PM can’t be blamed for Dassault’s choice: Nirmala

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said at The Huddle that the Inter- Government Agreement for the Rafale deal did not name HAL or any other company as partner for Dassault.

Ms. Sitharaman was in conversation with N. Ravi, Publisher, The Hindu , on the topic “In defence of the realm: how prepared is India?”

“The Inter-Government Agreement [between India and France] is like a memorandum of understanding which only broadly states intention. It does not name anybody, not HAL or any other private company,” she said.

“In the UPA non-deal, HAL had clearly stated manpower which was not accepted by Dassault [which manufactures Rafale fighter jets]. If Dassault does a deal with a private company, it is absolutely nonsense to say that it was done because the Prime Minister handpicked the company.”

She said the Defence Ministry would get to know about the Indian partner only when it applied for credit after fulfilling the offset obligation.

Prices of the aircraft, she said, are bound to go up as India will want to upgrade the basic, cheaper fighter jet to suit its terrain and potential use.

However, is the Centre’s refusal to reveal details of the deal — as was seen in Parliament recently — a “self-goal” for the ruling NDA government as the Congress has been claiming, asked N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group.

In response, Ms. Sitharaman said: “I want to answer, and it would bring satisfaction to all the people here. But it will also lead to satisfaction for our enemies ... But how many times has the UPA also sought protection under national security. We [BJP, then in the Opposition] did not express outrage on this.”

In her opening remarks, the Defence Minister said indigenous defence procurement was being emphasised, with 120 out of 170 defence contracts being with Indian companies. “Until recently, 60% of components were imported. Now, it is 35%,” she said.

However, responding to a question on the issues of procurement of the HAL-developed Tejas light combat aircraft, Ms. Sitharaman said that while 40 had been procured by the Air Force, processes were being completed to order another 83.

“There has to be serious improvement in scaling up of production by HAL, either through outsourcing or their own,” she said.