This edition of Express Adda held in Mumbai hosted Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. In a discussion moderated by National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra, Sitharaman spoke on being an outsider in Delhi, the civil-military relationship and modernising the Forces.
On being an outsider in Delhi
Delhi was not completely a new place for me but as a political worker, it was a new place. The opportunity was given but yes I was moving like a nomad, in all my friends’ places. It took me nearly two years of spokespersonship being a nomad in Delhi. There was a time when I had a little hesitation in my mind — after all you belong to a family which is alright with you doing all these things but after a point they started asking, where are you actually? Do you have a place?
On being India’s first woman Defence Minister
I am thoroughly enjoying (being Defence Minister) because it’s so much of a challenge. Much to my surprise, not a moment have I been made to feel, ‘alright a woman, probably the prime minister wanted to make a token gesture’. The ease with which people have taken this thought of a woman minister has been a great strength for me and has made my job far easier. So, this narrative outside saying there is a glass ceiling that you have to break…none of that.
On Defence not getting adequate funds
The narrative which has built up in the last month essentially as a fallout of the (parliamentary) standing committee report…we need to read it in full to change this narrative. There were certain durations of time when decisions were not taken. As a result even if you had wonderful quantities of money, if you didn’t utilise it, if you have not taken decisions to spend it on capital goods, if your revenue purchases have all come to a standstill because some or other procedural headache is causing you to say that I do not want to tread in the path, of what use is fantastic allocation if you have not utilised it at all?
After this government came in 2014, in the first few years, a lot procedures had to be simplified. A new procurement policy had to be brought in 2016. Subsequent to it, procurement has gone up rapidly. So I want this summary conclusion that defence is not given enough money and will it affect our preparedness, to be completely removed out of our heads.
On 68% of army equipment being vintage
If 68% is vintage, there is rapid replenishment meaning removing of old and vintage and coming up with modern. So, that is happening simultaneously. We are trying to change and modernise capacities.We have had an exercise where the three Forces and the coast guard have been told to reprioritise on what is up to date.
On the effect of caution on decision-making
That is why I want to tell you that in 2016 procurement policy has simplified the process, institutionalised and streamlined the decision-making process where you can cut down on time, where two things can happen simultaneously. That’s why I am happy to tell you, there is not one case is pending before the Defence Acquisition Council since this government has come.
On Make in India in Defence
It is a question of getting policies simplified, inviting people to invest. When you talk of Defence, the reason why it takes more time is to say which of those do you want to open up, which of three Forces are still not comfortable to opening up. There is a lot at stake in national security. And as a result, when you list something available for private sector investors abroad, it does take time. Now it is all falling in place.
On civil-military relationship
I respect the Forces…but civil services also have a contribution to make. They are there to bridge administration with Forces. They are critical and I give credit to them. I don’t claim to have done miracles in bridging it, but I have just said the two lines can go parallel. I make it sound simple, but that is one area I palpably felt each one was full of themselves and I was caught up between the two.
Express Features Service
Photos: Express Photo Service