BENGALURU: Former employees of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) spoke up against the current NDA government and the Rafale aircraft deal during a meeting with All India Congress Committee (AICC) President Rahul Gandhi in the city on Saturday. The meeting, which began around 4 PM, saw past employees say that they would continue to fight to keep HAL's reputation intact.
"We feel insulted, we are a reputed company. Do you want to kill this industry? It is insult and injury to give our engineers jobs to a 12-day old company. I condemn this management. For the first time, I am seeing them issue a circular, directing employees not to attend this function. Many employees would have come but because of the situation of fear they have not. It is illegal, illogical and uncalled for," said Sirajuddin, an ex-employee of HAL who said that he had worked with the company for 40 years and through three wars.
Mahadevan, a former General Secretary of the HAL employees union said that there was no doubt about HAL's capability to work on the Rafale deal. "Someone in a position of responsibility says that we (HAL) do not have the capability. HAL is legitimately entitled to get the Rafale project. We are now 75 years old. Next month we will meet in Athens to bring up this issue in front of the international forum of trade unions. We are hurt. Governments cannot keep giving up on the public sector," he said.
Gandhi, speaking at the start of the meeting, reaffirmed his faith in the company and said that the country owed a debt to HAL for protecting it and creating a scientific vision for progress. "When Obama said the only countries that can challenge the US were India and China, it was because of the work you have done too," he said. Gandhi said that he had come to listen to employees and not to address them. "I want to understand the issues you face and see what we can do to help as opposition as also when we come to power."
Shivalingaiah, of the HAL SC/ST employees association, said that the current situation at HAL was dire. "50% of workers are jobless. The aircraft division is jobless. Everybody knows HAL will close in five years because there are no projects," he said. N Umesh, a former employee and a member of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, said that there would be a 48-hour strike by trade unions on the 27 and 28 of October.
In his closing remarks, Gandhi said that the Rafale aircraft was HAL's right and that it was the only company capable. "One should look at merit and make an objective decision. Based on this, nobody would have chosen the other company. HAL doesn't have any debt but the person who got the Rafale contract has Rs. 40,000 crore debt," he said. Gandhi said that Defence PSU's are the temples of modern India and that they were being destroyed. "There is tremendous amount of experience you have and it cannot be destroyed in this manner. You are fighting for this and I want to tell you that we will also not allow it," Gandhi said.