Congress on Saturday criticized BJP-led central government for purchasing only 36 Rafale fighter jets from France instead of 126 which was settled when UPA was in power.
Former Defense Minister A.K. Antony said that the situation for the Indian Air Force is becoming “critical and volatile.”
“During the UPA (United Progressive Alliance), we had planned to buy 126 aircraft to strengthen the IAF. Now that has been reduced to 36 aircraft,” Congress leader A.K. Antony told the media.
“As per IAF, 126 was the minimum requirement for their urgent operational requirements,” Antony said.
“Sanctioned strength of fighter jets in the IAF is 42 squadrons, and of late, the situation was becoming critical and volatile. The IAF needs more squadrons, current availability of fighter jets is 32 squadrons and by 2022 this will reduce to 25,” the former Defense Minister said.
“What is the government’s plan? How will they bridge the gap with respect to China and Pakistan, who are building up their air strength?” Antony asked.
This came a day after India inscribed a deal with France for 7.87 billion Euros (around 59,000 crore Rs) to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets necessary for Air Force’s requirement for combating and increase its strategic reach, especially in Pakistan’s context.
“Today we read inspired pieces in some media, which claim the present government has saved money by hard negotiations. That’s not true,” Antony said.
“The UPA government was not able to enter into a final contract. Price negotiations were going on,” he added.
Citing the complaints of several leaders regarding the high price of Rafale jets, the Congress leader said, “That time I received series of complaints from many responsible quarters including former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha about the price.”
“They said, the price is ‘highly escalated and inflated, even cost is very high, exorbitantly high’ and so on. When I got these complaints I asked the ministry that they will finalise the contract only after all complaints are thoroughly examined,” Antony added.
“I said this complaint about ‘life cycle cost’ from very senior politicians should be thoroughly examined by Finance Ministry before we sign contract,” the Congress leader argued.
“When there was a complaint about high prices we decided to inquire and wait for the final decision of Finance Ministry,” he said, adding, “So you can’t compare the Rafale deal price during UPA government’s time and now. This spreading of inspired news is not correct.”
Antony informed that until he is known about the exact details about the deal, he wouldn’t comment on the present price. He requested the current government to produce the details of the final agreement.
Earlier in 2012 during the UPA era, India decided to make a deal for 126 Rafale jets from France for 10.2 billion dollars. At that time, the plan was to take 18 aircraft which are good to go and manufacture the rest in India.
However, when Modi visited France in April 2015, India edited the deal made before and told to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition for the necessity of Air Force.
Commenting on comparing the price of the deal, the Congress leader said, “There is absolutely no basis in comparing price during UPA’s time and present price because the contract had not been finalised then.”
Attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for not considering the technology transfer of the fighter jets, Antony said, “We had said we will purchase only 18 from France, off-the-shelf and the remaining 108 will be produced in India with HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited).”
“So, the deal was, from abroad – 18 and Make in India – 108. That condition is gone in the present deal. ‘Make in India’ is gone,” he alleged.
“In our time there was provision that technology transfer is a must. I understand there is no such condition in the present contract,” Antony said, adding, “This will cost us very heavily.”