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Def procurement happening speedily but with 'due diligence intact', says Sitharaman

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Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks during the Indian Defence Conclave, in New Delhi, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. A PTI Photo.

NEW DELHI (PTI): Defence procurement has been simplified and is happening speedily but with "due diligence intact", Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday amid a raging row over the Rafale fighter jet deal with France.

Addressing domestic defence equipment manufacturers, Sitharaman said they have to convince the armed forces of the quality, purpose, usefulness and the relevance of their product.

The minister said she cannot compel armed forces to buy equipment from them and it was up to the domestic companies to convince the forces that their product was "good enough".

"The armed forces who actually use the equipment should be convinced. It is not necessary that the armed forces will have to be bound by me or forced by me or compelled by me to buy it (from an Indian company)... I cannot say that to them.

"I have to work to make sure that their operational preparedness is in no way curbed," she said at the 'Indian Defence Conclave 2018' organised by the Defence Innovators and Industry Association.

The minister also lauded her predecessors Manohar Parikkar and Arun Jaitley, saying they had not only simplified defence procedure but also ensured transparency.

Steps were taken to make the procurement procedure less cumbersome, she noted.

"Procurement has simplified. Procurement is happening with due diligence intact, but it is happening speedily," the defence minister said.

Her comments come in the wake of the controversy over the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal with the opposition, primarily the Congress, alleging corruption and demanding that the price details be made public.

The government has vehemently denied the charges of corruption and said any disclosure of price would be violation of the secrecy clause and would give an advantage to adversaries.

Sitharaman also urged defence manufacturers to get out of the mindset of looking at the India market alone.

"I appeal to you all to get out of that mindset. There are several other countries which are buying (defence equipment) that do not have the capacity to produce. They never had a history of attempting to produce defence components. Look at markets outside. Make in India is not just for making in India," she said.

Sitharaman assured the gathering that the government will make sure the industry gets every possible help to export their products.

To encourage domestic defence manufacturers, she said, several items have been removed from the list that was earlier reserved for ordnance factories and defence public sector undertakings.

She also said the government's 'Make in India' project is not just on paper and that orders have been placed.

On Monday, the government told the Supreme Court that there was urgent need to "arrest the decline" in the number of IAF fighter squadrons and the delay by the UPA government in finalising the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) process had led to adversaries inducting 4th and 5th generation jets.

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