New Delhi: The Congress on Saturday attacked the BJP-led central government for buying only 36 Rafale fighter jets from France instead of the 126 finalised during the UPA era, saying the situation for the Indian Air Force (IAF) was becoming "critical and volatile".
"During the UPA (United Progressive Alliance), we had planned to buy 126 aircraft to strengthen the IAF. Now that has been reduced to 36 aircraft," Congress leader A.K. Antony told reporters here.
"As per IAF, 126 was the minimum requirement for their urgent operational requirements," Antony said.
"Sanctioned strength of fighter jets in the IAF is 42 squadrons, and of late, the situation was becoming critical and volatile. The IAF needs more squadrons, current availability of fighter jets is 32 squadrons and by 2022 this will reduce to 25," the former Defence Minister said.
"What is the government's plan? How will they bridge the gap with respect to China and Pakistan, who are building up their air strength?" Antony asked.
The Congress leader's remarks come a day after India signed a 7.87 billion euros (about Rs 59,000 crore) deal with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets that will meet the IAF's critical operational requirement for a multi-role combat aircraft and enhance its strategic reach, especially in Pakistan's context.
"Today we read inspired pieces in some media, which claim the present government has saved money by hard negotiations. That's not true," Antony said.
"The UPA government was not able to enter into a final contract. Price negotiations were going on," he added.
Citing the complaints of several leaders regarding the high price of Rafale jets, the Congress leader said, "That time I received series of complaints from many responsible quarters including former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha about the price."
"They said, the price is 'highly escalated and inflated, even cost is very high, exorbitantly high' and so on. When I got these complaints I asked the ministry that they will finalise the contract only after all complaints are thoroughly examined," Antony added.
"I said this complaint about 'life cycle cost' from very senior politicians should be thoroughly examined by Finance Ministry before we sign contract"," the Congress leader argued.
"When there was a complaint about high prices we decided to inquire and wait for the final decision of Finance Ministry," he said, adding, "So you can't compare the Rafale deal price during UPA government's time and now. This spreading of inspired news is not correct."
Antony also said that he did not want to comment on the present price before he knew the exact details. He also requested the government to publish the details of the final contract.
India had decided to ink the deal for 126 Rafale jets in 2012. The deal was estimated to cost $10.2 billion and the plan was to acquire 18 aircraft in fly-away condition and manufacture the rest in India.
However, during Modi's visit to France in April 2015, India conveyed that it would like to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible in view of the IAF's critical operational necessity for the multi-role combat aircraft.
Commenting on comparing the price of the deal, the Congress leader said, "There is absolutely no basis in comparing price during UPA's time and present price because the contract had not been finalised then."
Attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for not considering the technology transfer of the fighter jets, Antony said, "We had said we will purchase only 18 from France, off-the-shelf and the remaining 108 will be produced in India with HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited)."
"So, the deal was, from abroad - 18 and Make in India - 108. That condition is gone in the present deal. 'Make in India' is gone," he alleged.
"In our time there was provision that technology transfer is a must. I understand there is no such condition in the present contract," Antony said, adding, "This will cost us very heavily."