Former French president Francois Hollande’s remarks that the Indian government had chosen the overseas partner for the manufacture of Rafale aircraft, has left employees of Bengaluru-based PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) unhappy.
Despite limitations, HAL employees, who did not want to be named, maintain that a willing government would have created the required facilities for the PSU to deliver the required number of Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
However, retired Indian Air Force personnel — wary of HAL repeatedly missing deadlines — have defended the controversial deal.
“If HAL was selected as the offset partner, 30% investment of the around Rs 60,000 crore meant for the fighter jets would have had a drastic effect in improving the facilities here. HAL has produced fighter aircraft in the past and had the capabilities to produce Rafale too,” one of the senior HAL engineers that The New Indian Express spoke to, said.
“It is due to such episodes that the whole ‘Make in India’ scheme looks like a sham. A government can’t really encourage manufacturing by presenting a possible manufacturing project of a Navaratna PSU to a fledgling private firm,” the employee said.
The drama is unfolding on a daily basis, said another engineer.
“How can Indian companies like HAL compete with international firms if projects that help improve the skill sets of an organisation are denied to it?” she questioned.
Commenting on IAF backing the deal, she said that the Air Force had always preferred “foreign toys”.
“(HAL) employees are feeling cheated and angry as the much-required funds to develop HAL appears to have been offered elsewhere,” she said.
Noting that it is dangerous to speak against the central government, an employee in the HAL engine division said most of the employees had defended the government in the case prior to the remarks by Hollande.
“Disgruntlement over the government decision is similar in our production units at Nasik and Koraput, along with HAL’s research and development centres. The feeling is of being let down by the government, who did not trust our abilities,” he said.
However, some retired IAF personnel have defended the decision of the central government. “Hollande’s statement gives the impression that India can dictate terms to Dassault in choosing its offset partner. But, India cannot dictate terms to even Nepal and Bangladesh,” he said, adding that Dassault — manufacturer of Rafale — ‘were horrified’ about HAL’s capabilities to manufacture the aircraft.
Another reason why the old agreement of 126 aircraft was scrapped is that HAL was interested in technology transfer while Dassault was against the transfer of any core technologies. “That is why Dassault decided to partner with a private firm just for namesake and manufacture on its own here,” he added.