War of words between Rahul and Sitharaman over HAL

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The debate over Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) between Rahul Gandhi and the Union Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman continued on January 7, 2019, as the minister stuck to her earlier statement that deals worth Rs 1 lakh crore were given to HAL.“I have received confirmation from HAL that during 2014 to 2018, contracts amounting to 26,570 crores were signed,” the minister said. She also added that orders worth Rs 73,000 was also in the pipeline.”This confirms the correctness of my statements and the doubts that have been raised on my statement on HAL contracts are incorrect and misleading,” she said.

In his reply, Rahul Gandhi informed the press that Nirmala Sitaraman had changed her statement.“We challenged that ( statement claiming Rs one lakh crore worth of orders) and in today’s statement, she said ?26,570 crore have been given to HAL. This means that Nirmala Sitharaman-ji clearly lied in Parliament,” he said.

The discussion on the Rafale deal took a turn when the TOI published two reports on Rafale deal. The first report published on January 4, 2019, quoted HAL CMD R Madhavan claiming that HAL which was always cash-rich, had borrowed money for the first time in three decades to pay for salaries. The second report published on January 6, 2019, quoting unnamed HAL officials, claimed that no actual orders were placed contrary to what the minister had stated at Lok Sabha. The TOI report also stated that the financial crisis at HAL was an outcome of dues amounting to Rs 15,700 crore, that their clients owed to the company. The Indian Air Force (IAF) owed it more than Rs 14,500 crore. As a result, the company, according to the report, came to a complete standstill by April 2019.

In response, Rahul Gandhi tweeted that “HAL doesn’t have enough cash to pay salaries, isn’t surprising. Anil Ambani has Rafale. He now needs HAL’s brilliant talent pool to deliver on his contracts. Without salaries, HAL’s best engineers & scientists will be forced to move to AA’s venture.” The BJP presented a statement from HAL which stated that “in view of the various media reports on HAL, following is clarified: HAL has taken an overdraft of Rs 962 crores. With anticipated collection upto March, the cash position is expected to improve.”

In another press conference, Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad alleged that Rahul Gandhi was acting in the interest of promoting the Dassault Aviation competitor, Eurofighter. He also alleged that Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the Augusta Westland deal, was also the middleman of Eurofighter and was working to change the contract from Dassault to Eurofighter. He also claimed that Rahul Gandhi and his family were mentioned in the documents on Augusta Westland deal.

The Congress has now claimed that the government is deliberately helping Anil Ambani’s new venture by giving them the contract and then weakening HAL. They also asked why Rs 20,000 Crores was given to Dassault in advance while the remaining Rs 15,000 crore was still pending. They claimed this was an attempt to help Anil Ambani poach engineers and scientists from HAL and destroy the PSU.

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