NEW DELHI: A group of HAL employees on Thursday alleged a conspiracy by the NDA government to “bleed and shut down” the state-run aerospace major, and demanded that it be given the contract for making the remaining tranche of 90 Rafale aircraft not as offset partners, but under the Transfer of Technology (ToT) route.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi after they met Congress President Rahul Gandhi over the issue, the employees accused defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of “attempting to build a false narrative” that HAL is incapable of building the Rafale fighter jet. Speaking to TOI, a worker in HAL’s aeroengines department, Vijay Kumar, said, “HAL is the force behind the Indian Air Force without which our country would not have won wars. It is really hurtful that the defence minister is making statements that put in doubt this institution’s capabilities.”

Renuka S, former general secretary and former chief convener of the All India Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Trade Union Coordination Committee, also said that while the government’s claim — that it had provided works orders of over Rs 26,000 crore to HAL — was correct, this was not enough to support a strategic sector like HAL. “There is a systematic conspiracy to bleed and shut down HAL by the present government. The present government has paid Rs 20,000 crore in advance for buying the Rafale to Dassault Aviation without delivery of a single aircraft. On the other hand, HAL has not been paid Rs 14,000 crore for aircraft, helicopters that have already been delivered,” he said.

He also said the NDA government made no investments in the PSU and instead drawn over Rs 5,184 crore from the company’s reserve funds, apart from the large dividends it has got from the PSU.

HAL employees defended their decision to approach the Congress chief, saying they did so only after several attempts to meet representatives of the Union government did not bear fruit. “Then, we decided to meet meet anyone who takes up the cause of HAL,” Kumar said.

The bitter political feud between the government and Congress-led opposition over the Rafale aircraft deal has seen HAL being used as cannon fodder.

On the one hand, while Congress president Rahul Gandhi has claimed HAL has been cut out of the multi-crore defence deal to accommodate Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence, the Union defence minister has dismissed Congress' allegations on the order book of HAL, asserting in Lok Sabha that contracts amounting to more than Rs 26,570.80 crore were signed between 2014-18 by the HAL and orders worth Rs 73,000 crore are in the pipeline. All of them put together amount to Rs 1 lakh crore, she said.

Kumar argued, “It is correct that HAL received contracts of Rs 26,570 crore from the government between 2014-18. However, what HAL needed is several times more — nearly 1.5 lakh crore — to plan ahead and to take care of recurrent expenses like salaries per month. For that, instead of providing funds, the government has drawn from our reserves.” He also alleged the government has stalled recruitment to the public sector major in all but administrative posts.