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PTI Photo/ Kamal Kishore
Defence Minister A K Antony gestures during a news conference after inaugurating Defexpo 2012 at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.
Service Chiefs Enjoy Govt's Confidence: Antony
In possible signs of thaw, Defence Minister A K Antony today appeared to be ruling out any action against Army chief Gen V K Singh but vowed to take the "strongest action" under laws against those responsible for the leak of his letter to the Prime Minister.

He disclosed that the Intelligence Bureau has been asked to go into the leak of the letter in which the Army chief had said that the country's security might be at stake and said the government will get to the root of it and find out the persons behind the "anti-national" act.

"All the three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of the government. They are working...Otherwise, how can they continue," he told reporters when he was asked whether Gen Singh still enjoyed the government's pleasure and confidence.

At a press conference at the DefExpo, he was also asked whether the government would continue to "grin and bear" Gen Singh till retirement in May or ask him to go on leave following a spate of controversies surrounding him.

The Minister's remarks on the confidence in the service chiefs came moments after a statement issued by Gen Singh from Jammu that the leak of his letter should be treated as "high treason" and its source should be dealt with "ruthlessly".

Maintaining that no patriotic Indian would indulge in sensitive communication because it would only help the enemies, Antony said the report will be available at the earliest.

"I assure you that we will not leave it there. We will make every possible attempt to find out the real culprits who have done this anti-national activity and they will be given the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code," he said.

Initially Antony sought to parry questions on the controversies surrounding the Army chief urging journalists not to bring Army into all controversies and damage institutions. Asked if he felt a sense of betrayal, Antony said he would not reveal his personal feelings and his judgments would be on the basis on facts.

The Defence Minister also answered questions on the state of Indian Army, modernisation and acquisition process, issues over which the Army chief had expressed concern to the Prime Minister.

"The government has a zero tolerance policy for corruption and has decided that in the procurement process, if any malpractices are found at any stage, it would not hesitate to cancel the contracts," he said.

The Defence Minister said India is located in a sensitive security surroundings and its neighbours are modernising their defence forces at a fast pace.

"We continuously review our defence preparedness. Strengthening of defence is a continuous process and India needs substantial step up in allocation for modernisation of defence forces," he said.

Antony told that any defence contracts over Rs 100 crore has a provision for integrity pact and the agreements stands the risk of cancellation even at the last stage if malpractices come to notice.

He said the indigenisation process of manufacturing arms and ammunition has improved but one also has to take into account the international technology denial regime which have only recently started easing.

"Don't blame me on both counts. There are complaints (about contracts) which I have to enquire but at the same time I have to ensure things are processed quickly," he said.

To a question, he denied knowledge about reports of Enforcement Directorate conducting a probe into a deal for purchase of helicopters.

Ever since he lost the battle over the age issue, Gen Singh has been at loggerheads with the government and has given media interviews claiming he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to swing a substandard defence deal.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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