| INS Viraat, India’s only aircraft carrier
New Delhi, April 27: The worst fears of India’s admirals may come true in the not so distant future: They may have to do without a fully-operational aircraft carrier for some time after 2007.
The scenario, which virtually means compromising with the desired level of military strength and preparedness spelt out by successive governments, is likely to come in handy for the Opposition which has vowed to attack the BJP-led NDA government on the issue of strengthening national security.
The navy has one operational aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, which is expected to be in service till 2007, and negotiations to acquire Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov are in progress, the defence ministry told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.
The possibility exists of an aircraft carrier not being available between INS Viraat’s decommissioning and the induction of Admiral Gorshkov, as it is not possible to set a time limit for such a major acquisition, the ministry confessed before the committee.
The ministry has announced its helplessness in redressing the situation, saying “there is a likelihood we can, there is a possibility we cannot” keep INS Viraat going till an alternative is available.
For almost 10 years now, the ministry has been proposing the acquisition of Admiral Gorshkov in view of INS Viraat’s impending decommissioning at the end of 2007.
However, no deal has been finalised and there is no surety that it will happen soon. Even if a deal is struck immediately, it will take at least 52 months before Admiral Gorshkov is available to the navy.
The parliamentary panel, headed by the BJP’s Madan Lal Khurana, was aghast. “There is a lack of foresight and advance planning on the part of the ministry,” it stated.
The ministry’s inability to take timely decisions on acquiring vital weapon systems and equipment is, however, not confined to the navy.
The House committee has also expressed concern over the continuing delay in acquiring, among others, a third-generation jet trainer for the Indian Air Force and AWACS for the three services when the country is faced with a “fragile regional security environment and the compulsions of maintaining our superiority over adversaries”.
What has baffled the panel is that the inordinate delay in acquiring much-needed weapons and weapon systems is not because of paucity of funds.
Over the last three fiscal years, the defence ministry has been returning huge portions of its budgetary allocations. The aggregate of unutilised budgetary allocations in the last three fiscal years is Rs 19,000 crore.
“The committee is distressed to observe substantial under-utilisation of defence allocation, particularly in respect to capital expenditure, continuously for the last several years,” said the panel.
This is an indication of ad-hocism, a non-serious approach and a lack of proper fiscal planning, asserted the standing committee.
The panel virtually censured the ministry and said the situation was grave as it did not have its Tenth Defence Plan in place though the first two years are over.
In the Lok Sabha earlier this week, an infuriated Opposition sought a response from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Although a parliamentary discussion on the demands for grant of the ministry is unlikely, Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Shivraj Patil today said the Opposition will seek a discussion on the whole situation, bringing defence minister George Fernandes, who is yet to recover from the two-year-old Opposition onslaught over the Tehelka expose on defence deals, in their gunsights.