Sitharaman: Congress’ charge on Rafale deal politically motivated

Rejecting the Congress’s allegations of irregularities in the Rafale fighter jet deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said the government had to go for emergency procurement, adding it is cheaper than under an earlier unconcluded deal.

The Congress charges vis-a-vis the deal with France on the purchase of 36 Rafale jets was “politically motivated” and “shameful”, she told a press conference called after the opposition party alleged irregularities in the government-to-government deal.

Sitharaman accused the Congress of doing a “disservice” to the armed forces by failing to ink the deal even after decade-long negotiations when it was in power at the Centre.

“The decision to buy 36 Rafale jets was taken to address the urgent need of the IAF (Indian Air Force) because the earlier United Progressive Alliance government did not pay attention to defence preparedness of the armed forces… it (UPA) was indecisive for 10 years to address this critical necessity of fighters for the IAF,” the Minister said.

“The allegations are politically motivated since they are not able to find any corruption in this government,” she added.

“It is disappointing that a responsible opposition without checking facts can come out to say this,” she said.

Sitharaman said the National Democratic Alliance government went for “emergency” procurement of the fighter jets, adding that the deal it cut for 36 aircraft was “far better” than what the UPA “would have obtained for 126”.

Asked if it meant the price under the deal is lesser, she quipped: “Absolutely”. She however did not give any figures on the price.

“Comparison in the price is wrong. The price we arrived at is lesser. To bicker over price as though they served preparedness… it is shameful.”

Sitharaman said that the deal was signed after approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security and following all due processes.

“It is a baseless argument — not a single procedure has been violated. No procedure was violated,” she said.

Responding to opposition party’s charge, she said that a “transfer of technology” was not sought in this deal as it was not viable and it could have escalated the price.

“It is simple economics — when you are talk of buying 126 aircraft, asking for transfer of technology makes sense. When you are going for emergency procurement of 36, it does not make sense for transfer of technology to be included… there was no benefit from this transfer, the price would have increased and not reduced,” the Defence Minister said.

On the allegation that a private company benefited, the Minister said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had no role in choosing a business delegation that went to Paris when the deal was announced.

“Who is on the delegation is not in the Prime Minister’s hands,” she said.

Sitharaman said that so far, no agreement on offsets has been signed under the deal.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, meanwhile, said on Friday that any agreement between private firms is independent of the government and the latter is not bound to buy what they make.

“We are trying to promote defence manufacturing through strategic partnerships. If any company ties with another private company, the government has no role to play. You can also tie up with someone under the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) policy. The government has nothing to do with it,” Goyal said.

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju on Friday criticised the previous Congress-led UPA government’s “irresponsible” attitude towards strengthening Indian defence forces.

“Can a party which ruled for five decades behave so irresponsibly? The Congress-led government cared the least to strengthen our forces and (was interested) more in commissions,” Rijiju said in a tweet.

The Congress has accused that the government negotiated an overpriced deal to buy 36 Rafale jets from France for Rs 58,000 crore, causing “insurmountable loss” of taxpayers’ money.

The Congress said the government had agreed to pay for each Rafale aircraft three times the price negotiated in 2012 by the then UPA government.

Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, on Thursday brushed aside the charges, saying the deal negotiated by the current government was “better than the one finalised by the then UPA government”.

“We have negotiated a better deal in the Rafale contract than what was in the MMRCA contract (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) finalised during the UPA rule… It is a cheaper deal,” he told reporters at the Adampur Air Force station near Jalandhar in Punjab.

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