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Nirmala Sitharaman takes over as defence minister, says will focus on modernisation

LiveMint logoLiveMint 07-09-2017 Tarun Shukla

New Delhi: Nirmala Sitharaman who took as India's first full-time woman defence minister on Thursday said she will focus on armed forces modernisation and local manufacturing.  

“I shall be raksha mantri round the clock,” Sitharaman said, thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for reposing faith in her with such a “critical” portfolio.  

Late prime minister Indira Gandhi was so far the only woman to hold the defence portfolio in India, first in 1975 and then in 1980-82.

Sitharaman said her focus will be modernisation of Indian armed forces, taking forward the Make In India programme in defence manufacturing and attending to long-pending proposals and ensure “that they get resolved”.  

In her first decision as defence minister, she approved financial assistance out of Raksha Mantri Ex-Servicemen Fund, along with a small religious ceremony. Finance minister and outgoing defence minister Arun Jaitley handed over the charge formally. 

The only woman to head India’ defence ministry so far was Indira Gandhi: first in 1975 and again in 1980-82. 

Madurai-born Sitharaman, who was earlier minister of state for commerce, has a masters in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and has worked for PwC, London and briefly with BBC World Service. She joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2008, and was made a member of the national executive and was nominated as party spokesperson in 2010. 

 India's much-awaited defence strategic partnership model will allow local private sector companies to form joint ventures with foreign defence equipment makers—a shot in the arm for the government’s Make in India programme as well as efforts by the Indian private sector to make inroads into the lucrative defence equipment business. Larsen and Toubro Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, Reliance Infrastructure Ltd, Tata group and Adani group are among Indian companies likely to benefit the most from the strategic partnerships.  

A February 2015 report by lobby group Ficci and Centrum Capital estimated that by 2022, the annual opportunity for Indian companies, both state-owned and private, would be around $41 billion. That number could increase further because of the new policy. 

 The Indian defence industry is currently dominated by state-owned manufacturers such as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

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