Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has refused to reveal the exact full price of each Rafale aircraft fitted with weaponry, saying that “information leaked about the weapon systems can ultimately help Pakistan and China”.
Replying to questions from Rajat Sharma in the show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’, Sitharaman said that the government had already disclosed the basic price of Rafale aircraft in written replies in Parliament
When asked why she was not revealing the full price for each Rafale aircraft as demanded by the Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Sitharaman replied: “For whom is he worried? By leaking information (about weapon systems fitted on Rafale aircraft), whom is he trying to help? By demanding replies from us, who will ultimately benefit? This is what I am seriously asking. Is it Pakistan, or China? Those countries which keep an evil eye on us will benefit. Do we have to do this? I am sorry that the president of the oldest political party sitting in the opposition is demanding this.”
Giving details about the Rafale deal with France, Sitharaman said: “The talks for purchasing Rafale fighter aircraft began in 2007 during UPA regime, and then they were put in cold storage for five years. In December, 2011 or January, 2012, it was announced that the basic price of each Rafale aircraft would be Rs 520 crore. Had the UPA government then purchased these aircraft at that rate in 2012, then the first of the 18 flyaway aircraft would have come by 2015 or 2016. By then, 3 per cent cost escalation per year would have come into force, and by 2015-16 it would have gone up to Rs 738 crore per aircraft.
“Our point is that the 36 Rafale aircraft that we are purchasing is nine per cent cheaper. And, please note, the basic price includes only the bare minimum of an aircraft, the pilot seat and takeoff and landing instruments. Only after the weapon systems, radars and sensors are fitted, the aircraft will be deemed as operationally prepared for war.”
“We had already disclosed the basic price of Rafale aircraft in written replies in Parliament. But Rahul Gandhi is comparing the basic price of Rafale aircraft with the final price, which he believes is Rs 1600 crore. I do not know from where he got this figure. Even a child can understand this. He should compare basic prices. ”
Asked why Rahul Gandhi was alleging that she had earlier promised to disclose the final price, but later retracted, Sitharaman said: “At a press conference in November 2017, a journalist asked me about the price. I directed him to speak to the Defence Secretary. The Defence Secretary called him to his room and gave him the details. But the government had already disclosed the basic price in Parliament through a written reply by MoS Dr Bhamre in November 2016. We also revealed the price in January 2018 twice in Parliament. Probably Rahul Gandhi does not go through Parliament papers.”
On Rahul Gandhi’s charge that public sector company Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd was overlooked in favour of Anil Ambani’s company for manufacture of Rafale aircraft, the Defence Minister said, that HAL was already overburdened and its production capacity was less.
“From 2004 till 2014, during UPA regime, the government used to give Rs 10,000 crore worth orders every year to HAL, our government has given Rs 22,000 crore worth orders every year to HAL. The UPA government had given orders to HAL for manufacture of 40 LCA (light combat aircraft) Tejas. Out of 40, only eight are being produced. Tejas combat aircraft are good and highly efficient, but orders to double the production capacity had to be given by the Prime Minister. We are giving orders for 83 more LCAs to HAL.”
Sitharaman clarified that any deal between Anil Ambani’s company and Dassault was out of the purview of the Inter-Governmental Agreement. “Offset obligation is a commercial decision, and no company has been named in the IGA. We are not going into matchmaking. We are running the government.”
The Defence Minister described as “white lie” the allegation made by the Congress that the approval of Cabinet Committee on Security was not taken for the Rafale deal. “Saraasar jhoot hai (It’s a plain lie). The PM visited Paris in 2015, where a memorandum of interest was signed. There was no need for CCS approval for this. Only after the prices were finalized, the Inter-Governmental Agreement was signed in September 2016, and for this the final approval of CCS was taken in August that year.”
She pointed out that the Indian Air Force’s squadrons had come down from 42 to 33, and therefore, the deal was gone through at a fast pace.
“For 10 years they did nothing and sat on the files. Now when we have bought 36 Rafale aircraft to raise the operational efficiency of IAF, they are saying we have played with the nation’s security. Who really played with the nation’s security?”
She said that the Defence Acquisition Council has cleared all pending proposals for arms acquisitions at a very fast pace, and there was no proposal pending. “We are very close to reaching “10i”, meaning capability for 10 days intensive war. During UPA rule, hardly two to three major weapons were acquired. After Manohar Parrikar and later Arun Jaitely took over, the acquisition process was made faster.”
On India-Pakistan relations, she was emphatic: “There can be no dialogue until Pakistan contains terrorism (emanating from its soil). If Pakistan wants dialogue, it must stop encouraging terrorism. There is no use engaging in dialogue at the moment. The situation is very delicately balanced.”
Asked about media reports about a possible dialogue between the two Army Chiefs of India and Pakistan, Sitharaman said: “They may try. But our stand is very clear. So long as they do not contain terrorism, there will be no dialogue. We will have to see, how it goes.”
She claimed that the “army was on top, and in control” of the situation at the Line of Control in Kashmir. We are giving a befitting reply, and not out of pride, but out of a sense of responsibility, I can say, we are capable, we are on top and in control.”
Asked by Rajat Sharma when the government plans to regain control over Pak Occupied Kashmir, she replied: “I wish I can say something specifically on it. But it is our desire, it is the desire of all (countrymen).”
Asked what happened to assertions by BJP leaders that if it came to power, it “will get 10 heads in reply to two beheadings”, Sitharaman said. “kaat to rahe hain, display nahin kar rahen” (heads are being cut off, but are not being displayed)
On India-China relations, the Defence Minister admitted that “transgressions do take place at the Line of Actual Control. It is because much of the LAC is yet to be demarcated. It is because of perceptions that flashpoints do occur, but till date not a single shot has been fired.”
On the Dokalam issue, she said: “I want to reiterate what our External Affairs Minister Sushma Ji said twice in Parliament. The position (at Dokalam) remains the same after the face-off”.
Watch: Rafale deal finalised in accordance with IAF’s requirements, says Nirmala Sitharaman
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Rajat Sharma’s show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ was telecast Saturday night at 10 pm on India TV. Repeat telecast of this show will take place tomorrow, Sunday at 10 am and 10 pm.