Rafale Deal: Govt blames Cong for HAL being overlooked

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Updated: September 18, 2018 6:39:15 PM

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday held the UPA regime responsible for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) being overlooked for the French `Rafale’ fighter aircraft deal.

Sitharaman also countered Antony’s assertions of the Modi government compromising national security by reducing the number of jets to 36 from the 126 requisitioned by the Indian Air Force in 2000. (IE)

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday held the UPA regime responsible for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) being overlooked for the French `Rafale’ fighter aircraft deal. Addressing women journalist at Indian Women Press Corps in New Delhi the minister said that “One of the things that did not happen during the UPA was that both HAL and Dassault Company could not agree on production terms and that is why they could not go together. “

Adding, “All these attributes that are being put to us about HAL…it’s not for us but the UPA to answer as to why the agreement between Dassault and HAL did not happen. The UPA government could have done anything to strengthen HAL’s offer, to make sure its terms were appealing enough for Dassault, they could have done everything to ensure the terms were appealing enough for Dassault to conclude the agreement.”

Earlier in the day Congress leader and former Union Defence Minister AK Antony attacked Sitharaman for “tarnishing” HAL’s image over her remarks that the defence PSU “did not have required capability to produce Rafale”.Sitharaman also countered Antony’s assertions of the Modi government compromising national security by reducing the number of jets to 36 from the 126 requisitioned by the Indian Air Force in 2000. To a question, the minister pointed out that “Mr Anthony had done the negotiations, so he knows how these negotiations go for the defence purchases.”

Orders have to placed and then they have to be manufactured, thus there is a timeline. “The government has responded to the issues raised by the Congress including about the price of the basic aircraft in Parliament. It was our duty to ensure that we get the best price. The price you (UPA) obtained for a basic aircraft when compared with the intergovernmental agreement that we have done, it is 9 per cent cheaper, and it is fact,” she added.

Rejecting the Congress’s demand for a JPC probe into the Rafale fighter planes, the defence minister said the UPA government didn’t take care of IAF’s needs. “The ideal squadron strength is 42, it has been coming down. So, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi assessed the situation, (we figured) it was our duty to get the Rafale,” said the defence minister. According to her, the government was getting the basic cost of the Rafale fighter jets was nine per cent cheaper than what the UPA dispensation had agreed upon.

To a question if the a $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale deal was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the minister told the women journalists that, “The deal was announced in April 2015 and after the approval by the CCS it was inked in April 2016.”

Earlier in the day Antony had said that only the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) could decide on the number of aircraft and weaponry required, adding that Modi’s announcement in 2015 to procure only 36 jets was a “grave violation” of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).

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