Submarine accident reinforces the lesson
Finance minister P Chidambaram did well to point out that the accident which caused the death of Lt Commander Kapish Muwal in the INS Sindhuratna fire was not due to the government not sanctioning money for the defence forces. In the FY15 budget, a total of R2.25 lakh crore has been sanctioned for the defence forces which, as the minister said, “is a lot of money”. The question really is of how well the money is spent. Even if you don’t go into the specifics of each expenditure item, it is obvious the defence ministry is not spending its money well. In the current year FY14, indications are the defence ministry will give up a tenth of its capital budget; the figure was 12% in FY13 and was so bad in FY07 that a third of the capital budget was unspent.
There is then the issue of how well the money is spent. A CAG performance audit on refitting of navy ships, tabled in Parliament a few days before the Navy chief resigned, has some telling facts. Only 18% of re-fitments of ships took place without delays, 74% were completed with a cumulative delay of 8,629 days. In the case of spares, the CAG pointed out the non-availability of spares was as high as 73%—and this is when the schedule for mid-life updates of ships is well known—and there was a manpower shortage of 69% (in April 2010) in one of the ship repair yards. And a major reason for delays, the report said, was that the dry docks/wharves in Mumbai had not been completed for, believe it or not, 26 years. More worrying, as the report pointed out, much the same issues were brought out in the 1999 performance audit. Allocating money in a budget is one thing, spending the money well is quite another. This applies to all ministries, not just defence.