Under fire over the government’s stubborn refusal to disclose the price of the Rafale aircraft, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday sought to accuse the previous UPA government of maintaining the same secrecy over defence deals.
This is nothing but a white lie. There are several instances when the previous UPA government made public and placed before the Parliament details of various defence deals, like that of the Admiral Gorshkov, the Sukhoi-30 purchase, and the refurbishment of fighter jets like the Mirage. The Narendra Modi government is taking refuge under the argument of 'national security', while it indulges in doublespeak, jeopardising national interest.
It is unfortunate that the Finance Minister lied to the nation in the Parliament, and sought to deflect attention on the various questions being raised over the Rafale deal. The Congress party’s fundamental questions over the deal are still unanswered and it remains to be seen if Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will ever decide to clear the air.
Given that Mrs. Sitharaman had agreed to share the price of the aircraft in a press conference on 17th November 2017, there can no legitimate reason for her to renege on that commitment. Why are the Finance Minister and the Defence Minister speaking in two different voices? While Mrs. Sitharaman refused to disclose the price on the ground of “secrecy agreement” that presumably ceased to exist from 24th January 2018, Mr. Jaitley refuses to disclose the price of the Rafale aircrafts in the name of “national interest”. Isn’t a full disclosure in national interest?
As per international bids opened on December 12, 2012, the per unit price of the Rafale aircraft comes to US$ 80.95 million or Rs. 526.1 crore. However, Modi government’s per aircraft negotiated price is US$ 241.66 Million or Rs. 1570.8 crore, as per current exchange rates!
It is also worth noting that Qatar purchased 12 Rafale aircraft in November 2017 for a per unit price of US$ 108.33 million per aircraft or Rs. 694.80 crore (as per current exchange rates). Why then has the Modi government agreed to pay such an astronomically inflated price for the aircraft?
Lower price offer ignored
The Indian Air Force found both the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to be equal in terms of all technical requirements. The government needs to answer if it is true that Eurofighter Typhoon wrote to then Defence Minister Mr. Jaitley on July 4, 2014, offering to reduce prices by 20 percent? If yes, then why did the government ask the competing companies to submit fresh bids through the ‘inter-governmental agreement route’ to ensure the lowest price in favour of India’s public exchequer?
Violation of Defence Procurement Procedure
The government owes it to the nation to clarify why no prior permission of the Cabinet Committee on Security was taken. Why was the Defence Procurement Procedure violated with such impunity?
Why was Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., a PSU, superseded for a Rs. 30, 000 crore ‘offset contract’ in favour of a private company? This is despite the fact that HAL had signed a ‘work share agreement’ in March 2014 with Dassault Aviation.
With so many unanswered questions, and the Modi government’s reluctance to come clean, it is clear that there is something fishy going on, or “Deal Mein Kuch Kaala Hain”, as Congress President Rahul Gandhi summarised it very aptly.