore; Rs 9,300 crore and Rs 5, 200 crore respectively. George Fernandes was the defence minister at the time.

Later with Manmohan Singh at the helm, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance had a similar tale and during the 2005–'06 to 2007–'08, the amounts unspent were  Rs 2,400 crore; 3,500 crore and 4,300 crores. Ironically, in 2012–'13, the amount unspent was a staggering Rs 11, 600 crores even when the Indian military was in dire need of inventory infusion across the board.

The  empirical trend-line that emerges is that the ministry of defence is unable to spend the funds allotted in the beginning of the financial year. This when the Indian Army has been waiting for a replacement to the Bofors gun acquired in the late 1980s, the air force is crying hoarse for fighter aircraft and the navy’s submarine strength is shrinking rapidly. The platforms listed are illustrative of a deeper inventory and equipment malaise for all the armed forces. The few years when the defence budget was revised to reflect extra spending was when the Pay Commission dues and arrears were disbursed to serving and retired personnel.

Hopes belied

Also missing in Jaitley's speech was the much hoped for budgetary allocation for "one-rank one-pension", to the dismay of the serving and retired military personnel. This is only the tip of the ice-berg among many other pay and allowance anomalies that include the unsavoury precedent of the defence ministry petitioning the courts against modest entitlements for the disabled soldier. That this will have an adverse impact on the morale of the military as an institution is self-evident.

Hence the preliminary  take-away from the defence allocation is that it does not allow for any tangible modernisation of the existing military inventory that is afflicted with alarming obsolescence, and that the morale and the welfare of the troops is of little concern to the current government, which makes it no different from the UPA.

In short, neither the quality of the gun nor the welfare of the man behind the gun seems to matter and the status quo is being maintained. The only silver lining is that the national fiscal security (by way of restricting the deficit ) is being achieved – albeit in a manner that may be detrimental to the sinews of India’s long term defence capability. Clearly, Defence Minister Parrikar has his job cut out and can only hope that February 2016 will offer a radically different template.
Defence spending hiked 7pc, touches $40b

At Rs2.46 trillion ($40 billion), India’s defence spend was on Saturday hiked a modest 7.74 per cent, with federal Finance Minister Arun Jaitley declaring that “defence of every inch of our land is above everything else”.

After years of neglect, India is trying to narrow the military gap with China, which has been building up its fleet of ships and submarines making forays in the Indian Ocean.

Jaitley said the government was following a policy of transparency and quick decision-making in procurement to keep the defence forces prepared for any eventuality.

The finance minister said the government was pushing for Make in India policy in defence manufacturing to reduce dependence on imports.

The allocation, which is a mere Rs177.27 billion over the Rs2.29 trillion Jaitley had provided in his maiden budget last July, accounts for 13.88 per cent of the total government expenditure for 2015-16.

“The growth of the defence budget has been in spite of lower divisible pool in view of the 10 per cent increase in state allocation (under the 14th Finance Commission,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said.

As usual, the 1.3-m-strong Indian Army has received Rs1.04 trillion – a hike of Rs5,846 from the revised estimate of Rs983.1 billion in 2014-15. At Rs230 billion, the Indian Air Force allocation is Rs28.15 billion higher than that of the previous fiscal, while the Indian Navy, at Rs155.25 billion, has seen a small rise of Rs15.9 billion.

The capital outlay for the year has been kept at the Rs94,588 that had been originally allocated for 20144-15 but was reduced to Rs819.65 billion in the revised estimates.

“What is worrisome is that the allocation as a percentage of the GDP has been steadily going down. This time, it is 1.74 per cent of the GDP against 1.75 per cent last year and 1.8 per cent a year before that,” security expert C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, said.

“This is not a good sign and means that Parrikar has not been able to do much. We were hoping for a minister who would bite the bullet. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened,” he added.

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