Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited did not get the Rafale contract, as the PSU did not have the capability to produce them

New Delhi: In the first response to Congress' allegations that Anil Ambani's Reliance was chosen over state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the PSU 'did not have the required capability to produce them'. In a detailed interview with news agency PTI, Nirmala Sitharaman said that HAL was in 'no position to give a guarantee' for the big ticket item, as a result of which Dassault, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of Rafale jets, could not proceed with the negotiations with HAL.

"Deal for procurement of 126 Rafale jets under UPA fell through as HAL did not have required capability to produce them," Sitharaman said, adding, "Dassault could not progress in the negotiations with HAL because if the aircraft were to be produced in India, a guarantee for the product to be produced was to be given. It is a big ticket item and the IAF would want the guarantee for the jets. HAL was in no position to give the guarantee." She also hit out at her UPA predecessor A K Antony saying he did not do anything about improving HAL's capabilities.

She further added that Dassault Aviation felt that the cost of the planes would escalate if it was made in India. Sitharaman said that the Rafale aircraft, which will be delivered to India starting September 2019, would be of a superior quality than that negotiated by the UPA government. "Even during negotiation with HAL, Dassault felt that the cost with which the HAL will produce will be far higher than the aircraft produced in France. That was the reality," she said.

An inter-governmental agreement (IGA) for the delivery of 36 Rafale jets, was signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with France during his 2016 visit to the European nation. The Congress party has alleged 'corruption' in the case and questioned why Reliance was chosen as an offset partner over HAL. "There is a trust in the Prime Minister. He is not going to be corrupt. So with all this, I think mentally, people of India have reached a closure on it, saying there is no corruption here," she said.

"It is one of the cleanest governments India has ever seen. On corruption, the Congress is very frustrated. The party will have to learn from this government. "I am saying this with a certain sense of confidence and not arrogance. The defence ministry is being run without any middleman and in a transparent way. We have proved that defence procurement can happen without middlemen," she said.