Confronting relentless opposition attacks over the Rafale deal, the government today shared details of how it decided to buy 36 fighter jets from France’s Dassault at Rs. 59,000 crore, in a document submitted to the Supreme Court and petitioners who have asked for an investigation into the deal.
Though the government said pricing was classified, those details were reportedly also submitted separately in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court. The case will be heard next on Wednesday.
The government made public a redacted version of the document it has shared with the petitioners, which includes details on the choice of India offset partners by Dassault.
On November 2, the court had ordered the government to place its decision-making process in the public domain amid questions raised by opposition parties on how Rafale manufacturer Dassault chose companies in Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group to partner with in India.
In exchange for landing the contract for the 36 off-the-shelf fighter jets, Dassault has to invest half the value of the deal – about 30,000 crores – in Indian firms. Reliance was chosen as one of those “offset” partners. The opposition has alleged that Reliance was chosen in a process that lacked transparency. Dassault has said it was under no pressure to select Reliance as its partner for a huge joint venture in Nagpur that will manufacture parts for fighter planes. The offset arrangement does not involve the 36 jets that are part of the current deal.
The government also said it had no role in the selection of the Indian offset partner.
The document said the process for defence procurement laid down in 2013 – when the Congress-led UPA was in power – was followed.
After the Indian Negotiation Team submitted its report on fully-loaded Rafale jets on August 4, 2016, it was vetted by the finance and law ministries within 20 days and the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the deal on August 24, said the government.
The document titled “Details of the steps in the decision making process leading to the award of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft order” states that 11 steps followed in Rafale procurement were consistent with the defence ministry manual for weapons purchases.
Also, the agreement with France safeguarded government interests if there were contractual problems.
The Rafale deal was announced in 2016 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talks in Paris with then French president Francois Hollande.
In election season, a political row over the jet deal escalated sharply after Francois Hollande said in an interview that France had no role in the selection of Anil Ambani’s company for the offset clause.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly accused the government of negotiating a not-so-favourable contract just to benefit Anil Ambani. Both the government and the industrialist have denied the charge.
The Congress also accuses the government of deliberately scrapping a deal the previous UPA government had negotiated with Dassault, for 126 Rafale jets under which 18 jets were to be supplied in a fly-away condition and 108 were to be manufactured in India along with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The government’s document today said the UPA deal ”could not conclude mainly due to unresolved issued related to 108 aircraft to be manufactured in India. These issues pertained to lack of common understanding between HAL and Dassault Aviation.”
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa says can be a “game-changer” and booster for India’s defence.
Former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan are among the petitioners.