Govt and opposition spar over Rafale in Parliament

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Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday addressed the Lok Sabha, providing details contracts given to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. She accused the Opposition, which had earlier moved a privilege motion against the minister for allegedly misleading the House on the matter, of misquoting her.

“I have received confirmation from HAL that contracts during 2014-’18 worth Rs 26,570.8 crore have already been signed with HAL,” ANI quoted her as saying. “Orders worth Rs 73,000 crore approximately are in the pipeline.”

Earlier in the day, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge moved a notice under rule 193 in the Lok Sabha, demanding a joint parliamentary committee to probe the Rafale jet deal with France, ANI reported. The party has been vociferously protesting in both Houses of the Parliament on the matter, and last week Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi participated in a debate in the Lower House.

Congress MP KC Venugopal also gave a notice to move a privilege motion against Sitharaman for allegedly misleading the House on the matter. According to a report in The Times Of India, the company was still waiting for the formalisation of orders that Sitharaman had mentioned during her Rafale debate.

Gandhi on Sunday had asked the defence minister to prove in Parliament that the government had given HAL orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore or resign. Sitharaman had responded to his allegations by saying that Gandhi was “spreading lies” and “misleading the public”.

Both the Congress and the BJP have issued their MPs a three-line whip to be present in the Lok Sabha, FirstPost reported.

Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 2 pm after Opposition protested on a number of matters, including a CBI investigation against Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav in connection with alleged illegal mining, PTI reported.

Several Bharatiya Janata Party MPs protested outside the Parliament against the Kerala government over its handling of the Sabarimala row. They were protesting against attacks on party leaders, including an incident when a bomb was hurled at former BJP president V Muralidharan’s ancestral home in Kannur.

Meanwhile, In the wake of reports that it is facing a financial crisis, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited said Sunday the orders for 83 light combat aircraft and 15 light combat helicopters were in advanced stages and that its finances are expected to improve. The state-run aerospace major also said it had taken an overdraft of Rs 962 crores to meets its current requirements.

“In view of the various media reports on HAL, following is clarified: HAL has taken overdraft of Rs 962 crores. With anticipated collection upto March, the cash position is expected to improve. Orders for LCA Mk1 A (83) & LCH (15) are in advanced stages,” it said in a tweet. The HAL’s tweet came amid reports that it was forced to borrow money to pay salaries to its employees, triggering a war of words between the Congress and the BJP. Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman “lied” in Parliament that government orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore were provided to the HAL, while demanding she either place the documents in support of her statement in the House or resign.

Suggesting that Gandhi jumped the gun while making the charges following a media report, Sitharaman’s office tweeted that he should “start from ABCs” and read the complete report before commenting on it. “It’s a shame that the president of @INCIndia is misleading the nation. HAL has signed contracts worth Rs 26570.8 Cr (Between 2014 and 2018) and contracts worth Rs 73000 Cr are in the pipeline. Will @RahulGandhi apologise to the country from the floor of the house?,” Sitharaman tweeted from the defence minister’s official handle.

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