Panaji: French team constituted to negotiate the Rafale deal has arrived in India and talks can start anytime now, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said today as he described the agreement as "one of the bold initiatives" of the Modi government.
Parrikar said India has constituted a committee headed by Air Marshal SBP Sinha to hold negotiations with the French team.
"The negotiations on Rafale deal can start anytime from now. Indian government has already formed a committee headed by Air Marshal Sinha. The team from France already arrived in India on May 12 to start the negotiations," he told reporters.
India is to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets in flyaway condition from France after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande last month agreed to conclude an Inter-Governmental Agreement bypassing the protracted negotiations for purchase of 126 such jets.
The two countries had decided to form committees to take forward the negotiations.
"The signing of agreement for Rafale purchase was one of the bold decisions taken by the government. We signed the deal for better price, better than earlier," he said. A joint statement issued after Modi-Hollande talks had said the two leaders agreed to conclude an Inter-Governmental Agreement for supply of the aircraft on terms that would be "better" than that conveyed as part of a separate process underway.
It was an apparent reference to the talks that kicked off in 2012 for the sale of 126 Rafale fighter jets for 12 billion USD. The deal had been bogged down over cost and Dassault Aviation's reluctance to stand guarantee for 108 planes to be made by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Talking about various initiatives taken by his ministry in the last one year, Parrikar said, "One Rank-One Pension (OROP) proposal is reaching finality."
Asked about CAG's report on India's battle-readiness, he said,"The report about India's low preparedness to fight the war is old one, dating back to March 2013. After that we have improved our preparedness by almost 50 per cent." About the government auditor's contention that India's ammunition stock would not last even a few days in the event of a war, Parrikar said, ordnance production had also improved over the past year.
He said the Defence Ministry has delisted 65 per cent of the items, making them free for manufacturing and export. The minister said the impact of raising FDI limit in defence to 49 per cent will also be seen in the years to come.