Rafale deal: Congress demands public debate, detailed inquiry

KOLKATA: Stepping up attack on the government over the Rafale fighter jet issue, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram today accused the Centre of ignoring the defence procurement procedure and "bypassing" several committees to secure the deal.

He also called for a detailed inquiry into the contract.

Chidambaram demanded that there should be a public debate on how the prices negotiated for each aircraft by the Congress-led UPA government "have gone up by three times" in the deal negotiated by the BJP-led NDA dispensation.

"We think the matter is serious enough that there should be a public debate and a detailed inquiry into it. That is why the Congress president (Rahul Gandhi) has raised it," he said.

The former finance minister alleged that the Cabinet Committee on Security was not taken into confidence by the government before signing the deal.

"There are several questions, which need to be answered. There is a defence procurement procedure that was completely bypassed. There was a Contract Negotiation Committee that never met for this deal. There is a Price Negotiation Committee which was never called to meet.

"Above all, there is a Cabinet Committee on Security, which has to approve any defence purchase of this size. None of these committees were involved, the ministers didn't know about it," he told reporters at the Congress office here.

The contract was announced in April 2015 by keeping everybody in the dark, Chidambaram alleged.

"The UPA contract priced the Rafale jets at Rs 526 crore per aircraft and the NDA contract priced them at Rs 1,670 crore per aircraft. If these numbers are correct, will someone explain why the prices jumped three times? The government says it is a secret agreement. But a Dassault Aviation report has already quoted the price," he said.

Chidambaram said the deal was made by stating that the aircraft were being brought in a fly-away condition on "emergency purpose" as the squadrons of the Indian Air Force are depleting, but "not a single aircraft" has arrived in India so far.

"If they wanted the aircraft on an emergency purchase basis, they would have ensured that the first aircraft lands in the country within a few months. So, this is certainly not an emergency purchase," he said.

During the UPA deal, he said, there was a clause that offset obligations of Dassault Aviation would be performed by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

But, under the new contract by the NDA government, Dassault was given the opportunity to choose its offset partner and it had picked a private company for this purpose, the senior Congress leader said.

"Under the UPA government deal, technology was to be transferred to HAL and it was to make 108 aircraft... But, under the NDA contract, there was no transfer of technology and HAL has been completely kept out of the agreement," Chidambaram alleged.

"Why didn't the government ask Dassault to choose HAL as its offset partner and why there is no transfer of technology? There are no answers to these questions," he said.

Chidambaram said the charge by the BJP that previous governments, too, did not disclose the price of defence acquisitions is completely baseless, as the UPA government had "time and again" disclosed the prices of such deals.

"We had revealed the prices of INS Vikaramaditya, the Sukhoi and Mirage aircraft on the floor of Parliament.

"All of these taken together leads to great suspicion. Why is the government so secretive about the price and why are they refusing to answer questions and coming up with lame excuses?" he asked.