Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman however underlined the need for vigilance and the need to stay alert along India’s borders with China

New Delhi: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday ruled out the possibility of Doklam II—or a repeat of a 73 day long tense military standoff—between Asian giants India and China on a plateau in Bhutan last year. The minister however underlined the need for vigilance and the need to stay alert along India’s borders with China.

Speaking at the News18 Rising India Conclave in New Delhi, Sitharaman fielded a wide array of questions – from a perceived inadequate defence budget that does not provide for modernisation to the opposition Congress party’s allegations that the Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance led government was paying exorbitant prices for the French built Rafale aircraft.

“There is no Doklam II that I can think of,” the minister said when asked about a reported buildup of Chinese troops and infrastructure on the Bhutanese plateau of Doklam, the scene of the faceoff last year.

“At various levels the engagement is going on,” she said referring to interactions between military personnel of India and China at the border and meetings between the special representatives of the two sides charged with resolving the boundary dispute. Sitharaman herself is expected to travel to China next month.

The Doklam standoff was triggered when Chinese troops attempted to construct a road on the plateau. Bhutanese troops stationed there objected to the construction but were brushed off by the Chinese who had brought in earth-moving equipment for road construction. Indian troops stationed in Bhutan under a special security arrangement then intervened to stop the Chinese which sparked the prolonged tensions between India and China.

On the question of firing along the border with Pakistan, Sitharaman admitted that the incidents of firing had gone up “but very clearly, we are also holding on and very clearly we are pushing them (infiltrators) back.”

“The earlier pretence that there is a distinction between state actors and non state actors no longer exists,” she added, a reference to Pakistan trying to make out a difference between a regular Pakistan soldier and a member of various militant groups supported by Pakistan to foment terrorism in India.

On the Rafale fighter jet deal with France renegotiated by the Narendra Modi government, the minister said dismissed opposition allegations that there was a scam brewing there.

She also dismissed fears that the ministry of defence had been given inadequate resources for modernisation of the armed forces. In her response, Sitharaman however said that the funds allocated in this year’s budget was enough for procurement of immediate and urgent purchases. The minister said that the vice chiefs of all the three forces had been empowered to make decisions and payments for emergency procurements.

“For the level of (complete) modernisation of the armed forces I understand that we have to give a lot, lot, lot more. There is no doubt on that. But it is not as if we haven’t done our homework before we went to the ministry of finance,” she said.

The minister’s comments come against the backdrop of remarks reportedly made by the Indian army’s vice chief Sarath Chand to the parliamentary standing committee on defence in which he said that the army does not have the resources to pay for emergency purchases made in the aftermath of the Doklam standoff.

According to a government statement issued in February, the annual budget presented by finance minister Arun Jaitely for 2018-19 envisages a total outlay of Rs24,42,213 crore.“Out of this, Rs2,95,511.41 crore has been earmarked for defence. This accounts for 12.10% of the total central government expenditure for the year 2018-19,” the statement said.

“The allocation of Rs2,95,511.41 crore represents a growth of 7.81% over Budget Estimates of Rs2,74,114.12 crore and 5.91% over Revised Estimates of Rs2,79,003.85 crore, respectively, for the financial year 2017-18,” it added.