NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW: Manohar Parrikar Monday took charge as the Defence Minister and said that the defence acquisition process will be transparent and fast under his stewardship.
Fifty eight-year-old Parrikar met with Defence Secretary R K Mathur and all the three Services Chiefs minutes after he took over in his South Block Office.
The new minister echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make-in-India’ slogan and said the country should manufacture “as much as possible” domestically.
“Very unfortunate. Whatever will be there will be very transparent but fast process. I think that is one of my specialities,” he told reporters here replying to a question about the delayed acquisition process in the last ten years and defence deals often getting mired in corruption. He asked everyone to give him time to understand the issues concerning the new ministry.
Parrikar, who earlier on Monday filed his nomination papers to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, said he was “equally worried” over the recent sinking of a torpedo recovery vessel off the coast of Vishakhapatnam and recalled the series of accidents that the Navy has had over the last year and a half. “Let me first take real grip of the situation so that the exact position can be expressed to you,” he said.
Maintaining that relationship with neighbouring countries is a sensitive issue, Parrikar said he would not allow the country to go defenceless against enemies. “Defence Minister was defenceless against the press today, but I won’t allow the country to be defenceless against the enemies,” he told reporters after filing his nomination papers in Lucknow.
With his task cut out, Parrikar, an IITian, thanked Modi for reposing confidence in him by giving him this “very important and sensitive ministry.”
“I am also aware that Jaitley (who was holding Defence as an additional charge) has done, in spite of constraints, a lot of initiation work on many of the issues concerning the defence and I am quite confident of taking them ahead with speed,” he said.
The former Goa chief minister admitted that though he has exposure and good administrative experience, the type of requirement at the national level may be different. “I was left with no time. Let me be frank. I had to virtually pack in five minutes. Two days were given for all the exercise,” he said while requesting the media to give him time to understand the issues concerning the ministry.
Asked about Modi’s ‘Make-in-India’ slogan, Parrikar said the Prime Minister has been very clear in opening up of the defence sector. “I feel that as much as possible we should manufacture here in India. Any country with good manufacturing ways, irrespective of defence or any other, can come up economically by generating a lot of employment opportunities,” he said adding he hopes to make use of his ministerial colleague Rajiv Pratap Rudy’s new Skill Development Ministry.
“Skill development is a very important issue and the reason why we need that is that in earlier years, skill was passed down (generations). Now we have to train people. New skills have come up, new requirement. We need to develop that fast. Defence also needs it in all angles,” he said.
Defence Ministry sources said that over the next few days, Parrikar will get detailed briefings from each of the Services – Army, Air Force and Navy.
A metallurgy graduate from IIT, Bombay, Parrikar has a long road ahead as the forces will look up to him to fix the country’s outdated weapons system and go in for faster acquisition. He will have to walk a tight rope in the wake of allegations of corruption in defence contracts in the country.
Jaitley has already set in motion the process of acquiring Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters for the IAF besides the Israeli anti-tank missile Spike. He has scrapped the controversial tender for 197 Light Utility Helicopters and opened projects for Indian industry – including the making of six submarines and replacement of Avro transport aircraft.
Among the first major issues Parrikar would have to decide is the multi-billion 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft.
Final negotiations have been on for the last three years after the then government selected French Dassault Rafale. The contract is critical for the depleted fighter fleet of IAF, which needs at least 39 squadrons of fighter planes but has only 32.
Parrikar promises faster, transparent defence deals