IN A fresh offensive on the Rafale fighter jet deal, the Congress on Sunday asked Comptroller and Auditor General of India Rajiv Mehrishi to “recuse” himself from auditing the deal, citing “conflict of interest” and “gross impropriety”. Saying that the CAG may table its report in Parliament on Monday, the Congress accused Mehrishi of “attempting to help the government by giving it a clean chit certificate”.
Addressing a press conference, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said Mehrishi was the Finance Secretary at the time of the “unilateral announcement” on purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore in April 2015, and cancellation of the 126 aircraft MMRCA deal in June 2015.
“Consequently, you were directly involved in the Rafale deal on both these occasions as Finance Secretary. Not only this, the price negotiations of the 36 Rafale aircraft deal commenced in May 2015. Representatives of the Finance Ministry, i.e. member of the cost accounts service and financial advisors, were part of the Indian negotiation team. Hence, you were also involved in the negotiations of Rafale deal,” the Congress said in a memorandum to the CAG.
“In fact, the irregularities, bungling and corruption were happening at the highest level with your direct or indirect complicity and consent. This reflects your direct collaboration in the entire matter. That being so, there is no reason or occasion for your to audit the 36 Rafale aircraft deal as you can neither be a judge in your own cause nor can sit in audit over your own actions to which you were a party,” it said.
Sibal said the cardinal principle of law is that “no one can be a judge in his own cause”.
“Under the Defence Procurement Procedure as also the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, Ministry of Finance and the then Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) are the appropriate authorities for financial sanction and approval of the defence deals… It is an act of gross impropriety for you to deal with the audit of the 36 Rafale aircraft deal on account of patent conflict of interest writ large. You are constitutionally, legally and morally disentitled to either conduct an audit or to present a report before the PAC and Parliament. We urge upon you to recuse yourself and publicly accept the gross impropriety committed by you in initiating the audit of the 36 Rafale aircraft deal,” the party said.
“We understand that (in) the fag end of this government’s tenure, you, as CAG, are attempting to help the government by giving it a clean chit certificate through a report likely to be tabled in Parliament,” it said.
“One thing the officials should also understand. Elections will come and elections will go. Sometimes, we will be in the Opposition; sometimes, we will be in power. There are some officials who may be very over-enthusiastic, who would like to show the Prime Minister that they are very loyal and that we will be with you despite having a conflict of interest… We are watching such people. And he is not alone, there are many others like him… They should understand that the country, the Constitution and the law are bigger than them. No one will have any objection if a fair inquiry is conducted… but if inquiries are held and decisions are taken in such a fashion, then the result would not just be bad for democracy, but there could be personal losses as well,” said Sibal.
Asked if this was a threat to officials, he said: “We are saying that we are watching what is happening. Who are we to say anything, but we are watching. It Is not (a threat), we are just watching what is happening. We are nobody. Only the government can threaten… We have no power to threaten anybody, nor do we intend to or wish to. We can certainly note it.”
Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said the attack on the CAG showed the Congress’s desperation.