In a major turn of events, a group of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or HAL employees on Thursday held a news conference in Delhi and accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of making false claims about the government-owned company.
The statement issued by the HAL Welfare Forum said, “In fact on 28.10.2016, Modi government itself had bestowed the ‘Raksha Mantri Award’ on HAL for excellence in performance, innovation and indigenization.” It went to add that this ‘completely falsifies the fake claims of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Modi government.’
The statement said that the Modi government had been attempting to build a ‘false narrative of HAL being incapable of building Rafale aircrafts.’ This, they said, was purely with an intention to ‘mislead the nation.’
Accusing Sitharaman of lying in the parliament, the statement by HAL Welfare Forum read, “On 4th January 2018, Defence Minister said “..All of them put together, the total comes to Rs 1 lakh crore, which we have given for the HAL.” Scared by Breach of Privilege in Parliament, Defence Minister, today (7th January) said that between 2014 to 2018, only orders worth Rs 26,570 crore have been given to HAL. Orders worth Rs 73,000 crore are merely at ‘Request For Proposal’ (RFP) stage. The lies stands exposed (sic).”
They also accused the Narendra Modi government of ‘systematic conspiracy’ to ‘bleed and shut down the PSU, HAL.’ The statement said, “The present government has paid Rs 20,000 crore in advances for Rafale to Dassault Aviation without delivery of a single aircraft. On the other hand, the HAL has not been paid Rs 14,000 crore for the aircrafts/helicopters already delivered. This will rise to Rs 20,000 crore by March 2019.”
The press conference by the HAL Welfare Forum came moments after the members of the union met Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
HAL employees meet Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Delhi… HAL employees to address press conference in Delhi’s constitutional club at 3pm pic.twitter.com/LRTUbwwRQE
— Supriya Bhardwaj (@Supriya23bh) January 10, 2019
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week had rejected Congress’ allegations of lying in the parliament. Sitharaman had said that the HAL had signed contracts worth Rs 26,570 crore since 2014 and orders worth Rs 73,000 crore were being processed.
But, this was immediately contradicted by HAL CMD R Madhavan, who painted a bleak picture of the company’s financial health. He told The Times of India. “Our cash in hand is in the negative, we’ve had to borrow close to Rs 1,000 crore as an overdraft (OD). By 31 March we’ll have minus of Rs 6,000 crore, which becomes unsustainable. We can borrow for day-to-day work but not for project purchases.”
The controversy over HAL assumes significance in light of the Congress’ allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was personally involved in the scam over the Rafale deal since he gave a contract worth Rs 58,000 crore to his friend Anil Ambani by ignoring the HAL, which has a pedigree of building aircrafts.