First batch of the jets is scheduled to arrive in September

Construction of hangars for the Rafale fighter jets will be affected if the Defence Ministry does not clear pending dues of ₹2,000 crore, the Military Engineer Services Builders Association of India warned on Monday. The first batch of the jets are scheduled to arrive in September.

“We are making the hangars in Ambala and Hasimara. In the past seven or eight months, the work has slowed down, and in the past two or three months, it has stopped because of a shortage of funds,” Praveen Mahana, president of the association, said at a press conference. “We have been continuing work by taking loans. Now banks are refusing loans.” He said the work was about 40-50% complete, and the project was scheduled to be completed by April or May.

The association, which has nearly 20,000 contractors and employs 50 lakh labourers, functions under the MES and is responsible for construction and maintenance of critical infrastructure such as boundary walls, ammunition dumps, missile sheds, runways and helipads for the three services in forward areas.

The association’s members said payments had been delayed over past few years and totalled ₹1,600 crore as on December 2016. There was little respite despite the issue being raised at different levels — the Engineer-in-Chief of the MES, the Defence Ministry, and the Prime Minister’s Office. After some small payments in between, the dues now stood at approximately ₹2,000 crore.

Last year, before Deepavali, the association members met Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who promised to release some funds. Only ₹250 crore was released, of which a lion’s share went to two major projects under the Southern Command, said Azeeaulla Khan, senior vice-president of the association. Its members staged a tools-down strike on December 3 and 4.

On January 16, the Engineer-in-Chief conveyed that ₹250 crore would be released in the next few days. “But on January 18, we were told that the funds were diverted to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.,” Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Mahana said that if they did not receive payment in the next 15 days, they would be forced to stop all essential work across the country and would stage a protest outside Parliament.