The Rafale Deal: The Past, Present And The Future
Girish Vaisyaraj | Jan 14, 2019
Having its origin in 2016, this controversy has dragged the current government’s transparency, decision-making, diplomatic relations and the cause of national security to deep scrutiny and mud-slinging. This controversy is unique in its own way since the proposition’s supremo has not once commented about it despite the consistent attack of the opposition. It also questions the favouritism that the government has allegedly shown.
With all kinds of anticipations and doubts rising in minds of the countrymen let us dig into the timeline of the controversy in detail starting from its past to it’s anticipated future.
The procurement of the 36 aircraft in question has its origins in the post-Kargil experience that saw a renewed attempt to advance the strategic needs of the armed forces of the country.
The then Congress-led government (UPA-I) had got an in-principle approval for procurement of 126 aircraft:18 ready to fly and 108 manufactured in India, to augment the strength of the Indian Air Force.
It all started like this: on 29th June 2007 the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted the “Acceptance of Necessity” for the procurement of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts (for short “MMRCA”) including 18 direct flyaway aircrafts (equivalent to a single squadron) to be procured from an Original Equipment Manufacturer (“OEM”) with the remaining aircrafts to be manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, under a license stating they were to be delivered over a period of 11 years.
There was a change of political dispensation at the Center sometime in the middle of the year 2014, after which process of withdrawal of the Request for Proposal in relation to 126 MMRCA was initiated in March 2015. The proposal was finally withdrawn in June 2015 citing certain unresolved technical conflicts and the inability of the HAL to meet demands such as "Manhours", which HAL required 2.7 times higher compared to the manufacture of the French Rafales in India. An Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the acquisition of 36 aircraft was then formed on 10th April 2015 by the Government. The aircrafts were scheduled to be delivered in phases commencing from October 2019.
In September 2018 when certain newspapers reported statements claimed to have been said by the Former French President, Francois Hollande, where he said that the French Government was left to no choice in the matter of selection of Indian Offset Partners and the Reliance Group of Companies was suggested by the Government of India. This triggered agitation among the Congress which is when the party Chief accused the Government of favouritism towards the private company, Dassault. Four writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court regarding the Procurement.
The Supreme Court Verdict
The court gave a clean chit to the decision-making process and noted that it would not like to intervene anymore in the case of the clause-by-clause compliances.
The Indian government refused to disclose the price details since it renewed the 2008 agreement with France regarding Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified or Protected information. This remains unconvincing as the French President Emmanuel Macron has publicly declared that they have no objection to the Indian Government sharing pricing details in the Parliament.
The CAG report stays ambiguous as the Court stated that
The pricing details (only the basic aircraft price) have, however, been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and has been tabled In the Parliament.
The court further found no substantial evidence to back the writs in order to intervene in the matter. However, Mr. Malikarjun Kharge, Chairman (PAC) claims that there was no PAC or CAG report tabled in the Parliament alleging the Government to have misled the Supreme Court.
Now the question remains about the whereabouts of the CAG report. How come the chairman of PAC himself doesn’t know about the Report?
The case on Indian Offset Partner
The Indian Offset partner is chosen by the Dassault and the Government says that it has no role in choosing the IOP. The court records that there was an agreement between the “parent company Reliance” and Dassault in 2012 for offset contracts. The irony is that Reliance Defence Ltd. was incorporated only on March 28, 2015, and its subsidiary company Reliance Aerostructure Ltd. was incorporated on April 24, 2015. There arises a question of how the company could show confidence in a private firm which was not even incorporated back then, especially when it is a matter of a deal involving huge revenue and national security?
Technically it was expected that Dassault should choose its IOP although the court nevertheless, questioned the government on how a foreign company could decide the Indian Partner when the government knows the scenario better than the company.
The flurry of questions that the Congress has set does not seem to slow down as recently Goa Minister Vishwajit Pratap Singh Rane is purportedly heard in a voice clip saying that the Chief Minister of Goa has "related files" in his bedroom [sic]. The CM responded by saying that the audio files are fabricated. Now the credibility of those audio files is still open to question.
The opposition now is seeking for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe which would further investigate into the matter as the Supreme court is not an investigative body. The government is already denying the probe and has no valid reason except saying that the supreme court has given it a clean chit. The question as to why the government is denying a JPC probe into the matters remains unanswered.
Blows to the Nation
The national security is clearly at stake with the IAF’s aviation force threatening to slump down to the lowest number of aircrafts, if this controversy still remains. The Make in India program is least benefited by this deal as only 36 aircraft are being procured instead of 126. If the Air Force’s plans to acquire 116 fighter jets under a Make in India program do not take off within a year, 2022 will see its aerial combat edge dropping to an all-time low.