The government on Friday officially denied the Congress’s allegations on the Rafale fighter jet deal, with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stating that the amount paid for each French fighter aircraft by the current government was much lower than the one negotiated by the UPA government during its tenure.
“Allegations relating to the Rafale deal (by the Congress) are shameful, the deal was finalised following a transparent procedure,” Sitharaman said at a press meet in the Defence Ministry. She was flanked by the Defence Secretary and the Deputy Chief of the Indian Air Force on the podium, but only she answered the questions.
She was repeatedly asked by the journalists to share the comparative aircraft costs for the two governments, following Congress’s allegations that 36 jets would now be obtained at Rs 58,000 crore whereas the previous agreement would have entailed the procurement of 126 Rafale jets at around Rs 54,000 crore in 2012.
Although government sources have previously argued that the two prices cannot be compared because of different add-ons, weapon suites, training, maintenance and infrastructure requirements in the two agreements, Sitharaman said that “we have obtained a far better deal per aircraft (than the UPA)”.
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“I am not shying away from giving figures,” she said, asking the Defence Secretary to share the numbers. The comparative numbers had not been shared by the ministry at the time of going to the press. The minister was highly critical of the UPA government for not finalising the Rafale deal during its decade-long rule.
“Between 2004 and 2014, entire decade, the UPA could not arrive at a decision. Twelve long years of negotiations and still (there was) no decision, although critically recognising the need for strengthening the Air Force,” said Sitharaman.
The deal for buying 126 Rafale fighter jets — with 108 to be made in India — from France was initiated in 2000, she said, and the UPA government had started negotiating the price with the L-1 (lowest bidder), Dassault Aviation of France, in December 2012.
While this was being done as a commercial deal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris in April 2015 that India would be buying 36 Rafale fighters from France in an inter-government deal. After five rounds of negotiations, the deal was finally signed by the two defence ministers in Delhi in September 2016.
Sitharaman also refuted Congress’s allegation that due process was not followed by the government, saying that the approval from Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) was taken before signing of the agreement in September 2016. But she did not clarify, in response to a question by The Indian Express, if the CCS had been consulted before the PM’s announcement in Paris in April 2015.
She also defended against the charge that the deal for 36 fighters has no transfer of technology from France, arguing that it doesn’t make economic sense for a smaller deal compared to a deal for 126 aircraft. She said the PM and the Defence Minister decided that it was an emergency procurement of 36 aircraft to meet the urgent requirements of the IAF, and thus went for a government-to-government agreement.