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Service chiefs enjoy govt`s confidence: Antony

Defence Minister AK Antony appeared to be ruling out any action against Army chief Gen VK Singh.



New Delhi: In possible signs of thaw,
Defence Minister A K Antony on Thursday appeared to be ruling out
any action against Army chief Gen V K Singh but vowed to take
the "strongest action" under laws against those responsible
for the leak of his letter to the Prime Minister.

He disclosed that the Intelligence Bureau has been asked
to go into the leak of the letter in which the Army chief had
said that the country`s security might be at stake and said
the government will get to the root of it and find out the
persons behind the "anti-national" act.

"All the three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of
the government. They are working...otherwise, how can they
continue," he told reporters when he was asked whether Gen
Singh still enjoyed the government`s pleasure and confidence.

At a press conference at the DefExpo, he was also asked
whether the government would continue to "grin and bear" Gen
Singh till retirement in May or ask him to go on leave
following a spate of controversies surrounding him.

The Minister`s remarks on the confidence in the service
chiefs came moments after a statement issued by Gen Singh from
Jammu that the leak of his letter should be treated as "high
treason" and its source should be dealt with "ruthlessly".

Maintaining that no patriotic Indian would indulge in
sensitive communication because it would only help the
enemies, Antony said the report will be available at the
earliest.

"I assure you that we will not leave it there. We will
make every possible attempt to find out the real culprits who
have done this anti-national activity and they will be given
the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code," he said.

Ever since he lost the battle over the age issue, Gen
Singh has been at loggerheads with the government and has
given media interviews claiming he was offered a bribe of Rs
14 crore to swing a substandard defence deal.

On top of acrimony over the issue, the leak of his secret letter to the Prime Minister enraged parliamentarians and political parties, some of whom demanded his removal.

Today, in yet another embarrassment to the government, a Delhi newspaper carried a story that Gen Singh has referred to the CBI a corruption complaint of a Trinamool Congress MP against Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who commands the Dimpaur-based 3 Corps and is in line to be Army Chief after Singh`s successor.

Initially Antony sought to parry questions on the controversies surrounding the Army chief urging journalists not to bring Army into all controversies and damage institutions.

Asked if he felt a sense of betrayal, Antony said he would not reveal his personal feelings and his judgements would be on the basis on facts.

The Defence Minister also answered questions on the state of Indian Army, modernisation and acquisition process, issues over which the Army chief had expressed concern to the Prime Minister.

"The government has a zero tolerance policy for corruption and has decided that in the procurement process, if any malpractices are found at any stage, it would not hesitate to cancel the contracts," he said.

The Defence Minister said India is located in a sensitive security surroundings and its neighbours are modernising their defence forces at a fast pace.

"We continuously review our defence preparedness. Strengthening of defence is a continuous process and India needs substantial step up in allocation for modernisation of defence forces," he said.

Antony said any defence contracts over Rs 100 crore has a provision for integrity pact and the agreements stands the risk of cancellation even at the last stage if malpractices come to notice.

He said the indigenisation process of manufacturing arms and ammunition has improved but one also has to take into account the international technology denial regime which have only recently started easing.

"Don`t blame me on both counts. There are complaints (about contracts) which I have to enquire but at the same time I have to ensure things are processed quickly," he said.

To a question, he denied knowledge about reports of Enforcement Directorate conducting a probe into a deal for purchase of helicopters.

Answering a query on the of shortage of ammunition as
pointed out by the Army chief, the Defence minister said in
last two years, over 23,000 crore have been spent to procure
them.

"Over the years, we are procuring more ammunition for the
Army. In the last fiscal, we had spent ammunition worth Rs
11,000 crore for the Army and this year, it was Rs 12,000
crore. Every year it is increasing," he said.

The Defence Minister said the government can`t be
cornered on the counts of both speeding up modernisation and
not acting against corruption.

"Government is only one. Why I am slow on modernisation
because I can`t ignore the complaints of corruption. I can`t
throw them in basket," he said.

Antony said the blacklisting of firms has also resulted
in limiting the options of Indian armed forces for procuring
global weapon systems but corruption can`t be ignored at any
cost.

PTI

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