Sitharaman takes charge, says preparedness of forces, Make in India top priority

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NEW DELHI – Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday assumed charge as India’s first full-time woman Defense Minister, and asserted she would be a “round-the-clock” Minister, with focus on preparedness of the armed forces, welfare of soldiers and indigenous defence production.

Sitharaman was received at South Block, which houses the Defense Ministry, by predecessor Arun Jaitley, Minister of State for Defense Subhash Bhamre, Defense Secretary Sanjay Mitra, Secretary Defense Production A.K. Gupta, Chairman DRDO S. Christopher and other senior officials.

Two priests were present at her office to offer prayers as she took over the new charge.

“I shall ensure that all defence priorities are well attended to. I will be available round the clock,” Sitharaman said after taking charge.

“My priority will definitely be the preparedness of the armed forces. It is important that the armed forces receive all the attention in terms of getting necessary endowment and equipment to perform their duties with the best of equipment available,” she said.

“I will attend to all long-pending issues (related to defence), and in consultation with the Prime Minister and the cabinet… the Cabinet Committee on Security… and ensure that those issues get resolved,” Sitharaman said.

The Minister said indigenous manufacturing in defence will be one of the key areas for her, as envisioned in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship Make in India programme.

“Make in India in defence production is very important for India’s defence capabilities… It is something that will be of great importance to us,” she said.

Pointing out that India was one of the biggest defence equipment buyers in the world, Sitharaman said domestic defence production will receive a boost due to technology transfer to the country.

She said the welfare of soldiers and their families was also one of her top priorities. “Although I am saying this at the end, certainly not least in importance is the armed forces’ families and their welfare.”

“Soldiers (deployed) on the toughest border, challenging situations, should remain absolutely assured that their interests are being watched.”

The new Defense Minister approved a grant of around Rs 13 crore for 8,685 ex-servicemen, widows and dependents from the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund. She also approved financial assistance out of the Raksha Mantri Ex-Servicemen Fund, a statement said.

Sitharaman, a former Commerce and Industry Minister, was elevated to Cabinet Minister rank and given charge of the crucial defense portfolio in Sunday’s cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

She could not take charge until Thursday as Arun Jaitley, who was holding additional charge of Defence, was on a visit to Japan for a bilateral dialogue.

Sitharaman is the first woman to hold full-time charge of the defense portfolio. In the past, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held the portfolio twice — from December 1 to December 21, 1975, and January 14, 1980, to January 15, 1982.