New Delhi: With a cut in defence expenditure expected in the wake of the ongoing pandemic COVID-19, Indian Army plans to reprioritise its expenditure and defer some activities, says Army Chief General MM Naravane.
He said that activities such as movement of units from peace-to-peace locations could be postponed for a year through pays, allowances and operational expenditures will remain unaffected.
When asked whether the pandemic will affect defence expenditure and the Army’s modernisation plans, the Army Chief said, “It is too early to say what will be the overall impact on the budget. As per indications, since the economy is under stress, we might have to take on some of these cuts, if they happen.
We are looking into this aspect. We are seeing how we can work through it. But, if there is a cut, it won’t be across the board. Pays and allowances will have to be paid. That will remain at 100 per cent. We will see where these economies can be exercised.”
General Naravane said economies will not be exercised where operational preparedness is concerned. “We will prioritise and re-prioritise, but operational expenditure will be met in full…Operational efficiency and effectiveness will not be allowed to come down, no matter what our budgetary allocation,” he said.
He explained that there are other areas, where the Army could defer certain activities by a year or two and manage with whatever budget it finally gets. “We will manage with whatever we get by doing this reprioritisation. To give an example, we have moves taking places, units move from peace to field and field to peace. There are certain moves from peace to peace. So, maybe peace moves we will not do this year. Not that it is not required, it is required, but it can be deferred.
Similarly, some activities that can be deferred by a year without detriment to our operational efficiency, wll be looked into,” he said. Last month, the finance ministry had placed a cap on the expenditure of different ministries, including defence, to 20 per cent of the first quarter of this financial year.
During a visit to the Army’s South-Western Command, he advised officers to optimise funds under the defence budget and said that funds should be utilised judiciously by giving highest priority to operational needs. He said the Army’s latest fighting formation, the Integrated Battle Groups, which is a mix of all war-fighting, logistical and signal elements, will be operationalised soon.
Meanwhile, on being asked about the impact of Covid-19 on the Army and the lessons drawn from it, General Naravane said that none of the Army’s frontline units have been affected. “The advantages that we have is that we are located in far flung areas and not in hotspots and containment zones. We have been able to keep our Army safe,” he said.
He said that new procedures will be adopted for work in the post-Coronavirus environment. This includes more emphasis on video conferencing and social distancing norms, besides making sure that operational efficiency is not affected.
“We are also working on a team A and team B concept. Team A comes for one week and team B comes for another week so that everyone doesn’t get infected at the same time. Various such things are under consideration and have already been implemented,” he said.