NATIONAL

CCS clears purchase of `vital defence equipment'

NEW DELHI OCT. 5. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) today cleared the procurement of "certain vital defence-related equipment" and reviewed the security scenario against the backdrop of ongoing elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

Briefing newsmen, the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, declined to detail the equipment purchase cleared during the 90-minute meeting.

However, informed reasoning in the light of the recent statements by the Defence Minister and the Indian Air Force chief points to the approval to purchase advanced jet trainers (AJT), most probably from the United Kingdom.

The decision comes days before the IAF is scheduled to celebrate its 71st anniversary.

The absence of AJTs has cost the Air Force dearly both in terms of a large number of young lives as well as costly assets. The plan to procure AJTs was finalised in the mid-Eighties but inter-corporate rivalry among armament manufacturers and lack of political rivalry have led to successive Governments failing to seal a decision.

The meeting, also attended by the three service chiefs, reviewed a massive housing project in progress for the armed forces and improving the communication network of the Army.

"We had some defence-related procurement decision to be taken which the CCS has taken. I can't go into details. One way or the other, I am not in a position to respond,'' said Mr. Sinha when asked whether the British Aerospace's Hawk AJT was the defence-related procurement in question. He maintained that the alleged "air dropping" incident in West Bengal was not listed on the agenda.

The Minister was more forthcoming on the review of the regional security scenario, which basically means the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. With polling over for a bulk of the seats to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the Central Government was in a self-congratulatory disposition.

The CCS noted with "great satisfaction the fact that despite all efforts to the contrary, people of the State responded splendidly to the democratic process. The large turnout of voters in the first three of the four phases has been noted with great satisfaction by the Government''.

"We used the opportunity to discuss the overall security scenario in the region. No decisions have been taken but an overall review has been carried out,'' said Mr. Sinha.

The CCS meeting took place just before the Defence Minister leaves for Oman and the Prime Minister, accompanied by the External Affairs Minister, departs for Europe. Besides these three prominent members of the Union Cabinet, others who attended the meeting included the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, and the Cabinet Secretary-designate, Kamal Pande.

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