The Congress Tuesday alleged that a “huge scam is brewing” in the NDA government’s procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. The party did not give details, but said the aircraft are being bought at an “inflated price” and claimed the government had gone ahead with the deal without the transfer of technology. The BJP responded by calling the allegations baseless and said the Opposition party is trying to divert attention as it is scared at the prospect of several of its leaders being questioned in connection with the AgustaWestland case.
Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said at a press meet that “complete non-transparency, flagrant violation of mandatory provisions of the defence procurement procedure, sacrificing national interests on transfer of technology to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and blatant promotion of financial interests of crony capitalist friends of PM have marred” the aircraft deal. While the Congress did not give out any details to back its allegation that a “scam is brewing”, it asked a series of questions to the government.
Surjewala said the deal negotiated by the UPA government was for purchase of 126 aircraft at a base price of 10.2 billion dollars with the transfer of technology. “Is it correct that the Modi government is buying 36 Rafale aircraft without the transfer of technology for 8.7 billion dollars? Does it not mean that 126 Rafale aircraft would have cost 30.45 billion dollars (without the transfer of technology) at the price arrived at by Modi government?…Who is responsible for the loss to exchequer?” Surjewala asked.
He asked how the Prime Minister took the “unilateral decision” to purchase 36 aircraft “by passing the mandatory defence procurement procedure and in the absence of an inter-governmental agreement with France at that time?” “Why has the Modi government forgone transfer of technology for the defence acquisition,” asked Surjewala, also accusing the Prime Minister of promoting interests of Reliance Defence Limited, which, he said, has entered into a joint venture with Dassault Aviation, which manufactures Rafale aircraft.
“Why was this done by Prime Minister bypassing the interests of a reputed public sector undertaking like HAL? Why has the joint venture for the biggest-ever Indian defence deal between Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence Limited not gone through the proper procedure of approval by the Union Cabinet, Cabinet Committee on Security and Foreign Investment Promotion Board?” he asked.
Reacting to Congress’s allegations, BJP spokesperson G V L Rao said, “The Congress party has made baseless allegations over the Rafale deal to divert public attention and to cry political vendetta. None of these stunts will work and they must be ready to answer who took bribes in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal as the money trail is going to become known after the extradition of Carlos Gerosa,” Rao said. Gerosa, alleged middleman in the chopper deal, was arrested in Italy last month.
Late on Tuesday evening, a statement by Reliance Defence Limited said, “The Joint Venture between Reliance Aerostructure Ltd and Dassault Aviation is a bilateral agreement between two private companies.Dassault Aviation selected Reliance Aerostructure Ltd as its joint venture partner. The Indian government has no role to play in this.” On allegations that proper procedure was not followed, it said, the “government policy issued on 24 June 2016 allows for 49 % FDI in the Defence Sector under the automatic route, without any prior approval. No approvals from the Union Cabinet or CCS were required for the formation of the aforesaid Joint Venture company under the automatic route.”