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Ageing fleet? FM denies funds neglect, says armed forces not spending wisely

New Delhi, Mar 6 (PTI): The armed forces were not spending “wisely”, and poor maintenance may have led to the February 26 submarine disaster in which two officers died, Union finance minister P Chidambaram said Thursday.

He was replying to a question from a member of the Congress students wing NSUI. She claimed to be the sister of one of the Navy officers who died in the fire aboard the INS Sindhuratna off Mumbai on February 26.

The woman said Lt Commander Kapish Muwal, who died in fire aboard INS Sindhuratna, was her brother and asked Chidambaram “why the government is not sanctioning money for security and safety” as casualties are taking place.

Chidambaram blamed the Navy for the incident, saying maintenance of the submarine appeared to have been neglected and that he was “sorry” for the mishap and loss of lives.

The Sindhuratna disaster had sparked the resignation of Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi, who took responsibility for a string of recent accidents in the Navy, which has an ageing and shrinking fleet. The INS Sindhuratna, a Soviet-built Kilo class vessel, was commissioned in 1988.

Chidambaram insisted that the Finance Ministry provides “a lot of money” to the Defence Ministry and “I sincerely hope that the defence forces will learn a lesson and make sure that the money allotted to them is spent more wisely and more efficiently on essential matters.”

The NSUI member also referred to the sinking of another submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, a few months back and said the ships are going for refits as the armed forces face shortage of finances.

Contesting the perception that adequate finances are not provided for the armed forces, Chidambaram said “As far as defence expenditure is concerned, I think it is not correct to say that enough money is not being provided. There is no such thing as 'enough'.”

He argued that the government's requirements are large and the Finance Ministry requires money for various departments and purposes. “And for defence, believe me, we have provided the maximum amount that we can,” he insisted.

Chidambaram noted that this time the Finance Ministry has allocated Rs 2.25 lakh crore for the defence forces, which is a “lot of money”.

“We do our very best to allocate as much as we can…Rs 2.25 lakh crore is allotted to defence. How it is spent… Should it be spent on maintenance, should it be spend on acquiring new equipment, should it be spent on Air Force, Navy and Army, training, raising a new battalion, these are questions which are decided by very senior officers of Army, Navy and Air Force,” Chidambaram said.

Talking about the fire and smoke incident involving INS Sindhuratna, he said, “I am sincerely sorry and I say this with responsibility.”

He said “at some point of time the maintenance of the submarine appears to have been neglected. Only an inquiry will prove the fact, but what reports I have read, it appears to be neglected. There seemed to be some problem with the batteries that led to the fire and precious lives were lost.”

While Chidambaram insisted that “a lot of money” is provided to the forces, Defence Ministry sources said the Finance Ministry this fiscal cut more than Rs 7,800 crore from its budgetary allocation meant for modernisation.

Last year as well, defence ministry had faced a budget cut of more than Rs 10,000 crore in view of the economic slowdown in the country.

Moreover, the Finance Ministry did not accept Defence Ministry's demand for Rs 40,000 crore in addition to the budgetary allocation this year.


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