New Delhi: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not have the approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) when he said India would procure 36 Rafale fighter jets during his visit to France in April, 2015.
In an interview with CNN-News18, Sitharaman said what the PM had made was only an expression of interest to negotiate a deal for the Rafale jets and this did not require an approval by the CCS.
Claiming that CCS clearance was not required at the expression of interest stage, she said the approval is needed only when you want an agreement signed through.
“After 16 hard months of negotiation, a draft is taken to the cabinet, the CCS approves it and post that approval you go ahead to sign with the French, which happened in September 2016. The negotiations over the 16 months included those on price, quantity, any add ons that you want. We followed the process thoroughly,” she said.
The CCS had cleared the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal in August, 2016, nearly 16 months after the announcement of its procurement was made by PM Modi.
Sitharaman’s statement came on the day when the Supreme Court lens fell on the decision making process for the deal. It has asked the Centre to provide details of the process in a sealed cover by October 29.
The Congress has been demanding details of the deal, including cost of equipment and weapons, alleging that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper than the contract signed by the Modi government.
On many occasions, the Congress had asked the government whether the CCS clearance was taken before the PM announced about the procurement of the jets during his visit to Paris in April 2015.
“After being in power for almost the first 30 years of the country, the Congress is still not clear which procedure to follow for which occasion. A statement of interest by the PM, does it require CCS clearance? Come on, Congress party. I’m sure you know more,” Sitharaman further said.
She slammed the Congress party for comparing the price of a deal that they did not conclude to one which the NDA had concluded. Had they bought an aircraft, she added, the comparison with one that the BJP-ruled government bought would have been logical.
A joint statement issued on April 10, 2015 after PM Modi's talks with the then French President Franois Hollande had said India conveyed to the government of France that in view of the critical operational necessity for multirole combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force, government of India would like to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible.
"The two leaders agreed to conclude an Inter- Governmental Agreement for supply of the aircraft on terms that would be better than conveyed by Dassault Aviation as part of a separate process underway," the statement said.
It also said associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by the Indian Air Force, and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France.