Nirmala Sitharaman defends Rafale fighter jet deal with France

Bengaluru: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has brushed aside allegations regarding the recent Rafale fighter jet deal with France. While taking part in a panel discussion on the topic 'In Defence of the Realm: How prepared is India?’ at a conclave in the city here on Sunday, she said, "Rafale was considered under the UPA regime, where the quoted prices increased by 300 per cent. The process was completed, bids opened, but the then Defence Minister felt something was wrong and put a stop to it."

"So, there was no Rafale deal under UPA regime. People ask us why not consider HAL? There is no HAL, there is no Rafale. Inter-government agreement has not named anybody as this was and is a non-deal. This is nonsense!" she said. The Minister also dwelled upon the country’s military preparedness vis-à-vis Pakistan and China.

Cross-border terror
"We face cross border insurgency from Pakistan, as non state actors are coming into Kashmir. Two hundred terrorists have been finished off at the border, despite continuous efforts by Pakistan to disturb peace. Armed forces are fully prepared to meet any contingency,” she assured.

Doklam issue
With regard to Doklam, she maintained that everything the Army does is in co-ordination and consultation with border field officers, local authorities, J&K police, diplomats and Ministers. When Doklam disengagement happened, there was active field level and diplomatic efforts to engage again, she added.

Shopian incident
Defending the recent action of security forces in Shopian in January, which led to the death of two civilians, she said, "In Shopian, the army convoy was returning to their unit back from some place. They were pelted with stones and lynched. The matter is subject to judicial scrutiny. Usually only the unit is mentioned in the FIR. This time the name of the Major was included and it has caused the anguish."

The audience questioned her on India's efforts to deal with cyber space security threats and intervention in Maladives, to which, the Minister avoided comment, but assured that the Government was looking into it.

Defence modernisation
Updating on the progress ever since she took office, Ms Sitharaman said, "Defence modernisation is in full swing. Capital account has been entirely utilised in the last two years and there is 7% increase in budget allocation. Orders of 40 Tejas jets have been given and 83 more are cleared.  I have held two defence acquisition meetings per month and cleared all pending proposals. Of 170 contracts signed in last four years, 120 are Indian vendors."

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