Arun Jaitley dons two hats
For the second time in three years since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under the leadership of Narendra Modi came to power, the versatile, articulate and knowledgeable Arun Jaitley has been given additional charge of the defence portfolio, along with his main portfolio of finance and corporate affairs. Manohar Parrikar who held the defence portfolio has moved back to Goa as Chief Minister. The fact that this is an ‘additional charge’ means that the Defence Ministry will have a minister holding the portfolio independently. Till then, Jaitley will don two hats and it is hoped that the Defence Ministry will stand to benefit as there are many financial issues of the Defence Ministry pending before the Finance Ministry.
In this issue, we have different viewpoints on the temporary charge. In a scathing attack, the former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, Lt General Vijay Oberoi opines that when a Defence Minister joins the committee culture of the bureaucracy, as Parrikar has done, with recommendations of the committees either pending or extended or lying in cupboards without any action, then all is obviously at a standstill on the security of the nation.
Giving a slightly contrasting view is Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd) who mentions that in tumultuous tenure, Parrikar also initiated reforms in the procedures for the acquisition and indigenous manufacture of weapons and equipment and ensured the preparation and publication of the new Defence Procurement Procedure, 2016.
Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd) has said while the appointment of Manohar Parrikar as the Goa Chief Minister has been dictated by political expediency, this move has implications for the Indian armed forces. It goes without saying that the aspirations of the nation are unlikely to be fulfilled with a ‘Part-Time Minister of Defence’ at the helm. Hopefully, the government will address this issue without any further delay. After a decade of deep slumber, in 2015, the Ministry of Defence under the NDA government with Manohar Parrikar as the Minister of Defence embarked upon a number of reforms in the defence sector.
Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd) writes that since he is the Finance Minister, it would probably facilitate concluding the contracts of the capital expenditure in the ` 86,488 crore defence outlay of the current financial year — same as he did in 2014. But what could be a very more significant contribution by him is if he would make available the additional ` 13,000 crore demanded by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence while drawing the attention of Parliament to the crying need for modernising the armed forces, to which the current allotment of ` 2,74,000 crore in defence budget 2017-18 does little to contribute.
In yet another viewpoint, Lt General Katoch has talked about how China in her devious ways has voiced an innocuous unofficial statement through Dai Bingguo that if Tawang Plateau is ceded by India, it could pave the way for a boundary settlement.
In this issue, we have a story on the glorious era of INS Viraat, the flagship of the Indian Navy, that came to an end on March 6, 2017. INS Viraat, the second Centaur class aircraft carrier in service which has spent 30 years in the Indian Navy and 27 years in the Royal Navy, was decommissioned, in a solemn yet grand ceremony at the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai recently.