No public debate on defence issues

It was peace after war between ruling and opposition MPs yesterday with both sides agreeing that the issues raised by Army Chief VK Singh in a letter to PM Manmohan Singh should not become a matter of public debate.

After two adjournments before 12 noon on Singh’s letter to the PM, highlighting shortage of arms and ammunition in the forces, Defence Minister AK Antony clarified in the Rajya Sabha that the government was committed to strengthening the forces and the procurement process was under strict monitoring.

Empty guns: Army Chief VK Singh had written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighting the shortage of arms and ammunition in the forces. File Pic.

“These issues cannot be an issue of public debate... publishing the contents of secret communication cannot serve our national security,” Antony said as the upper house reassembled after two adjournments.

Opposition MPs agreed that the issue should not have come out in the open. Singh, in a letter to the PM, had pointed out a shortage of arms and ammunition in the armed forces and raised questions over the country’s preparedness for a war.

According to reports, the letter, written on March 12, states that army tanks have run out of ammunition. The letter emphasises the need to bridge the shortcomings and bring the army to fighting level.

The minister said successive governments attach priority to the defence preparedness and that the government was committed to providing the best equipment to the forces.

“I can assure this nation it is our intention to keep it (armed forces) strong. The government will do everything necessary to ensure that our defence forces are provided and trained to make them the best fighting forces in the world,” he said.

Agreeing that the issue should not be raised publicly, BJP leader Arun Jaitley asked for assurance on the “integrity” of the procurement process. “While I agree we will all have to exercise utmost restraint and not make it an issue of public debate... across the media, too many pieces of information, which disturb us, are coming out with regard on procurement process,” Jaitley said. “Attach utmost priority to the fact that there are no malpractices in it,” he added. CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury, Janata Dal (U) leader Shivanand Tiwari and several other opposition leaders also agreed that public debate on the issue was a serious concern. “We are happy with the assurance... the information appearing in the media is a matter of utmost concern,” Yechury said.

The defence minister then assured the members that the procurement process was amended from time to time and strong action was taken if any violation was found. Antony expressed happiness that the opposition and government were united on the issue.

“I am very very happy to hear observations of the opposition and other leaders of the house... whatever be our differences, but when it comes to national security we are one,” he said.

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