New Delhi, January 7 (NDTV): The spat between Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman continued on Monday with Sitharaman saying that the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, has orders for Rs. one million million or Rs. One trillion, and Rahul saying that the actual orders were only for Rs. 265,700 million and demanded proof for the claim of Rs.One trillion.
After sparring on twitter with Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today reiterated in parliament that her statement on orders worth Rs. 1 lakh crore (Rs.1,000,000 million) for state-run defense manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was not false.
“I have received confirmation from HAL that between 2014 and 2018, contracts amounting to 26,570 crore have already been signed,” the Defense Minister said, adding that orders worth Rs. 73,000 crore (Rs.730,000 million) were in the pipeline.
“This confirms the correctness of my statements and the doubts that have been raised on my statement on HAL contracts are incorrect and misleading,” she said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi had asked her to clarify or resign after a report in the Times of India suggested that no actual orders had been placed and HAL was struggling to pay its employees. The minister had said in her reply to the Rafale debate on Friday that the government had given extensive contracts to HAL worth Rs. 1 lakh crore (Rs.1,000,000 million) but the Congress was “shedding crocodile tears”.
After she stressed today that her statement was correct, Rahul Gandhi repeated his charge that the Defence Minister had misled parliament with a “direct jhooth (lie)”. The actual money that HAL was expecting was only Rs. 26,570 crore (Rs. 265,700 million), he said. “The rest about orders worth Rs. 73,000 crore (Rs.730,000 million) bakwas (nonsense). Technical Evaluation Committee doesn’t mean an order,” the Congress president said.
He added that while Rafale-maker Dassault had been given Rs. 20,000 crore (Rs. 200,000 million) by the government without the delivery of a single jet, HAL was delivering aircraft and choppers but had not been paid Rs. 15700 crore (RS.157,000 million) dues.
“I ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nirmala Sitharaman – when Modi-ji did bypass surgery (on the deal for 126 jets negotiated by the previous Congress government) and prepared a new contract for 36 fighters, did any senior defense ministry, air force officials object to PM Modi’s interference? Yes or no?”
The Congress President had also tweeted earlier:
“That HAL doesn’t have enough cash to pay salaries, isn’t surprising. Anil Ambani has Rafale. He now needs HAL’s brilliant talent pool to deliver on his contracts.
Without salaries, HAL’s best engineers & scientists will be forced to move to AA’s venture.” #SaveHAL
That HAL doesn’t have enough cash to pay salaries, isn’t surprising. Anil Ambani has Rafale. He now needs HAL’s brilliant talent pool to deliver on his contracts. Without salaries, HAL’s best engineers & scientists will be forced to move to AA’s venture. #SaveHAL
The Congress alleges that the government signed an overpriced deal for 36 Rafale jets with France’s Dassault to benefit debt-hit Anil Ambani’s rookie defense firm at the cost of HAL, which, the party says, lost out on a lucrative offset contract and is in a financial warp.
Referring to the report on HAL’s financial distress, Rahul Gandhi had tweeted: “When you tell one lie, you need to keep spinning out more lies, to cover up the first one. In her eagerness to defend the PM’s Rafale lie, the RM lied to Parliament. Tomorrow, RM (Rakshna Mantri or Defence Minister) must place before Parliament documents showing 1 lakh crore of Govt orders to HAL.”
Ms Sitharaman retorted that Mr Gandhi should “start from ABCs” and “read the full report” before commenting on it.
Currently HAL is working on repeat orders for Su-30s, Tejas Mk-1, Advanced Light Helicopters, Light Combat Helicopters and the Mirage 2000 upgrade.
Reports have claimed that HAL is struggling financially and had to borrow money to pay its employees’ salaries.
(The featured image shows a French-made Rafale fighter)