Indian Express

Army row past, hints Jaitley

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Arun Jaitley takes charge of the Defence Ministry;  (right) Narendra Modi leaves PMO after his first day in office. Arun Jaitley takes charge of the Defence Ministry;
(right) Narendra Modi leaves PMO after his first day in office.

Within minutes of taking temporary charge of the Defence Ministry, Arun Jaitley indicated that the controversy over the appointment of General Dalbir Singh as the next Army chief is a matter of the past.

Jaitley, who is expected to be in charge for only a few weeks before a Cabinet expansion brings in a full-time minister, said he firmly believed that controversies should not arise over the appointment of Armed Forces chiefs. “Some comments were made about the procedure (of appointment of the next Army chief) when the code of conduct was on. But this is not to reflect on the person concerned in any way,” he said.

The minister, who also holds the charge of Finance, hinted that the government will take a re-look at the 26 per cent cap on FDI in the defence sector. The two ministries have been at loggerheads earlier on the issue.

Responding to questions Tuesday, Jaitley said the matter has “already come up in my preliminary discussions in the Finance Ministry”. This was an area he was “personally willing to examine”, he added.

On the allocation of more funds to the Defence Ministry that has projects worth thousands of crore in the pipeline but not enough money to see them through, Jaitley conceded it was a matter of concern.

“Balancing the expenses of various departments is a priority area. It will be done depending on how many bills are pending,” the minister said.

Jaitley, who held a series of meetings with department heads as well as Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh, said his government was concerned about the slowdown in defence procurement. “Speeding up all that is required for the forces is going to be a priority area.”

Jaitley also expressed concern over the crash of a MiG-21 fighter jet in Kashmir on Tuesday, saying his heart went out to the family of the deceased pilot and that he had asked for more information from officials.

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