Rafale stink

Kashmir Times. Dated: 2/14/2018 1:56:57 PM

Accusation of corruption cannot be brushed aside by invoking 'national security'

BJP government's refusal to reveal details about the massive Rafale defence deal amidst allegations that the government was favouring a specific industrialist in the process is of grave concern. The shock value of such serious charges of kickbacks and commissions dictating the country's defence deals is further enhanced by the manner in which the government is seeking to reject all queries by erecting the iron-wall of 'national security'. Instead of ensuring transparency in the manner in which the deal has been inked and the cost that the country is incurring per unit of the weapons being procured from France under the Rafale deal, the government has been taking refuge under the argument that any information related to the deal would amount to compromising on the national security of the country. This is a severely demented and flawed logic as what is being sought is not the details of the military capability and capacity of the weapons purchased but the mere details of the expenditure incurred and the route through which these have been channelized. The Rafale fighter jet deal was pending for more than a decade before the Narendra Modi led NDA government decided to seal it with a stamp. The original deal was for 126 aircraft, 18 of which would be delivered in a "fly-away" condition, meaning completely manufactured, while the other 108 were supposed to be built along with India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited with some transfer of technology. In 2015, after putting this deal on hold, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited France and suddenly announced a new deal altogether. India would be buying 36 Rafale jets in a government-to-government arrangement that would see all arrive in fly-away condition, with no transfer of technology. Questions have been rightly raised on the reduction of number of jets being procured without the original pre-conditions without opening fresh tenders or open bidding. The deal has been concluded for a price of about Rs 59,000 crore, working out to Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft, when earlier the UPA had been discussing costs in the range of Rs 526 crore or so per aircraft, although that deal was never finalised. In 2016, the Defence Ministry officially told Parliament that the per-unit cost of the aircraft would amount to Rs 670 crore per aircraft. Subsequently the explanation for the much higher price of Rs 1,600 crores was that it included all the weapons package, spares, costs to maintain 75% fleet maintainability and logistics for five years.
In the face of criticism, in November 2017, the union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that she would prove that her government had arrived at a price that was better than the UPA one. However, instead of dishing out a proof of innocence, the finance minister and the defence minister sought to cover up with two different logics even as the government is being accused to favouring the Ambanis with this deal. While the Defence Ministry told Parliament that it could not answer questions about the specific cost of the aircraft because that would break the confidentiality agreement between India and France, the finance minister fell back on the usual anthem of harming 'national security' to avoid any questions. The manner in which the defence minister went back on her words and the two ministers speaking differently only amounts to a shoddy cover-up of something that appears shady. Divulging the price of the Rafale aircraft in such a scenario is certainly the national interest. The Rafale deal business and the lack of transparency arouses suspicions of wrong-doings. BJP which came to power by demonizing the Congress for its notorious Bofors deal appears to be a twin image. The defence procurement procedures have been violated while finalizing this deal. The government is answerable to the nation. Either the BJP government must come out with details or live with the same taint of corruption it has been using for decades to corner Congress.

 

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