Kalyan Ray, Deccan Hearld
30 March 2015
Project Varsha, India's secret nuclear submarine base on the east coast, has received less than 15 per cent of its approved budget in the current fiscal, adversely affecting its development.
Being constructed at Rambilli, near Vishakhapatnam, the base received a meagre Rs 26 crore in 2014-15 as against the budgetary allocation of Rs 197 crore, sources told Deccan Herald.
The government took away almost Rs 13,000 crore from the Defence Ministry's budge in the current fiscal. This closely-guarded naval facility is one of the projects that faced the consequences.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who held the defence portfolio for a few months, has now made an allocation of Rs 531 crore in the 2015-16 budget for the submarine pen, which may be named INS Varsha, when commissioned. China has a similar base in the Hainan Islands.
The slashing of the budget, however, has made Navy officials apprehensive about timely completion of the strategic project.
Though the base's construction began in 2009, the first major cash flow took place in 2011, when the Navy received almost Rs 160 crore, out of which Rs 58 crore was meant for civil construction and the rest for the communication system of the base.
Since then, Project Varsha was getting a steady supply of funds—it had received Rs 547 crore in 2013-14—before it was struck by cash shortage.
India operates two nuclear-powered submarines—the Russian origin INS Chakra and the indigenous INS Arihant.
While two more indigenous nuclear-powered and ballistic-missile-tipped submarines are under construction, New Delhi and Moscow are negotiating for a second Russian nuclear submarine.
INS Varsha would be accompanied by a weapon storage facility called “missile technical positions” (MTP).
It was also impacted by the budget cut, but to a lesser extent as the budgetary estimate of Rs 237 crore was reduced by Rs 100 crore.
Jaitley has now promised Rs 137 crore for the MTP, which reduces the operational turnaround time in wartime situations.
The finance crunch comes at a time when China is increasingly flexing its military muscle in the Indian Ocean.
After India's outrage over Chinese conventional submarines being refuelled in Sri Lanka, China's People's Liberation Army Navy is now increasingly instructing its nuclear-powered submarines in the Indian Ocean to avoid surfacing at all, said a navy officer.
India has readied a brand new very-low-frequency transmitting station on the Tamil Nadu coast, and installed an ultra-high-frequency transponder on its military satellite GSAT-7 for talking to submarines underwater.