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Row between Army chief, govt worsens; uproar in RS

Last updated on: March 28, 2012 14:23 IST

The row between Army chief and the government worsened on Wednesday with Defence Minister A K Antony saying "appropriate action" would be taken for leakage of a letter written by Gen V K Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid demands by political parties for his dismissal.

The issue of the contents of the letter appearing in the media rocked Rajya Sabha with members terming it as "disturbing" and "serious" and demanding that the government should take action against those responsible "whatever position he holds".

Responding to concerns expressed by members, Antony said, "I have made serious note of the observations... After consulting the Prime Minister and colleagues, we will take appropriate action."

He confirmed that the Singh had written to the Prime Minister on March 12 drawing his "attention to issues related to national defence and security."

He said "these issues are under the consideration of the Ministry of Defence. By very nature of these issues, they cannot be a matter of public debate."

Earlier, Antony met the prime minister over the issue. Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma were also present at the meeting.

According to a newspaper report, the Army chief has contended in the letter that the entire tank fleet is "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks", the air defence is "97 per cent obsolete" and the infantry is crippled with "deficiencies of crew served weapon" and lacks "night fighting" capabilities.

Gen Singh has also alleged that there is "hollowness" in the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments by vendors.

Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley expressed concerns over leakage of the letter saying matters which are supposed to be confidential are being leaked to media.

He told the Defence Minister that if these sorts of leakages are permitted, there is no point in saying that you do not want such matters to be part of any acrimonious debate.     Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said the fact that a sensitive issue like a letter containing facts about nation's security and written by Army chief to the prime minister gets leaked, is a matter of "utmost concern" and something that needs to be inquired.

He said those responsible for leakages must be held accountable for such acts no matter what is the position of such officers in defence establishment and civil administration.

Pyari Mohan Mahapatra (Biju Janata Dal) said the government should take immediate action. "There is no scope for inquiry. It can take years. Whatever has to be done, it has to be done in hours not days," he said adding "people who are to be sacked should be sacked" immediately under Article 311 B and C of Constitution.

Maintaining that Indian forces have never indulged in politics, Janjata Dal-United leader Shivanand Tiwari said it would set a wrong precedent if such things are allowed and the government will have to take some tough steps in this regard.

Earlier during Question Hour, Tiwari said the Army chief should be dismissed.

Noting that some of the news reports related to defence preparedness are "extremely disturbing", Jaitley said they raise question marks about the integrity of procurement and preparedness.

Assuring members, Antony said, "The government is committed to do all that is necessary for the security of the nation. The government will do everything possible to ensure that our defence forces become the best fighting forces in the world."

Expressing gratitude to the members of Opposition, Antony said he was "very very happy" to hear the observations of the opposition leaders.

"This is a great tribute to out country. Whatever be our differences, whenever it comes to national security, we are one," he said assuring the members that the government is continuously taking steps to tighten the loose ends in the procurement process.

Antony said procurements are being undertaken under the integrity pact put in place three years ago, which covers a contract of even Rs 100 crore.

He said if there is any violation, actions like blacklisting and cancellation of contracts are taken. Antony said the government will not leave any room for anybody to makes compromise over integrity and transparency and will take strong action against whoever is responsible.

"We will protect every inch of our motherland," he said.
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