The Congress on Friday came out with a fresh set of charges to allege that the BJP-led Central government has “deceived” the country and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman “misled” the nation on the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. The party claimed that intrigue, conspiracy, deception and loss to public exchequer have marred the purchase of the 36 fighter jets and award of multi-crore offset contract to a private entity.
The Congress, which is slamming the government for not revealing the cost of the acquisition, focused on award of offset contract to Reliance Defence Ltd and alleged that something was amiss in grant of the contract.
AICC communication department head Randeep Surjewala claimed that Reliance Defence was incorporated on March 28, 2015, just 12 days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would buy 36 Rafale fighter planes in flyaway condition. Reliance Aerostructure Ltd, which entered into the joint venture with Dassault Aviation (DA), was incorporated just 14 days after the announcement, he claimed.
Surjewala also claimed that Reliance Aerostructure Ltd, which was “given the industrial licence to manufacture fighter aircraft” on February 22, 2016, did not own any land or building when it applied for the licence.
“In its licence application for manufacturing fighter aircraft, Reliance Aerostructure Ltd has given its address and location as ‘Survey No. 589, Taluka Jafrabad, Village Lunsapur, District Amreli, Gujarat’. At that time, these premises were not owned by Reliance Aerostructure. The address belonged to Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering Co Ltd,” the Congress leader said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Friday evening, “I apologise for my earlier tweet in which I stated Mr 56’s friend’s JV, received 4 Billion US$’s of “off set” contracts. I forgot to add the 16 Billion US$ RAFALE “lifecycle” contract. 20 BILLION US$, is the actual benefit. So Sorry!! #130000CroreRafaleScam”
Surjewala said 2015-16 annual report of the Reliance Group itself says that “acquisition of Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering Co. was successfully completed in January 2016.”
He also quoted a “investor presentation” slide of Reliance Infrastructure which talks about the joint-venture with Dassault Aviation. It talks about the offset contract worth Rs 30,000 crore, and that “life cycle opportunity (is) estimated at Rs 1 lakh crore over 50 years”.
Taking on Sitharaman, the Congress said a statement issued by the Defence Ministry on February 7 this year said that “no Indian offset partner for the 2016 deal for 36 Rafale aircraft has been so far selected by the vendor (DA).” The ministry also stated that “as per applicable guidelines, DA is free to select the Indian Offset Partners and provide the details at the time of seeking offset credits or one year prior to discharge of offset obligation”.
According to Surjewala, while the Defence Ministry statement says that no Indian offset partner has been selected, the 2016 annual report of Dassault Aviation and a February 16, 2017 press release issued by Reliance Defence Ltd mentioned Dassault’s joint venture with Reliance. Surjewala asked, “The simple question is, who is lying: the Defence Minister or Reliance/Dassault Aviation?”
Surjewala also said that the Defence Offset Contract Guidelines issued by the Defence Offset Management Wing (DOMW) of the Defence Ministry stipulates that all offset proposals will be approved by Defence Minister and approved by the Acquisition Manager. The guidelines, he said, also says the vender will submit six-monthly reports and that an officer of DOMW may conduct an audit to verify the actual status of implementation.
“The defence offset guideline warrant and mandate that every offset contract has to be approved by the Defence Minister. Did she approve it? If she did not approve it, how did she permit Dassault Aviation to handover the contract to a private company superseding a Government company? It only shows that the national interest was being compromised by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister of India,” he said.