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Rafale row: As Rahul Gandhi's search for scam takes him to HAL, two reports reveal how Congress ignored reforms in PSU

New Delhi: Like human beings, some tales too move almost in the same circles. Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his arduous search for a 'scam' in Rafale deal is expected to land in Bengaluru to supposedly discuss the 'injustice done to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)' in the combat aircraft deal with the French government.

The employees at the centre and Congress leaders hovering on the periphery of the state-owned company are deeply fixed on having a dialogue with Gandhi’s lieutenants hoping for a 'miracle'. Nevertheless, the Congress leader's odyssey in the last couple of weeks was to prove that HAL was denied its dues in the deal and this country not only lost the jobs but also huge revenue.

Wisdom is not bound by time phenomenon and Rahul cannot be faulted for his bid to bring what lies on circumference to the centre. But, seasoned hands at HAL may certainly question what took him so long? Why didn’t Rahul rush to HAL in 2011 or in 2012 when a joint quality audit revealed that the defence public sector undertaking was in dire need of government support? It would be merely speculation to suggest that Rahul has been briefed by former defence minister AK Antony on HAL, who might have seen the confidential report in 2012 while holding the fort at South Block.

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

If not, Rahul, who is planning to use the HAL gun — putting his own cartridges in it — to fire another volley at the government, must read few paras of the report that contradicts recent claims made by the former HAL chief and Rahul himself about the capability to build Sukhoi and other aircrafts. The report is a complete shocker suggesting that due to low production rate in manufacturing aero engines, HAL has not been able to fulfill the commitment for production of aircraft.

"To cater for the aero engines for production of aircraft, HAL resorts to taking aero engines on loan from the Indian Air Force. Presently, six aero engines are on loan to HAL and 25 aero engines are pending against Block II and 40 additional aircraft contract. The detailed project report envisages a peak manufacturing capacity of 24 aero engines per year. However, no visible infrastructure growth is seen to enhance the production from the present state of six to seven aero engines to even a figure of 18. HAL claims to produce 32 aero engines by next year (FY 2013-14), which seems most unlikely,” the confidential report said.

Further, page 4, para 8 (g) of the report regarding Sukhoi (AL-31FP) engine division cited lack of robust research and development while adding that there was no initiative from HAL in investigating into frequent failures of engine bearings and suggesting remedial measures. A Joint Quality Audit team of Sukhoi fleet was carried out by the Indian Air Force with HAL and DGAQA during February-July 2012. The team visited HAL, Koraput, in July 2012. On the quality issue it said there have been six cases if engine oil leak from Aircraft Accessory Gear Boxes (AAGBs), though the leaks have been rectified by HAL, it is the poor quality control, which has led to AAGB leaks within the warranty period.

"In fact, due to proactive approach IAF and RCMA (Regional Centers for Military Airworthiness), certain R&D ventures like replacement of Russian make bearings with SKF made bearings, enhancement of Time Between Overhaul (TBO) Life of Thrust Vector Control (TVC) and interim measures to arrest failures of engine bearings have been taken up... the Joint Quality Audit Team (IAF and HAL) had brought out certain specific issues related to cleanliness and housekeeping standards of X-ray bay, electroplating shop, finished part store, etc. The condition of bearing hospital (section handling the engine bearing) were also adversely commented upon for environmental conditions, working space and handling conditions. All these issues have indirect impact on the health of the engines and flight safety ramifications."

Para 11 on page 5 of the report flagged poor quality of work. It said: “the production rate of R-25, R-29 aero engines is too low due to high Return to Shop (RTS) issues of aero engines caused by poor quality of workmanship/attitude deficiency to improve quality and spares shortages caused by lack of adequate planning/ involvement. Out of the 12 R-29 engines produced, there were 10 RTS cases and 5 RTS out of the 25 R-25 aero engines, 3 RTS out of 12 RD-33 aero engines. In total, 18 RTS out of the 49 aero engines produced is nearly 40 percent, which shows only 60 percent efficiency in production line."

It is interesting that the quality audit of R-29 engines for MIG-27 was also carried out in 2010 when UPA was in power. Some very critical observations were made in the report including incorrect overhauling procedure of high pressure turbine rotor blades and thermal treatment of second stage turbine blades. It said: “first stage turbine blade are coated with a layer of thermal barrier to avoid overheating of blades leading to deterioration/failure of the blade material. These are required to be removed completely during overhaul and re-coated. It was observed during the quality audit that this was not being followed at HAL(kpt). It was also observed that the life of HPTR blades was also not monitored as per the criterion specified by the original equipment manufacturer."

There are other critical observation regarding MIG-27 including oil leak, hot air leak from rear casing and even metallic particles were found in the oil filter and chip detector. The then-government should have launched a complete overhaul of the HAL. The issue is not about criticising or undermining the capabilities of a public sector undertaking including HAL but whether the decision makers have been able to address the concerns raised by the management and tried to induce much-needed reform required to compete with the best of defence manufacturing companies in the world.

There was hardly any significant comment from the then government on HAL but that doesn’t mean Rahul shouldn’t interact with officers of the government owned defence enterprise. Since truth expresses itself in many ways, Rahul should ask Antony about the two HAL reports of 2010 and 2012 before formulating his strategy involving the defence company. He must remember the public is standing by the side and watching the show.


Updated Date: Oct 13, 2018 14:35 PM

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