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'Shameful': Nirmala Sitharaman Rebuts Congress Charge On Rafale Deal

NEW DELHI: A day after Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa rebutted accusations that the Modi government had negotiated an overpriced deal to buy Rafale fighter jets, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today delivered a stinging rejoinder to the Congress, calling the allegations leveled by the opposition "shameful" and a "disservice" to the armed forces.

Ms Sitharaman also took on the Congress, blaming it for sitting for 10 years on plans to buy the fighter jets that the Indian Air Force needed. The minister said the decision to strengthen the Air Force was taken by the Vajpayee government back in 2000 but the Congress-led coalition, the UPA, which came in 2004 could not seal the deal over the next decade.

"When we came back in power in 2014, the situation was grim... We had to move forward fast," she said, stressing that "not a single procedure was violated in procuring the jets".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the French government during his April 2015 visit. The final agreement for 36 Rafale jets was signed the next year after five rounds of lengthy discussions between Indian and French sides and approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security, she said.

The Congress this week alleged the government caused "insurmountable loss" of taxpayers' money by signing the deal worth Rs. 58,000 crores and claimed that the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited that demanded the Congress had been unfairly picked to be the French firm's Indian partner. It has alleged that the cost of each aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA had negotiated with France in 2012.

"These allegations are shameful...The deal was finalised following a transparent procedure," Ms Sitharaman said at a media briefing, flanked by Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar.

The minister's defence of the deal came a day after the Air Force chief asserted that the government had negotiated "a better deal" than what had been firmed up by the previous government for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. "It is a cheaper deal," he had said at the Adampur Air Force station near Punjab's Jalandhar city.
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