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New Delhi: Most of the hitches in the multi-billion Euro deal for 36 Rafale fighter planes have been addressed and the remaining ones will be cleared in the next meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), minister of state for defence Rao Inderjit Singh said on Tuesday.

The meeting of DAC, the apex body of the defence ministry for procurement, is likely to take place on 21 April, a day after defence minister Manohar Parrikar returns from his visit to China. Hoping that the Rafale deal would be inked soon, Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha said, “It is at a very advanced stage."

Singh told reporters, “I can only tell you this that most of the hitches that were there, have been addressed. A few (remaining) issues will be addressed, when possibly the matter comes up before DAC. They shall be addressed in the next DAC. And thereafter I think the road shall be clear." He was asked as to when the deal is likely to be signed.

When the same question was put to Air Chief Marshal Raha on the sidelines of an Indian Air Force (IAF) seminar, he said, “We have seen so many years go past. How can I give an assurance? But it is in a very advanced stage." The junior defence minister brushed aside a suggestion that at least six indigenously made Light Combat Aircraft Tejas can be bought for the price of one Rafale plane, saying both the aircraft were totally different in nature and that IAF needed both.

India and France could firm up the order for the purchase of 36 Rafale combat planes as both the countries have managed to narrow down their differences over pricing. The development comes nearly four months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande signed a memorandum of agreement to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft.

The Indian side has been negotiating hard to bring down the price with Parrikar refusing to buckle under pressure even as questions were raised about the delay in signing of the contract. People familiar with the matter said the price for 36 Rafales, as per the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s tender, keeping the cost escalation and dollar rate in mind, comes to a little over 65,000 crore. This includes the cost involved in making changes India has sought in the aircraft, including Israeli helmet-mounted display and some specific weaponry. “The effort is to bring down the price to less than €8 billion ( 59,000 crore)," the people said. The final deal may be clinched by May-end.

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