What can be a better canvas for Modi government’s new maxim -- Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) – than defence production?
Deft at turning every adversity into an opportunity, the Modi government on Sunday decided to harness the groundswell that has built up after the bloody Glawan standoff. Using it as a springboard, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has announced a mega push to domestic defence production.
So, in the self-reliance matrix, India will stop import of 101 weapons and military platforms like transport aircraft, light combat helicopters, conventional submarines, cruise missiles and sonar systems under a staggered timeline till 2024.
Making the announcement on Twitter, the defence minister estimated that the domestic spinoff of such a decision would be contracts worth almost Rs four lakh crore within five to seven years. And all this on a platter.
India is one the largest importers of arms globally and its armed forces are projected to spend around USD 130 billion on procurement of hardware in the next five years.
The groundwork in this direction has already been done with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in May rolling out reform measures for the defence manufacturing sector that included increasing the FDI limit from 49 per cent to 74 per cent under the automatic route.
The defence minister said all necessary steps would be taken to ensure that timelines for domestic production of equipment identified under the negative list for import are met, adding the measures will include a co-ordinated mechanism for hand-holding of the industry by the defence services.
According to a government document, import restrictions on 69 items will come into force from December 2020 while the embargo on another 11 items will be applicable from December 2021.
A separate budget head has been created with an outlay of nearly Rs 52,000 crore for domestic capital procurement in the current financial year, the defence minister added. One of the biggest takeaway of this announcement is that big weapon systems can now be produced in India.
India Inc. on Sunday said the Centre's decision was a ''path-breaking'' reform towards becoming self-reliant and will boost indigenous defence manufacturing. "Today is a historic day for Indian industry. We can assure the Defence Minister that the defence and aerospace industry will rise to the challenge and opportunities therein."
Sunday’s announcement is supposed to dovetail PM Modi’s address to the nation on August 15, when he will present the outline for self-reliant India, said Rajnath Singh.
The Congress party, however, played down the import embargo on defence equipment, saying it was only "high sounding jargon" and that 'atmanirbhar bharat' was merely a slogan.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi also criticised Singh for dubbing the import restrictions as a push to achieve a self-reliant India, saying there was a "big difference between claims and reality.
"The prime minister has given the slogan of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat', but has not said when, how and what will be the direction. Only a slogan has been given because this government and the prime minister are fond of slogans," Singhvi said at an online media briefing.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the defence minister promised a "bang" on a Sunday morning but ended with a "whimper". "The only importer of defence equipment is the Defence Ministry. Any import embargo is really an embargo on oneself," the former home minister said.
"What it means is we will try to make the same equipment (that we import today) in 2 to 4 years and stop imports thereafter!" he said.