n November 2016, a political warfare over the Rafale deal began and the Congress blamed the Modi government for causing a “challenging loss” of the taxpayers’ money by signing the Rafale deal worth Rs 58,000 crores. It also claimed that the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited had been unfairly picked to be the French firm’s Indian partner. The Congress claimed that the cost of each aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA government had negotiated with France in 2012. Since the Modi government came to the power, many scams erupted but the opposition failed to take a strong stand and as a result, the scams by BJP went unnoticed. Rafale deal is a bigger Scam, much bigger than the Bofors scam of UPA.
Let’s not go into details, but the common public have a few questions such as: Who decided that now only 36 Rafale aircrafts are needed and not 106 in India? Where is that review? When readymade aircrafts were being imported, for what reason a huge amount of Rs 32,000 crores is to be paid to Ambani’s defence company? Apparently, a big fraud is visible. No transparency is being shown.
It is clear that PM Narendra Modi has dealt a Crippling Blow to the Indian Air Force by crushing its Urgent Requirement of 126 nos Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts, sanctioned and ordered by the UPA government, to mere 36 nos. Narendra Modi has further Crippled the Indian Defence Capability by Cancelling the UPA-Organised Technology Transfer Agreement for HAL to manufacture these advanced Fighter Aircrafts.
Within four unruly years, PM Narendra Modi has crippled the 12-year-long effort of the Indian Air Force to meet the air superiority challenge of China and Pakistan. It is surprising that when a Huge Loss of Public Funds of over Rs 36,000 crores is exposed in this Rafale deal, there are calls for PIL and filing cases with proof, instead of condemning this huge Scam. The same calls from the same sources were conspicuously absent in the 2G case when the entire Media joined BJP in condemning the Congress Party and the UPA government without an iota of proof, as exposed by the CBI Court after seven years of hearings.
Amid the raging debate over pricing and offsets deal, a number of questions are yet to be fully answered. Will the Jets be Delivered Earlier? The government has claimed that it has struck a deal for buying the fighters off the shelf – at the cost of sacrificing the Make in India concept – so as to get quicker delivery of the aircraft and secure the country’s defence. However, the 36 Rafale jets are to be delivered within 67 months of the signing of the contract that took place in October 2016. The first of these jets will not arrive before October 2019. The time frame is similar to the delivery schedule under the UPA-negotiated deal, which envisaged getting 18 jets off the shelf. Internal documents show that the government’s assessment is that it saved “five months” in the delivery schedule with its off the shelf purchase.
Given that, not a single jet is being Made in India, this does not amount to a substantial saving on delivery time. In the Rafale deal, the French negotiated a mechanism as per which its government would act as a guarantor. This was a departure from regular commercial purchases, where the winning company is required by the law to furnish guarantees from an international bank that can be encashed by the purchaser in case deliveries are not made on time after the payments have been made. There was a significant discomfort on the Indian side when this was being discussed, as the French assurances were not watertight according to a section of the bureaucracy.
Moreover, it is not clear whether adequate safeguards have been built into the contract to ensure that India can penalise the manufacturer for violations such as delivery delays or a failure to meet offset obligations.
Significantly, among the seven reasons cited for withdrawing the UPA version of the deal in June 2015 were Dassault Aviation’s failure to furnish performance and warranty bonds and its refusal to act as a single point of responsibility. It’s unclear how the government resolved the issue in the absence of the bank guarantee given clear reluctance in the bureaucracy. The whole deal appears to be murky and steeped in intrigue. Reliance, unlike HAL, has no experience as an organisation. It can match skills required only if there is a mass exodus from HAL to Reliance. HAL being involved would have only added to India’s strength; this was the policy pursued unfailingly by AK Anthony. Do we trust that Reliance would have been selected without the consent – at least verbal – of those, who matter in today’s dispensation? It is time for the government to bare all details in the public domain or cancel the award in the interest of probity.
Meanwhile, all the claims made by the opposition were rebutted by the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited with the government saying that the renegotiated deal was transparent and better than the deal negotiated by the previous UPA government as it includes a superior weapons package and logistical support, which had been absent in the previous one. Reliance Defence had also said that its subsidiary Reliance Aerostructure and Dassault Aviation formed a joint venture – Dassault Reliance Aerospace, after a bilateral agreement between two private companies and “the Indian government has no role to play in this.” The Congress, however, kept up its attacks on the government for refusing to table details of the Rafale deal over alleged irregularities. The fact that so many issues are suspected in this case, and that there are so many conflicts in terms of facts relating to the clarifications provided by the government and by Reliance Defence, that these are in conflict with each other in many ways. Next, Anil Ambani has no business to challenge the opposition or anyone on the issue, but rather, he is expected to reveal how in God’s name could his company, which has no experience whatsoever, in the field of aviation, clinch the deal from the vastly experienced HAL and that too, in the area of defence, and in the complete lack of appropriate infrastructure. Ambani should have displayed a more mature degree of responsibility in this regard. A title suit of Rs 5,000 crores only goes to show that collecting money is the sole purpose of the suit since the amount seems to be the major determinant of legality. Amid the raging debate over pricing and offsets deal, a number of questions are yet to be fully answered. Modi came to power by promising clean government and no scams, but within four years they landed in a series of controversies and successfully buried them.
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