Yashwanth Sinha and Arun Shourie, former cabinet ministers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s government, teamed up with activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Wednesday, to assert that the Rafale Deal was the ‘biggest defence scam ever’ and accused the BJP-led NDA government of ‘compromising national security’.
The Rafale deal dates back to 2012 when the Congress-led UPA government entered into an agreement with France to purchase 126 Rafale fighter-jets. The Rafale was chosen over rival offers from the United States, Europe and Russia. The original plan was to buy 18 off-the-shelf jets from France’s Dassault Aviation, and the other 108 units would be assembled in India by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bengaluru.
However, the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi backed away from the commitment of the UPA government to buy 126 Rafale jets, resulting in the deal falling through with France in a decade-long series of negotiations between India and the European nation. There were a lot of roadblocks concerning the costs of the aircrafts.
In April 2015, the Prime Minister announced that India would buy 36 Rafale jets, off-the-shelf from Dassault Aviation. The deal was confirmed in January 2016 and under this deal, Dassault and its main partners – Safran S. A. handling engine manufacture, and Thales handling the electrical systems of the jets; would share some technologies with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), along with some private sector companies and HAL under the offset of the clause.
An inter-governmental agreement was signed between India and France dubbed as the ‘Rafale Deal’, when the Prime Minister announced the proposal while visiting France in September 2016. India will pay Rs. 5,8000 crores or 7.8 billion Euros for 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale fighter jets. India will pay 15% of this amount in advance while France, in an accompanying off-set clause, would invest 30% of the 7.8 billion Euros in India’s aeronautics-related research programs, and 20% would be invested into local production of Rafale components.
The deal also sees India acquiring spares and weaponry, including the Meteor Missile, considered amongst the most advanced in the world.
The ‘Rafale deal’ acted as an instrument for political warfare as the Congress accused the BJP government of causing ‘insurmountable losses’ in taxpayers’ money with the deal amounting to Rs. 58000 crores. They also criticised the government of choosing Anil Ambani‘s Reliance Defence Limited over HAL, as the French company’s Indian partner.
At a press meet, Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan brought up the matter saying that an agreement between Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence Ltd. should have come after government approval. The deal, according to them, is a ‘textbook case of criminal misconduct’ by the government. Shourie called the deal ‘a much bigger scandal than Bofors‘ and that it needs an urgent forensic audit to fix accountability.
The secrecy clause in the agreement between both nations only binds India from revealing the technical specifications and operational capabilities of the aircraft but does not restrain the government from disclosing the price, Shourie said.
The total price of 36 Rafale jets amounts to around Rs. 60000 crores, which works out to Rs. 1660 crores per plane, according to Bhushan, Shourie and Sinha.
In a joint press statement, the trio said that the amount of Rs. 1660 crores per plane ‘is more than double the price of the aircraft under the original 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts (MMRCA), and almost Rs. 1000 crores higher per aircraft than the price furnished by the government itself.
Another statement issued by the three asked, “How could an experienced manufacturer like Dassault have picked a company that has no experienced whatsoever in manufacturing aircrafts, without approval from the government?” It further said, “A private party which has absolutely no experience in manufacturing aerospace and defence equipment has been handed an enormous financial benefit.”
The three of them demanded an audit from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Arun Jaitley, in blogpost commented, “There is not a grain of truth in the wild allegations repeated today nor anything substantiating in the purported facts and voluminous documents marshalled to corroborate the baseless accusations.”
“The allegations constitute nothing but reprocessed lies by forces increasingly desperate to prove their relevance”, he said. He also added that the government has already responded effectively to every distortion and misinformation on the issue.