India’s Mountain Strike Corps, announced with much fanfare in late 2013 to augment the army’s strength along the border with China, is in trouble, thanks to a ‘sanction’ that was not really a sanction under the UPA II government.
According to sequence of events pieced together by this writer after talking to sources in the know, the Manmohan Singh government sanctioned the raising of new Corps -40,000 soldiers- meant as a deterrent against China along the northern frontier without catering for its funding.
The Corps, which was on the drawing board for some years, apparently acquired a momentum in the summer of 2013 after Chinese PLA troops intruded deep into Indian territory in the Depsang plains of Ladakh and camped there for more than a fortnight, exposing the gaps in India’s defences along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The intrusion crisis was resolved after hectic diplomacy but the political leadership, under pressure of hostile public opinion, sought a remedy from the Army.
Sensing the chance to get the long-standing proposal to strengthen India’s defences along the LAC cleared, the then army Chief Gen Bikram Singh personally pushed for creation of the Mountain Strike Corps. The proposal included integral air assets and necessary armoured and artillery elements.
According to the proposal, the new Corps would have 40,000 troops and would cost more than ₹ 64,000 crores to be spent over a seven or eight year period. It was expected that the new Corps would augment India’s defence along the LAC stretching from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Ladakh in northwest.
As the proposal gathered steam, two notes were prepared for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), India’s highest-decision making body on matters of security. One file contained details of the overall concept and justification for raising the Mountain Strike Corps and the other, file sought additional funding, over and above the sanctioned defence budget to equip the new Corps.
In an inexplicable move, the CCS under UPA II gave its approval for raising the Mountain Strike Corps but withheld clearance for additional or specific funding!
It is not clear what assurances were given about funds to be made available at a later stage, but the Army went ahead and ‘raised’ or announced or inaugurated the Corps at the temporary Head Quarters at Ranchi on January 1, 2014.
A year later, there is no sign of specific funds being earmarked for the Mountain Strike Corps, forcing the Army to ‘cannibalise’ its war wastage reserves (WWR) –stores that are earmarked for emergencies for sustaining the troops in the event of a war.
According to a report in The Tribune in late December 2014, Army Vice Chief, Lt Gen Philip Campose admitted the use of WWR for equipping the Mountain Strike Corps.
“We are not getting additional budget. A certain amount of about ₹ 5,000 crore has been set aside saying that this is meant for the Mountain Corps. But this is not over and above the budget. So, we need money over and above the budget if we are able to make up all the stores and weapons which we have pulled out from the War Wastage Reserves for the initial raisings,” he is supposed to have told Parliament’s Standing Committee of Defence.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was apprised of the serious situation during one of the first briefings he received at Army HQ. He has now reportedly ordered a review of the timelines for raising the new Corps and remedy the situation before it completely depletes the crucial WWR of the Indian Army.