Congress turns gun on Raksha Mantri

New Delhi: The Congress on Monday turned the gun on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for a “lie” in Parliament that the government is nursing back to health the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and granted it orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore.

Congress’ Kerala MP KC Venugopal even gave a privilege notice against Sitharaman even as she made a statement in the Lok Sabha that she has confirmation from the HAL signing orders worth Rs 24.80 crore and orders worth another Rs 73 crore were in the pipeline and as such her claim last week of the total government orders of Rs 1 lakh was correct and no misleading.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi, however, did not want the Rafale focus shifted from Prime Minister Modi to the defence minister and so he asked her at a press conference in the Parliament House complex whether the Air Force had opposed the PM’s interference in the Rafale agreement.

He said Sitharaman has been lying to defend the PM and that include her claim that the government had given orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore to HAL. If so, why the HAL’s financial status is so precarious that it has to borrow Rs 1,000 crore to pay the monthly salary to the staff, he said.

The Opposition members protested at the minister’s clarification and Congress group leader Mallikarjun Kharge asserted that she was correcting her statement last Thursday and better to ensure that the wrong facts do not go on record in the House.

Kharge said a cash-rich Hall borrowing for the first time to pay the salaries and its CMD Madhavan has nailed the minister’s lie by pointing out that the defence orders to the public sector company were deminishing.  She wants to show how the Modi government is favouring HAL and we are not, but the truth has come out when HAL has no money even to pay the salaries,” he asserted.

At the Press conference, Rahul said the defence minister’s lie stands exposed and her new clarification in the Lok Sabha on Monday showed she is scared of the breach of privilege. He went on to accuse the government of “systematic conspiraqcy to bleed and shut down PSU HAL, pointing out that it paid nearly Rs 20,000 crore in Advance for the Rafale aircraft to Dassault Aviation without delivery of a single aircraft and on the other hand HAL has not been paid Rs 15,700 crore for the aircraft/helicopters already delivered. This will rise to Rs 20,000 crore by March.

Rahul pointed out that against the annual budget requirement of HAL at Rs 19,334 crore during 2018-19, only Rs 6415 crore, i.e. 33%, has been allocated. Resultantly, HAL had to take a bank loan of Rs 781 crore to pay salaries.  On the contrary of putting HAL back to health, the Modi government withdrew Rs 11,024 crore from HAL. In 2015-16, the defence ministry ordered an “equity buyback scheme” that required HAL to transfer Rs 6,393 crore to the government. Besides, HAL has also paid dividend and taxes worth Rs 4,631 crore.

Rahul cited these facts and pointed out that as a result of all this, HAL’s share price has also plummeted by 30% from a high of Rs 1184 to Rs 814.  In a tweet, Rahul said there should be no surprise at HAL having no money to pay the salaries. After delivering Rafale offset contract to his friend (Anil Ambani), this Suit Boot friend now needs experienced hands with the HAL to carry on the business gifted to him.

The trained hands of HAL will start leaving the PSU if they can’t get the salaries and no surprise Modi is weakening HAL to help his friend get the personnel needed to meet the Rafale responsibilities, Rahul said.  Chowkidar is only proving his friendship, not bothered about good of the country,” he added.  In yet another tweet, Rahul said: “HAL doesn’t have enough cash to pay salaries isn’t surprising.”

Anil Ambani has Rafale. He now needs HAL’s brilliant talent pool to deliver on his contracts. Without salaries, HAL’s best engineers and scientists will be forced to move to AA’s venture,” he added. Congress chief spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala poohpoohed the defence minister trying to wriggle out after Rahul put her on notice saying “RM must place before Parliament documents showing 1 lakh crore of Govt orders to HAL or RESIGN.”

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