Nirmala Sitharaman rejects demand for JPC into Rafale deal, says Opposition should go through details placed in Parliament
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday rejected the opposition's demand for setting up of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe allegations relating to the Rafale deal
New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday rejected the opposition's demand for setting up of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe allegations relating to the Rafale deal, saying all the details on it have already been placed before Parliament. She also slammed the UPA alleging that it did not extend support to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) when the state-run company was engaged in talks with French firm Dassault Aviation for manufacturer of Rafale jets in India.
"The UPA did not care for either the Indian Air Force or the HAL. To say that we are not taking care of HAL is totally incorrect," Sitharaman said during an interaction at the Indian Women Press Corps here. The UPA was negotiating a deal with the Dassault Aviation under which 18 Rafale jets were to be supplied in fly-away condition while 108 aircraft were to be manufactured in India by the company along with HAL.
Asked about the opposition's demand for probe by a joint parliamentary committee, Sitharaman said there was no need for it as all facts relating to the deal have been placed before Parliament. "Why JPC? We have placed all the details before the Parliament. The opposition should go through them," she said.
Asked about Congress leader AK Antony's comments on why the central government did not go for buying 126 aircraft instead of 36 jets if the price was less than what was negotiated by the UPA, Sitharaman did not give a direct reply. Antony was the defence minister during the UPA regime. "Buying an aircraft is not an over-the-counter process. There is a process for it," she said.
At a press conference, Antony said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently claimed that in the new agreement, the aircraft is nine per cent cheaper than the UPA deal, the finance minister said it is 20 percent cheaper while an officer of IAF also said it is 40 per cent cheaper, then "Why did they not buy more than 126 if it was cheaper?" he told reporters. Asked about rumours that negotiations for the Rafale deal under the UPA government could not proceed due to allegations of kickbacks, she said "let the rumour gain strength".
In 2016, the Modi government signed a government-to-government deal with France for purchase of 36 Rafale jets at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. The Congress has been alleging irregularities in the deal, saying the UPA had finalised the price of each aircraft at Rs 526 crore while the NDA was buying the same jet at Rs 1,670 crore. The government has been maintaining the cost of the Rafale aircraft was nine percent less than what was negotiated during the UPA regime.
Last week Sitharaman had said that negotiations for 126 Rafale jets under the UPA government fell through as the government did not support HAL to which Congress alleged that the NDA completely kept away the state-run company from the project. "Dassault and HAL could not go together. The agreement did not happen during UPA, so is not it obvious that the interests of HAL could have really been taken care of," Sitharaman said
The Congress had demanded answers from the government on why HAL was not involved in the new deal. She said the UPA should reply why HAL could not finalise the agreement with Dassault. "All questions on HAL should go to UPA." When asked whether approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security was taken before Modi announced about the procurement of 36 jets during his visit to Paris in April 2015, Sitharaman said the prime minister had only expressed an interest to buy the jets and the deal was finalised one-and-a-half years later. "The prime minister does not talk about issues like life cycle cost of the aircraft or other details. The prime minister just initiated the process," she said.
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