Finance Minister Arun Jaitley took additional charge of the Defence Ministry on Tuesday after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stepped down to take over as Chief Minister of Goa. The arrangement has turned the clock back to 2014, when Parrikar was Goa Chief Minister and Jaitley held charge of the Defence Ministry for about six months.
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While this will be Parrikar’s fourth stint as CM of his home state, his sudden exit leaves the Defence Ministry at a critical juncture. Having settled down in South Block and identified the areas requiring reform, Parrikar commissioned many expert committees to suggest changes. The reports have come in over the last few months, and implementation of their suggestions was expected to start soon.
The report of an expert committee headed by Lt General D B Shekatkar (retd) to enhance the combat potential of the armed forces and rebalancing defence expenditure was submitted late last year. It was supposed to form the basis of effecting wide-ranging organisational reforms
The question of higher defence reform, including creation of either a chief of defence staff or a permanent chairman of chiefs of staff committee as a single-point military advisor, was contingent on implementation of the report. Meetings on the implementation were expected to gather steam this month. Because it will be a political process, the fate of these meetings — and higher defence reform — is now uncertain.
In a bid to boost the pace of defence acquisitions, Parrikar introduced the new Defence Procurement Procedure last year after much delay. However, he was unable to make any significant change to the acquisition process. Last month, an expert committee, headed by IIM professor Pritam Singh, submitted its report on restructuring the defence acquisition system by creating a new organisation in the government. With Parrikar gone, the report could gather dust.
As stated by the parliamentary standing committee on defence, the Defence Ministry’s acquisition programmes are hamstrung by lack of funds. With the finance minister holding additional charge of defence, the Defence Ministry can expect the government’s purse strings to loosen.
The 28 months Parrikar spent at South Block were eventful. He oversaw cross-border raids on a camp in Myanmar and surgical strikes inside Pakistan. He decided to do away with the norm of seniority in selection of service chiefs, by selecting General Bipin Rawat as Army chief. It remains to be seen whether Jaitley — or perhaps a new defence minister later — continues with these policies.