So what is Rahul Gandhi talking about when he hints that HAL has been given step-motherly treatment in Modi’s tenure?
A few days ago, while addressing a paltry gathering of present and former employees of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Congress president Rahul Gandhi vowed to restore — if his party were voted to power — to the public sector unit the glory it has ‘lost’ in the Modi regime. In his characteristic fashion, he had forgotten to do some basic homework before making the promise.
The public sector company is on an expansion drive, with the launch of a new design and development of a 1,2000 KW turboshaft engine, with the laying of a foundation stone for its new helicopter manufacturing facility.
Far from having fallen from grace, HAL has actually done rather well in recent years. It registered an all-time high turnover of Rs 16,524 crore for fiscal 2015-16; its export stood at a little more than Rs 400 crore; it recorded an all-time high profit before tax (PBT) of Rs 3,210 crore. In the immediately preceding fiscal, the turnover had been at a lower at 15,622 crores and PBT stood at Rs 3,173 crore. Besides, implementation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Made in India campaign resulted in foreign exchange savings of Rs 126 crore annually, with more than 2,000 items being indigenised. Not just that, according to a company Press release, HAL had recently contributed over Rs 4,200 crore to the Government as buyback of 25 per cent of the share capital and free reserves. In addition, the public sector company had paid a dividend of RS 510 crore for the 2015-16 fiscal.
Performance on the production front was not bad, either. All the 12 Su-30 MKI aircraft it produced during the year mentioned above, were from the raw material stage — an achievement of no mean kind. A further feather was added to the cap when HAL also manufactured 17 Hawk aircraft — the highest ever in a single year. In all, it produced 60 new aircraft and helicopters and overhauled 229 aircraft and helicopters. The public sector company is on an expansion drive, with the launch of a new design and development of a 1,2000 KW turboshaft engine, with the laying of a foundation stone for its new helicopter manufacturing facility in Karnataka.
But this is the story of 2015-16. Unprecedented as the numbers were, they were overshadowed in fiscal 2017-18. HAL recorded a turnover of over Rs 18,000 crore (which was an improvement upon the 2016-17 performance as well), and received orders for 42 advanced light helicopters and eight Chetak helicopters from the country’s Armed Forces.
Rahul Gandhi should have known that HAL has been the subject of ridicule for its failures since decades — failures that have also to do with the lack of attention central Governments of the Congress gave it.
So what is Rahul Gandhi talking about when he hints that HAL has been given step-motherly treatment in Modi’s tenure? Are we to believe that the mere fact of HAL not being chosen as a partner of the French aircraft manufacturing firm, Dassault Aviation, under an offset deal, has destroyed the Indian company? The Congress chief has gone a step further; he claims that Prime Minister Modi ensured that one of his ‘favourites’ in the corporate world (the Anil Ambani-led Reliance defence) became Dassault’s partner at HAL’s cost. Busy as he is, spreading the word across the country that the Prime Minister is “corrupt” and a “thief” for having robbed HAL of a legitimate contract, he has overlooked one fact: That the deal between Reliance and Dassault as part of the offset deal (in the purchase of Rafale fight planes) was finalised when his party-led alliance was in power at the Centre.
That said, Rahul Gandhi should be asking more relevant questions: Why is it that in the decades gone by, when his own Congress was power, directly or indirectly, HAL did not evolve as an organisation that lived up to its potential? Why is it that a public sector company, manned by some of the most talented and dedicated personnel, failed to win over the confidence of even the domestic market (defence forces), let alone make a mark in the international market? The Congress chief speaks so fondly of HAL, but when the UPA regime headed by the Congress did not have money even for the Rafale aircraft which were critical to the country’s defence preparedness, how does one expect a Congress Government to suddenly focus on organisations such as HAL?
Even given the abysmal level to which he is informed, Rahul Gandhi should have known that HAL has been the subject of ridicule for its failures since decades — failures that have also to do with the lack of attention central Governments of the Congress gave it. It took the company more than three decades to develop a light combat aircraft (Tejas). Now that the product is ready, the defence forces have been reluctant to induct them because they have found shortcomings. Through the eighties and later, Congress regimes proudly showcased the ongoing project as their commitment to socialism (local manufacture), but that was hoodwinking the people. Roughly 25 per cent of the so-called indigenous aircraft comprises imported components — a curious mix of technologies drawn from Israel, France, the US, Russia, and a few others.
Will Rahul Gandhi tell the nation why Congress regimes let down HAL all these years?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.