New Delhi, January 7: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday responded to the accusation levelled at her by Congress that she had mislead the Lok Sabha over contracts awarded to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) during a discussion on the Dassault Rafale fighter jet deal.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha on Monday, a day after Congress president Rahul Gandhi demanded her resignation accusing her of “lying in Parliament”, Sitharaman said that she has confirmation of HAL receiving contracts worth Rs 26,570.80 crore during 2014-18.
“I have received confirmation from HAL that contracts during 2014-18 worth Rs 26,570.80 crore have already been signed with HAL. Orders worth Rs 73,000 crores approximately are in the pipeline,” she said.
Sitharaman also termed the Congress accusations over her previous statement in Parliament regarding contracts awarded to the defence PSU as “misleading”.
“I would like to set all doubts to rest,” she said, adding, “The doubts raised in this regard are incorrect and misleading.”
But Rahul Gandhi continued his attack on the Union Minister once again accusing her of lying in Parliament while openly challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a 15-minute debate over the Rafale issue.
“Today Nirmala Sitharaman lied in Parliament. I’m again requesting the Defence Minister and PM Modi to answer ‘did Air Force and Defence Ministry senior officers object to your interference in Rafael deal?’ Please answer in a ‘Yes or No’,” he said.
“The BJP’s plan is to weaken HAL and give the money to PM Narendra Modi’s friend Anil Ambani,” Gandhi alleged.
In a tweet, the 48-year-old Congress chief cited a media report on HAL borrowing money to pay salaries to its employees.
“That 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 & scientists will be forced to move to AA’s venture #SaveHAL,” wrote Gandhi.
Other Congress leaders, too, targeted Sitharaman over the HAL contract row and Rafale deal.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, “We are demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal. HAL had earlier said it was cash-strapped. HAL was unable to pay salaries to their employees.”
Retweeting a report which Gandhi had used to question Sitharaman on Sunday, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “Her own statement in the LokSabha today confirms she has. Of the 1 lakh crore she claimed, 76000 cr is still at the Technical Committee Evaluation stage. Contracts don’t even exist for two-thirds of the amounts the Defence Minister claimed. That IS misleading Parliament.”
The Congress also moved a notice of privilege in the Lok Sabha against Sitharaman accusing her of lying on the HAL contracts. Congress deputy whip in LS KC Venugopal gave the notice.
The Defence Minister’s Monday statement came a day after Gandhi asked her to step down if she fails to prove in Parliament that HAL had been given contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore – a statement, the Congress said, Sitharaman made in Parliament
“When you tell one lie, you need to keep spinning out more lies, to cover up the first one. In her eagerness to defend the PM’s Rafale lie, the RM lied to Parliament. Tomorrow, RM must place before Parliament documents showing 1 Lakh crore of Govt orders to HAL. Or resign,” he said in a tweet.
Gandhi posted screenshots of a media report which stated that even though the Defence Minister mentioned about Rs 1 lakh crore worth of orders to given to HAL in Parliament, the defence PSU is yet to receive any. The media report also said that HAL was forced to borrow around Rs 1,000 crore to pay salaries.
Hours after Gandhi’s accusation, the Defence Minister drew attention to a part of the report which stated that as per Lok Sabha records Sitharaman did not claim that the orders were signed and only said that they are in the works.
“Please read the complete report in @timesofindia to which you (@RahulGandhi) are referring: ‘However, as the LS record shows, Sitharaman did not claim the orders were signed, saying they were in the works’,” read a tweet posted by the Defence Minister hours after Gandhi’s accusation.
Sitharaman also presented documents showing the list of orders given to HAL by the armed forces and the total worth of the contracts.
Accusing the grand old party of “spreading lies and misleading the country”, the Defence Minister tweeted on Sunday that HAL has signed contracts worth 26570.8 crore in the 4 years between 2014 and 2018. (Courtesy: TS)