Nirmala Sitharaman says HAL was edged out of Rafale deal during UPA's tenure

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Sep 18, 2018, 05.51 PM(IST)

File photo: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Tuesday that the public-sector HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) had been edged out of the Rafale deal during the UPA's tenure itself. 

"Deal didn't happen during UPA. What also didn't happen during UPA was that between HAL and Dassault, they couldn't agree on production terms. So HAL and Rafale couldn't go together," Sitharaman said on Tuesday. 

"Doesn't that very clearly say who didn't go together with HAL, under which government did that happen?" she added. 

Sitharaman was responding to her predecessor AK Anthony's allegation earlier in the day that she was suppressing facts in the case. Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Anthony asked why the government was shying away from a joint parliamentary committee probe into the deal. 

Anthony also accused the NDA government of "gravely compromising" national security over the deal. 

He also accused Sitharaman of tarnishing HAL's image. 

The Rafale deal was originally brokered by the UPA government. India was to buy 126 of the fighter jets from France's Dassault Aviation. 

Dassault's India partner was to be HAL, which was to build a number of the planes in India. That would have meant a transfer of technology. 

The original deal was however junked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who brokered a new government-to-government deal with the then French President Francois Hollande. 

Under the new deal, India would buy only 36 of the Rafale jets. And HAL was junked as the India partner in favour of Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence Ltd. 

The opposition Congress has repeatedly attacked the government over the new deal, saying it is paying three times as much as the UPA was for every Rafale jet. It has also pointed out again and again that Anil Ambani's company has absolutely no prior experience in the aerospace industry. 

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Sitharaman added in her press conference that India's negotiations with Russia over the S-400 missile defence system have almost reached the final stage. 

And she added that Sidhu's hugging of the Pakistan Army chief certainly "has (an) impact on soldiers". She added that she wished he hadn't done it.