M A I N   N E W S

Pranab hints at probe into defence deals
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 24
Assuming charge of the Defence Ministry here this morning, Pranab Mukherjee said some defence deals of the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government could come under a cloud. He made it clear that certain deals inked by former Defence Minister George Fernandes could be looked into.

While pointing out that in striving for total transparency in future defence deals, the government could probe the earlier ones “if specific charges come up”.

His statement as the new Defence Minister assumes significance, as his predecessor was at the receiving end of the Congress-led opposition in both Houses of Parliament over the past few years following the Tehelka expose.

While Mr Fernandes resigned from the post after the Tehelka expose, he bounced back as the Defence Minister. The Opposition boycotted him after he was asked to reassume his charge. Matters came to a head following another revelation in the coffins purchased for those killed during the Kargil war with Pakistan.

In protest, the Opposition refused to put questions to Mr Fernandes during the Question Hour in Parliament, resulting in the boycott till the dissolution of the 13th Lok Sabha.

Mr Mukherjee, who has had a distinguished career as a parliamentarian after being elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time way back in 1969, said the new government wanted to ensure that the institutional arrangement for arms procurement was made transparent and these covered both emergency and well as regular purchases.

Spelling out the priorities of the new government on security issues, he said the ongoing modernisation and upgrade of weaponry and training of the armed forces would be carried out with redoubled vigour and emphasis would be on ensuring that all allocated funds for strategic systems were utilised and not allowed to lapse, as was happening earlier.

Incidentally, while Mr Fernandes distinguished himself as the Defence Minister by scoring a number of fists, including his becoming the only minister in the seat to have visited Siachen the maximum number of times and carrying specially baked Christmas cakes with him to celebrate with the soldiers posted on the far-flung borders, Mr Mukherjee himself has a number of achievements to his credit.

While being the External Affairs Minister in 1995, he ensured that India became a “full dialogue” partner in the ASEAN forum. Besides, between 1980 and 85 he used to preside over the Cabinet meetings in the absence of the Prime Minister. He became a minister for the first time in 1973 and has also held the Commerce portfolio among others.

Displaying his experience in tackling the media, the Defence Minister expressed no sentiments at being overlooked for the portfolio of the Home Ministry. When asked about the switch in portfolios, the new Defence Minister said: “I am not at all surprised”.

“Where is the element of surprise. It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to allocate any portfolio to any minister”, he said.

“The Budget resources of the country are scarce and efforts have to be made to spend these optimally. Whatever is required for security of the nation would be made available”, he said.

Rubbishing questions that the Congress was less oriented to defence matters than the NDA government, Mr Mukherjee said his party always had a bold and consistent stand on issues relating to the security of the country.

“We are proud of our armed forces who at grave risk to their lives are safeguarding the country’s freedom and integrity. We salute them”, he said.

The Defence Minister said the new government had an open mind on the appointment of country’s first-ever Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

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