Adequate funds kept for Rafale deal: Manohar Parrikar

A Rafale fighter jet flies over the factory of French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation in Merignac near Bordeaux during a visit by the French President.

The government has kept "adequate money" for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets from France while provisions have been made to continue the process of raising a mountain strike corps, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said Friday.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, he said the total defence budget for 2016-17 was Rs 3,41,000 crore including defence pensions coming to 17.23% of overall expenditure of Rs 19,78,060 crore.

As Rs 70,000 crore had been allocated in this year's budget for defence acquisition, he said that excluding defence pensions, the budget figure was Rs 2,59,000 crore which was 13.09% of overall expenditure.

To a query on the purchase of Rafale fighter jets, which has been stuck over price negotiations with France, Parrikar said that the government had "kept adequate money for Rafale deal".

"I am a tough negotiator. Let me save money for the nation," he said.

"It is better to cross the bridge when the time comes. A good buyer does not put his weakness in front. He keeps his cards close to his chest. Please do not ask me to reveal the card in national interest," he said.

Answering a query on a China-centric mountain strike corps, which was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in September 2013, Parrikar said, "Whatever arrangements need to be made, have been done."

Asked about large sums to be spent on salaries and pensions in the wake of expected decision on the Seventh Pay Commission, Parrikar said the "expenditure is inevitable."

However, he said the government was keen on rationalising the strength of the army through a process undertaken by the army itself.

"We have asked army to do the exercise," he said.

Parrikar said that another way of cutting down expenditure was use of simulators in training of pilots and also drivers.

On the specific question of recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission which are under consideration of the government, Parrikar said necessary steps will be taken by the ministry after discussions over the next two-three weeks.

The minister said that Rs 77,000 crore had been allocated for capital acquisition in 2015-16 and the anticipated spending was Rs 66,000 crore.

He said it was for the first time that the defence ministry took stock of military sales through an account held by the US government and found that due to "ill-management of this account, slightly less than $3 billion piled up".

"In May-June last year, we reviewed it. We have recalibrated it has come down from about $3 billion to $1.8 billlon," he said.

He said Rs 6,000 crore had been paid last year to the US for direct military sales and the ministry had saved money from its budget allocations.

"We have saved $700 to $800 million of foreign exchange," he said, adding that the ministry had been able to save about Rs 3,000 crore more through other measures.

The minister said that modernisation of forces was very important for the government and contracts of Rs 1,20,000 crore had been signed during the 21 months of the Modi government and contracts for about Rs 32,000 crore were in the process of final approval.

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