Differences during Rafale talks not dissent: Nirmala Sitharaman
“What we have done is we ordered two squadrons in place of one — 36 in place of 18. Earlier, 108 were to be produced if Dassault and HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) had agreed. For that, we have gone for a RFI (global competition). Where is the number reduced? If anything, in fly-away condition we are getting more than what they had,” Sitharaman told ET in an exclusive interview.
The defence minister said she is leaving for France on Wednesday, where she will visit air force and naval facilities, besides meeting the top leadership.
'MISQUOTED ON BEHEADINGS'
On the Rafale issue, the minister said differences — ET had reported notes of concern on the price by three officials — were sorted out within the Indian negotiating team at the discussion stage.
“While the discussion happens, that one voice which is different would have been answered. In this specific case of Rafale, after the final discussions one position was taken by everybody. When I say everybody, even this particular person who had a different voice, not a dissent voice during the discussion, was on the same page as everyone else,” she said.
Asked if the benchmark price was revised, Sitharaman said: “Those details are in the records.” On questions whether the controversy would mar the chances of the French manufacturer in the global competition for fighter aircraft, as well as the requirement of 57 fighters for the navy, the minister said a decision would be taken based solely on merit.
“As and when there are purchases for any other force, or navy, each one will go through each of the processes, their trials and everything else will be done. I don’t think any particular discussion or controversy influences the others. Each one goes by the list of merit they have got,” she said.
On HAL’s capability to produce jets, the minister said introspection is needed on why the public sector unit has been unable to produce Sukhoi fighter aircraft at a competitive price and stated that an exercise was on to determine cost overheads impacting the organisation.
During the course of the detailed interview, Sitharaman addressed the recent controversy on her purported remarks on beheadings carried out by Indian forces, saying she has been quoted out of context and that Indian forces always follow international conventions. She also said the S-400 deal has been done in national interest and that the system was a critical requirement for India.