Hours after Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused her of lying in Parliament about Rs 1 lakh crore government orders to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman came out with a defence that the contracts are in the pipeline and he misquoted her statement made in the Lok Sabha during the January 3 debate on the Rafale deal. "It's a shame that the president of @INCIndia is spreading lies and misleading the country. HAL has signed contracts worth Rs 26,570.8 Cr (Between 2014 & 2018) and contracts worth Rs 73,000 Cr are in the pipeline. Will Rahul Gandhi apologise to the country from the floor of the house and resign?" Sitharaman tweeted.
On Friday, responding to the Congress party’s allegations of corruption in the procurement deal of 36 Rafale fighter jets, Sitharaman had told Parliament that the Narendra Modi government had given contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore to HAL. "The Congress is shedding crocodile tears for HAL. The Congress government gave 53 waivers to HAL... We have given contracts worth Rs. 1 lakh crore," the defence minister had said.
However, following her statement, media reports quoting HAL officials claimed that not a single rupee of the said Rs 1 lakh crore has gone to the defence manufacturers. “HAL is a listed company now. You are free to verify our order books, where you will find not a single rupee of the said Rs 1 lakh crore has come to HAL, since not a single order, as claimed, has been signed till now. We have a responsibility to shareholders who cannot be led to believe we have orders when we don’t,” The Times of India quoted a senior HAL officer as saying.
The report, which was last edited at 4:01 am (IST), also added that as per the Lok Sabha records, Sitharaman did not claim that the orders were signed. Quoting the report, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had dared the defence minister to place documents of government orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore to HAL before Parliament or submit her resignation.
“When you tell one lie, you need to keep spinning out more lies, to cover up the first one. In her eagerness to defend the PM's Rafale lie, the RM lied to Parliament. Tomorrow, RM must place before Parliament documents showing 1 Lakh crore of Govt orders to HAL. Or resign,” Gandhi had said.
HAL, India’s largest public sector defence unit, is starving for cash and the company had recently taken a loan worth Rs 1,000 crore to pay salaries of its employees. The Congress party has been accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of bypassing HAL to favour his “businessman friend” Anil Ambani. In Rafale deal, the experienced HAL was not granted the offshore contract of the aircraft and instead, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence, which was reportedly floated just 10 days before the deal was signed, got the deal.