Amid controversies surrounding the Rafale deal, Minister of State for External Affairs and former army chief General VK Singh has raised questions over the capability of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture good quality fighter planes. General Singh said the “parts of the aircraft (made by the HAL) fall off on the runway”.
“You have seen HAL right? Our two pilots died. Programme is running three and a half years late (and) only eight aircraft has been refurbished…All parts of aircraft fall off on the runway. Is that the capability? And then we say that HAL is not getting work,” news agency ANI quoted General Singh as saying at a function in Pune on Wednesday.
The Union minister was referring to the February 1 incident in which two pilots died in a crash of Mirage 2000 trainer aircraft in Bengaluru. The Mirage aircraft was on an “acceptance sortie” following an upgrade by the HAL.
The HAL has been at the centre of the Congress’s charge against the Narendra Modi government in the defence agreement with France. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the Modi government “snatched the Rafale deal from the HAL” and gave it to the Reliance Defence, a firm of businessman Anil Ambani which is one of the offset partners of the Dassault Aviation, the supplier of the fighter jets.
Gandhi has said that under the Rafale deal being negotiated by the Congress-led UPA government, the HAL was to get the licence to manufacture 108 fighter jets after transfer of technology by the Dassault Aviation.
The government has maintained that the Rafale offer made during the UPA regime was an unworkable deal forcing it to scrap the whole process and initiate fresh negotiations with the French government. The Rafale deal was signed between the governments of India and France in 2016 for the purchase of 36 fighter jets in flyaway condition.
India was expected to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets including 26 in flyaway condition, according to the Rafale deal being discussed during UPA rule.
The former army chief also dismissed Gandhi’s allegation that the Modi government favoured Ambani’s firm. “In Rafale case, it is the French, who decided the offset firm. The objective of the offset is to allow the industry to thrive here…if their firm is not satisfied with HAL, it is their decision…it is not the decision of the Indian government,” news agency PTI quoted General Singh as saying.
First Published: Feb 14, 2019 10:25 IST