Full-time defence minister soon, says Arun Jaitley

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, who has also been given charge of the essentially unrelated defence portfolio in the Narendra Modi government, said today that he expects a full-time defence minister to be named in a "couple of weeks."

Taking charge at the defence ministry this morning, a few hours after he had assumed office at the finance ministry, Jaitley said, "Defence is an additional charge with me until the expansion of the council of ministers ... it's an important ministry and needs urgent decisions."

Till then, Jaitley said, he would spend a "reasonable amount of time" at the defence ministry.

He expressed concern over what he called a slowdown in decision-making in defence by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and said expediting procurement and modernisation in the armed forces would be a top priority of the new government.

"The security of India is of vital importance. Support to our armed forces and equipment support is going to be priority area," he said.

As Jaitley took over came news that a MIG-21 fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force had crashed in the Bijbehara area of Anantnag district in Kashmir, killing the pilot. "My heart goes out to the pilot and his family. It's a matter of great concern (today's accident). I offer my condolences," the minister said.

On the appointment of the new Army chief (General Dalbir Singh Suhag) by the previous government one day before votes were counted in the general elections, Jaitley said, "I firmly believe that there should be no controversy on appointment of the person concerned. Some comments may have been made regards the procedure of a person's appointment, but this should be no reflection on the person concerned."

The Manmohan Singh government had two weeks ago announced that Lt General Suhag will be the next Army chief. Jaitley had written in a blog post then that the decision not to leave the announcement for the next government displayed "a high degree of arrogance even in defeat".

Then too Jaitley had qualified his criticism by saying that "the BJP does not wish to bring the newly appointed Army chief into any controversy".