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10.02.2009 Asia

Pride and Poverty: India's amazing blending

By Nava Thakuria

When one third of the world's poor lives in India, is it logical for New Delhi to go with the fascination of arms and aviation? India spends more and more money for the military empowerment, but ignores hopelessly the issue of health, where hundred thousands die due to curable diseases.

The issues come alive as Bangalore is hoisting the 7th Biennial Aerospace Exhibition from February 11. The five day extravaganza, Aero India 2009, at the Yelahanka Air Force Base in the garden city of India has attracted around 600 Indian and international companies from

25 countries for the exhibition. Organized by the Ministry of Defence

(GoI) and recognized as the Asia's largest air force exhibition, it will showcase a wide range of civil and military aircrafts from leading manufacturers, vendors and suppliers.

As a prelude to the Aero show, a seminar has also been organized by Defence Research and Development Organization in association with the Aeronautical society of India. Titled as Aerospace – perspectives and Trends in Technologies, the seminar is supposed to discuss various parameters like aircraft technologies, space technologies, airborne systems, aircraft design and development, aircraft technologies and certification, aerospace systems & infrastructure development etc.

Mentionable that India is one of the world's largest weapons importers. Between 2000 and 2007 India ranked world's second largest arms importer accounting for 7.5 % of all major weapons transfers. It stood fourth among the largest military spender in terms of purchasing power in 2007 followed by US, China and Russia.

"Over 1,130 companies in 98 countries manufacture arms, ammunitions and components. 90 % of Conventional arms exports in the world are from the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council namely USA, UK, Russia, China & France. The countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East hold 51 per cent of the world's heavy weapons. In 2002, arms deliveries to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa constituted 66.7 per cent of the value of all arms deliveries worldwide," said Binalakshmi Nepram, Secretary General of Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI).

She also added, "If we consider the current budget allocations in India for the year 2008-09, allocation for defence is Rs 105,600 crore which is 14.06% of total budget and around Rs 48,007 crore i.e. 45.5% of the defence budget is spent on arms and ammunitions."

Similarly Dr Duarte Barreto of the Foundation of Educational Innovation in Asia (FEDINA), Bangalore questions, while 900 million people of our country lacks social security protection, a demand for unilateral 10 percent reduction in military expenditure is not a big deal. When people are dying of poverty, can security and arms provide them with a basic square meal ?

As the criticism towards New Delhi's fascination to military power grows bigger, three influential civil society and advocacy groups have decided to organize a parallel event in Bangalore as an alternative action to the Aero show. The event, organized by the CAFI, FEDINA, and the School of Law (Christ University, Bangalore), would focus on the consequences of the arms trade and it is titled as Disarmament for Peace, Human Security and Development in 21st century India.

The programmes include a press conference at Bangalore Press Club, human chain formation in the city streets, group discussion, mime show and a peace vigil walk around the Aero show venue, informed Mita Dutta of FEDINA, who talked to this writer from Bangalore.

Arvind Radhakrishnan of the Bangalore based School of Law (Christ

University) had a major point to get highlighted, "In a country where poverty is rampant and where there is a great deal to be done in the fields of health and education, we cannot be spending so much on defence. Our battle is against starvation and deprivation, which cannot be fought with guns and missiles."