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Sitharaman slams Congress, says UPA let defence preparedness lag

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NEW DELHI: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman tore into the Congress today for alleging irregularities in the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft, saying a deal for the planes was done in a transparent manner and had to be struck quickly as the UPA government had let defence preparedness lag for 10 long years.

“The decision to buy 36 Rafales was taken to address the urgent need of the IAF (Indian Air Force) because the UPA government did not pay any attention to defence preparedness of the armed forces…it (the UPA) was indecisive for 10 years to address this critical necessity of fighters for the IAF,” said the defence minister at a media briefing, in response to the sustained attacks by the Congress this week against the BJP.

The Congress party’s allegation is that the Modi government bought the 36 Rafale aircraft at a “highly inflated price” – much more than what was negotiated for by the previous UPA regime. It also alleged that the deal benefited the BJP’s “crony capitalist friends” at the cost of a reputed public sector undertaking, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The Congress says the cost finalised for the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft was Rs 60,000 crore. The UPA government negotiated a $10.2 billion deal for acquiring 126 Rafale jets while the NDA government renegotiated the deal to commit $8.7 billion for just 36 fighters without the provision for transfer of technology, said the Congress.

Sitharaman rubbished these allegations saying today that the final agreement for 36 Rafale jets was signed after the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security, which decides on India’s defence expenditure and matters of national security.

“Allegations relating to the Rafale deal are shameful, the deal was finalised following a transparent procedure,” said the defence minister.

She said that between 2004 and 2014, the UPA govt could not come to a decision on Rafale acquisition.

“Therefore, when we came to power in 2014, we had to move forward so that the air force is not left with the need for preparedness. It pains me that the UPA govt, despite recognising the critical need for fighters for the IAF, did not conclude the deal for 10 years,” said Sitharaman.

The Congress meanwhile claims that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had bypassed the mandatory ‘defence procurement procedure’ for the purchase and had forgone the clause for transfer of technology for the acquisition.

“Why did the PM promote the interests of one industrial group, Reliance Defence Limited, which has led to the company tying up and entering into a joint venture with Dassault Aviation worth Rs 30,000 crore? Why was this done by the PM, bypassing the interests of a reputed PSU like HAL?” asked Congress spokesman R Surjewala asked at a press conference earlier this week, during which he also named industrialist Anil Ambani.

Updated: November 17, 2017 — 3:34 pm

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