Kolkata, Aug 25 (IANS) Launching a fresh assault against the Modi government on the Rafale aircraft deal, the Congress on Saturday demanded a public debate and detailed inquiry into the “secretive” happenings and alleged that the defence procurement procedure had been ignored and senior ministers kept in the dark about the negotiations.
Senior party leader P. Chidambaram alleged that the price for the aircraft had increased over three times under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime than what was agreed to by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
“We think the matter is serious enough that there should be a public debate and a detailed inquiry, which is why the Congress President (Rahul Gandhi) and the party have raised the issue,” he told the media at the West Bengal Pradesh Congress headquarters here.
Chidambaram said the UPA government had entered into a contract to acquire 126 Rafale aircraft — 18 of them in fly away condition and the remaining 108 aircraft to be made in India by the public sector Undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bengaluru, under a transfer of technology agreement with a French company, Dassault Aviation.
“The negotiated price was Rs 526 crore per aircraft. Suppose instead of 18 aircraft, we were buying 36 aircraft at Rs 526 per aircraft, it would have come to Rs 18,940 crore,” he said.
However, after the UPA was voted out in 2014 and the NDA came to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an official visit to France on April 10, 2015 announced that an agreement had been signed to buy off the shelf 36 Rafale aircraft.
Although the price was not revealed, in subsequent documents of Dassault Aviation’s report, the price was given as 7.5 billion euros, equivalent to Rs 60,145 crore, Chidambaram claimed.
“The price which was agreed on the Prime Minister’s visit was Rs 60,145 crore and per aircraft it comes to Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore (negotiated by the UPA),” he said.
“If these numbers are correct, will someone explain why the price has gone up three times? That is the first question. To which the answer (given by the NDA government) is: ‘This is a secret agreement and we cannot reveal the price’.”
“I am revealing the price today, what is so secret about it? It is there in Dassault’s annual report which is 7.5 billion euros,” he said, while pointing out that the UPA had made public prices of the ship INS Vikramaditya, the Kaveri Engine and the Sukhoi and Miraj aircraft.
Raising questions about the procedure followed for the new agreement, the Congress leader said: “There is a defence procurement procedure which was completely bypassed. There is a contract negotiation committee, which never met for this deal. There is a price negotiation committee, which was never called to meet for this deal.
“Above all, there is a cabinet committee on security, which has to approve any defence purchase of this size. None of these committees were involved. None of the ministers knew about it. The defence, finance and external ministers did not know about it.”
Chidambaram pointed out that even though the Rafale aircraft was supposed to be an emergency purchase to boost the depleted strength of the Indian Air Force, not a single aircraft has arrived even 40 months after the deal was clinched.
“What kind of an agreement is this?” he asked.
He also claimed that under the pact inked during the UPA rule, the offset obligation would have been given to HAL, but the deal finalised by the Modi regime allowed freedom to the French company to choose its offset partner.
“Dassault chose a private company as its offset partner. So HAL is completely kept out of the offset obligation.
“Under the agreement during UPA rule,, technology was to be transferred to HAL for manufacturing 108 aircraft… When you bought the 36 aircraft, why did you not insist that Dassault must transfer technology for future aircraft to India?”
Chidambaram said while French Defence Minister Florence Parly had visited Nagpur to lay the foundation stone of the “factory where the offset products will be manufactured” by a private business house, the government has been maintaining that no offset contract has been awarded.
“What is this mystery about the offset partner? All these questions lead us to believe that this matter is required to be inquired,” he said.
“All of this, taken together, leads to great suspicion. Why is the government so secretive about price, why are they refusing to answer questions, why are they trotting out lame excuses?”
Chidambaram said the aircraft deal would be an issue in the coming polls.
Asked whether his party would file a public interest litigation, Chidambaram said: “Whether we do anything (like that), you would come to know.”