Rafale deal row: Government points out 'loopholes' in UPA's 'troubled contract'
Even as Rahul Gandhi sharpened his attacks on the Rafale deal on Thursday, senior government sources questioned the charges and pointed out "loopholes" in the claims made by the Congress and its president regarding the "troubled contract" negotiated by the UPA government till 2014.
The government also sought to question Congress party's claim of inclusion of transfer of technology in the deal being negotiated by it for buying 126 combat aircraft, saying this was merely for licensed manufacturing of the planes and would have significantly added to the cost of the project.
The war of words between the government and the Opposition came on a day when Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed finance minister Arun Jaitley as 'Mr Jaitlie' in a tweet and used a hashtag #Daalmaikuchkaalahai (there is something fishy in the deal) to attack the government.
"Dear Mr Jaitlie, you said the UPA never released prices of Defence purchases? To nail your lie, here are 3 Parliamentary replies by the UPA with full transparency on pricing. Now do ask our Raksha Mantri to tell India how much each RAFALE jet cost," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
Gandhi attacked Jaitley after the latter hit out at Congress for "seriously compromising" India's national security by seeking to make public the details of the Inter-Governmental Agreement with France.
"The new trend (of the Opposition including Congress) is to manufacture corruption charges when there is none ... they are seriously compromising India's national security by asking for such details," the finance minister has stated in the Lok Sabha.
Senior government sources pointed out that there were several violations of the procurement procedure in the deal being negotiated by the UPA government.
"The remark on file by the then defence minister AK Antony that the file related to the mega deal should be sent back to him again after re-examining all the steps in the procurement procedure was in itself also a violation. After the bids are opened, this cannot be done even by the defence minister," the sources said.
This was done as the then defence minister was not sure about the procedure in which some officials had raised dissent over the way Dassault Aviation was found to be the lowest bidder by taking into account the life cycle costs and other methods, they said.
The file related to the offsets of the Congress deal in 2011 had also mysteriously gone missing and later found on the roadside in a Delhi locality.
The file was found by an ex-serviceman who returned it to the Air Headquarters. The sources also questioned the per-aircraft price being quoted by the Congress for its 'notional deal', saying that different prices of the 'basic plane' can be quoted in defence sector as additional capabilities and weapon systems increase the acquisition cost.
Congress has been claiming that the price of the Rafale jets being negotiated by it was close to Rs 570 crore per aircraft, whereas the same planes have cost close to Rs 1,600 crore per plane under the NDA regime.
The government sources also questioned the Congress' claim that its deal involved transfer of technology which would have helped the country, saying this would have increased the cost of the deal done by the NDA government as foreign vendors would have charged for doing so.
Moreover, they said, the "notional" Congress deal would have meant only licensed manufacturing of the planes in India under the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the way the Russian Sukhoi-30MKI planes are built in India.
A Russian Sukhoi-30 manufactured in Russia costs almost Rs 100 crore less than the planes built by the HAL at its facility in Nasik. Sources in Air Force said during the negotiations between the HAL and Dassault Aviation, there were major differences between the two over taking the responsibility of the 108 planes to be built in India and the number of manhours required to complete the project by the defence PSU.
The man-hours quoted by the HAL for completing the project were almost three times more than what Dassault Aviation had planned, and this would have also resulted in increasing the project cost by manifold.