Hitting back at the Congress, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday accused it of “misleading” the country over the Rafale deal as she said the fighter aircraft proposed to be bought during the UPA was to cost Rs 737 crore each and not Rs 526 crore as claimed by the Opposition party.
“Rafale can never be Bofors... Bofors was a scam but Rafale is not one,” a combative Sitharaman said referring to the scandal involving purchase of Bofors guns during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister in late 1980s, which led to the fall of his government.
Amid the heated debate, she said under the agreement signed by the NDA government, the cost of each of the 36 aircraft is 9 per cent lesser than that proposed in the deal signed by the previous UPA government.
Giving details, the Defence Minister said the cost of each basic Rafale aircraft proposed to be bought by the UPA government as per inflationary escalation was Rs 737 crore whereas the price of basic fighter under NDA government is Rs 670 crore each.
A basic fighter aircraft is without armament and electronic warfare systems.
The previous UPA government had proposed to procure 126 aircraft for the IAF and Rafale, manufactured by the French company Dassault, had emerged the lowest bidder in a tendering process.
Under that proposal, 18 fighters were to be bought in flyway condition and rest were to be manufactured in India.
However, the deal could not finally fructify and the NDA government in 2015 decided to by 36 Rafale aircraft in flyway condition.
“If national security and the sense of urgency was there, why didn't you (Congress) bring aircraft to India? The IAF procurement was weakest under the UPA regime. China and Pakistan are building a bigger fleet. The UPA government wanted only 18 flyaway fighter jets. UPA created a deadlock,” she said.
"We (Central Government) don't do defence dealings. We deal in defence with national security as a priority," she added.
The Minister informed the House that the first Rafale aircraft will be delivered to India in September 2019 and 36 aircraft will be delivered in the year 2022.
Replying to allegations that due processes were not followed, Sitharaman said negotiations were held between May 2015 and completed in 14 months.
The Rafale jet deal controversy has been on the boil over the last few months. The Congress and other opposition parties have been alleging irregularities in the high-profile deal. The fighter jet is a twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, which security analysts believe can be a 'game-changer' for India's defence system.
In its judgment, the court stated that there is "no occasion to really doubt the process", delivering a major victory to the government and lending a setback to the Congress which has been alleging corruption in the agreement.
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