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Armed forces fully prepared to meet any challenge: Defence Minister

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NEW DELHI (PTI): Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has asserted that India's armed forces are fully prepared to meet any challenge while cautioning the opposition parties against giving the impression that they are unprepared due to lack of procurement.

Making an intervention in the Lok Sabha on Friday during a debate on the demands for grants of the Defence Ministry, he rejected the opposition charge that the government had ignored the needs of defence forces and not allocated adequate budget, saying it had signed 147 procurement contracts worth over Rs 2.96 lakh crore in three years.

He cited contracts to procure weapons and equipment for all three wings of the forces -- including 155 mm ultra-light howitzer guns and BRAHMOS missiles for the Army, deep sea rescue missions for the Navy and Apache attack helicopters for the Air Force -- to make his point.

"This impression should not go that procurement is not happening... our Army is not prepared. Our defence forces are fully prepared to meet any challenge," he said, adding that the matter of preparedness of defence forces should be bipartisan and not politicised.

He also rejected the charge that the ambitious 'Make in India' scheme had "failed" in the defence sector, saying 134 proposals worth over Rs 4.45 lakh crore were signed and 100 of them were aimed at "Buy and Make in India."

"In self-critical analysis, we should not exaggerate...

The government has worked to speed up the procurement process and make it more transparent," he said.

He said there were twin challenges of resources and process facing the sector.

Jaitley, whose main portfolio is Finance and has been given charge of the Defence Ministry after Manohar Parrikar resigned to become the Goa Chief Minister, however, also pointed to resource constraints.

It is easy to say that more resources should be allocated to the defence sector, which of course should be done, he said while noting that major parts of the central budget are given to states, diverted for subsidised welfare schemes for the poor and to pay interests on debts.

Large part of defence budget is spent on paying salaries and pensions, Jaitley said responding to opposition parties' criticism.

Defence, he insisted, remained the top priority for the government and said that resources from other departments will be used to meet any emergency challenge.

Jaitley said the government has been constantly trying to increase the size of the "revenue cake" so that more resources could be diverted for various sectors including defence, in an apparent reference to the measures against black money and the move to expand the revenue base.

"The size of the entire revenue cake has to increase" and a more resourceful state would be able to spend, primarily on defence, he said.

Responding to Scindia's claim that it was the UPA government which decided to implement OROP, he said allocation of Rs 500 crore by the then government was a "nominal lip service" and noted that the government has spent thousands of crore in executing it and will incur recurring expenditure.

Two installments of the OROP (One Rank One Pension) arrears have been paid and the third one is going to be given, he said.

About defence procurement, the Minister said efforts are made to speed up the process and ensure more transparency.

If there is lack of transparency, then there would be concerns about trust which could lead to a larger issue, he added.

As the Minister was speaking, Deputy Speaker and AIADMK leader M Thambidurai alleged that the government was diluting the federal system as a result of which the revenue base is also becoming small.

Thambidurai also said that Goods and Services Tax (GST) would reduce the states' revenue base further.

In response, Jaitley, who is also the Finance Minister, said the state (Tamil Nadu) government and the party (AIADMK) have a different position on GST.

Various efforts of the government, including the GST, would help in ending tax evasion, the Minister noted.

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