NEW DELHI: The Rafale deal clinched by the Modi government is better in terms of “pricing, delivery and maintenance” than the contract UPA was negotiating and which floundered due to the French company and HAL failing to agree on costs, the government is understood to have told Supreme Court.

Details of the decision-making process state that Rafale’s maker Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited could not resolve differences over man hours — and therefore costs — for production under licence of 108 of 126 fighters. The HAL estimate of man hours exceeded Dassault’s by 2.7 times and proved a deal-breaker that sent it into a limbo for three years till the 2014 elections.

The government has said that efforts to revive negotiations under the terms that were being discussed proved a non-starter and a decision was taken to recast the deal keeping in mind the depletion of India’s fighter fleet as adversaries added aircraft, missile systems and radars to their war-fighting capacities.

The decision to opt for an inter-government agreement was intended to address an emergency requirement of 36 fighters and also deepen the strategic commitment between India and France. The IGA route offered better protection from uncertainties like sanctions or other disruptions in supplies. It also meant a stronger engagement of the contracting nation in India’s defence needs.

In keeping with the SC’s earlier view that it does not need to examine pricing or technical suitability, the government did not offer a comparison of pricing but clearly stated that the terms were an improvement over those under negotiation when UPA was in office. Government spokespersons have pointed out that negotiations cannot be equated with a deal as the terms were not finalised.

The government has provided an account of the process that saw the Cabinet Committee on Security clearing the IGA contract on August 24, 2016 after fairly frenetic negotiations that saw the Indian negotiating committee hold close to 80 meetings, a good many of these with foreign counterparts. The essence of the brief was to ensure early delivery of fighters and the reduced numbers meant that there will be no production in India at all.

On the offsets policy, that has been subject of considerable controversy, the government has noted that it was framed by its predecessor and its specifics are not part of the IGA signed between India and France. The choice of offset partners is that of the French company and other firms it is sharing the production with and does not involve any role of the Indian government.