India's opposition party, gov't trade charges over Rafale fighter jets deal

Li Jiayao

NEW DELHI, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Allegations and counter-allegations continue to fly between India's main opposition Indian National Congress (INC) and the centre government over the ongoing raging controversy involving "Rafale" fighter jets deal with France.

Taking cognizance of a media report published in English daily The Times of India saying that the government-owned Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) awaited defence ministry's orders worth 100,000 crores Indian rupees (14.3 billion U.S. dollars) contradicting claims made by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in parliament, INC President and lawmaker Rahul Gandhi demanded the minister's resignation on Sunday.

Gandhi said Sitharaman had "lied" while speaking in the parliament, when she said her ministry's orders worth 100,000 crores Indian rupees were already in the pipeline with the HAL, a more than five-decades old aerospace and defence equipment manufacturing company.

Gandhi also asked the defence minister to place documents before the parliament showing the orders placed with the HAL, or resign.

"When you tell one lie, you need to keep spinning out more lies, to cover up the first one. In her eagerness to defend the PM's Rafale lie, the RM lied to Parliament. Tomorrow, RM must place before Parliament documents showing 100,000 crore Indian rupees of government orders to HAL. Or resign," he tweeted.

Barely a couple of hours after Gandhi's tweet, Defence Minister Sitharaman placed the concerned documents showing the orders which her ministry had placed with the HAL for manufacturing different kinds of aircraft, helicopters and other defence equipment.

Along with the documents, the minister also tweeted - "It's a shame that the president of INC is misleading the nation. HAL has signed contracts worth 26,570 crore Indian rupees (between 2014 and 2018) and contracts worth 73,000 crore Indian rupees are in the pipeline. Will Rahul Gandhi apologise to the country from the floor of the house?"

Earlier in the day, a front page report published in The Times of India, with the headline - HAL awaits orders for projects of 100,000 crore Indian rupees mentioned by Nirmala, had claimed that grappling with finances the HAL is keenly awaiting formalization of orders adding up to 100,000 crore Indian rupees mentioned by defence minister during the discussion on the Rafale fighter jets deal in the parliament on Friday.

It quoted HAL as saying - "Not a single Indian rupee of the said 100,000 crore Indian Rupees has come to HAL, since not a single order, as claimed, has been signed till now. "We have a responsibility to stakeholders who cannot be led to believe that we have orders when we don't," the paper quoted HAL as saying.

The newspaper further stated that though the acceptance of necessity (AoN) and clearance by 'Defence Acquisition Council (DAC)' has been completed for some of the orders, no actual order has been placed yet.

Another report carried by the same newspaper on Friday had claimed that the cash-strapped aerospace and defence company was forced to borrow close to 1,000 crore Indian rupees to pay salaries to its employees.

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