Defence minister promises modernisation, better pay

April 23rd, 2008 - 12:28 am ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) Defence Minister A.K. Antony Tuesday told the Lok Sabha that modernisation of the defence forces and dealing with the pay disparities in the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations were the top priorities of his ministry. He also ruled out any military alliance with another country, though joint defence exercises would continue.

Antony said a committee headed by the cabinet secretary had already been formed to look into the issue of better pay for the defence forces.

“The government is waiting for the report of the committee that has been set up to look into the anomalies,” he said.

Earlier during the debate on demands for grants for the defence forces, many MPs cutting across party lines said that there was an urgent need to increase the pay of the defence personnel.

Recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission report, which were made public in March, show major disparity in the pay of the armed forces vis-a-vis the higher bureaucracy.

Antony’s announcement should come as a relief for the defence forces as more than 50 senior officers had sought voluntary retirement after the report was made public. Recent reports in the media pointed out that many officers were opting for the private sector due to low pay in the forces.

The idea of one rank, one pay - pending for long - is likely to get the nod from the committee.

A debate on demands for grants for defence in the Lok Sabha was held for the first time in a decade. The practice of guillotine - where several bills are passed at one go without a debate - was the norm for clearing the defence budget for the past 10 years.

After listening to the members’ views on defence expenditure, Antony told the house that further modernisation of the armed forces was of utmost importance.

Many MPs expressed the opinion that defence expenditure was inadequate and there was need to upgrade it in view of the growing defence arsenal of India’s powerful neighbours, China and Pakistan.

“India’s defence spending should be increased from the present,” T.P.S. Rawat (Bharatiya Janata Party) said. He said the low expenditure was a matter of grave concern, and suggested that it be raised to three percent of GDP.

The current budget has earmarked only 1.99 percent of the GDP for defence.

Pakistan reportedly spends 3.5 percent of its GDP while China spends 4.3 percent. Both boast of a nuclear arsenal as well.

Antony said that the post of Chief of Defence Staff could not be created as there was no political consensus on the issue.

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