The Supreme Court has dismissed off the petitions asking for an investigation into the controversial Rafale Deal saying that the deal did not give them any occasion for doubt. The alleged overpriced procurement of the jets under the deal has been constantly asserted by the Congress as a matter that needs to be investigated.
The New Leam Staff
With the Supreme Court’s judgement over the Rafale deal, Mr. Amit Shah, Mr. Arun Jaitley and Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman have begun to celebrate their ‘victory’. This is like giving a lesson to Mr. Rahul Gandhi; and in this age of changing political landscapes, the BJP would use this occasion to assert itself after the loss in the recent assembly elections.
However, a careful look at the intricacies of the Rafale Deal would suggest that there is no victory for any one. It is the further reinforcement of a culture of doubt, suspicion and anxiety regarding non transparent big deals and overall corruption in public life.
On Friday, the Supreme Court described how during the UPA regime a deal was made for the procurement of 126 Rafale jets out of which 18 were supposed to come in flyaway condition and the rest were to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics ltd under license. However, this deal got changed when the NDA came to power and in 2016 the deal was drastically transformed. This time, the NDA went for the procurement of 36 fully loaded jets and made Reliance Aerostructure Ltd its Indian offset partner.
It was in the year 2007 that a body named the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted the acceptance of the required procurement of the 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) and this included 18 aircraft in flyaway condition to be taken from the original manufacturer of equipment with the remaining 108 jets to be manufactured by HAL under license.
This required that the jets were to be delivered within a span of eleven years from the date on which the contract was signed. The number of vendors who had submitted their proposals in April 2008 was subject to technical and field based evaluations. The bids were opened commercially in November 2011, and it was now that the Dassault Aviation was declared the lowest bidder in January 2012. After these negotiations were carried out yet nothing seemed to work out. In the meanwhile the Centre reported a change of political dispensation.
The Centre had told the Supreme Court that the HAL would need 2.7 times more man-hours compared to the French side and the fact that Dassault undertaking contractual obligation of 108 aircraft that were to be manufactured by HAL remained unresolved for the last three years, It is said that this delay of three years had shed in the growth of the pricing of the aircraft because all depended on the euro-rupee exchange rate variations. This stalemate meant that the request for procurement withdrawal was initiated in the year 2015. In 2015, a joint statement by the Indo-France governments was issued and the statement said that the 36 Rafale jets in flyaway condition were approved by DAC.
The RFP for 126 Rafale jets came to be withdrawn in June 2015. Negotiations were undertaken and the approval of the Cabinet Committee on security. The contract for complete Rafale jets along with weapons package and technical agreements was signed in September 2016. The aircraft were scheduled to be delivered from October, 2019 onward.
The Supreme Court has now said that there is no reason for it to doubt the decision making process that went behind buying the Rafale jets. The Congress had repeatedly accused the Centre of corruption in the Rs 59,000 crore deal for 36 jets.
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The Congress was alleging that the government had gone for the overpriced deal to help Anil Ambani’s company get an offset contact with the Dassault. The controversy has been heightened by the fact that highest court had said that it found no evidence for commercial favouritism and didn’t want to investigate into the matter further. Collectively, the petitioners had raised questions about purchase of 36 Rafale jets and the last minute inflation in the prices. The petitioners included senior lawyers such as Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan.
From ugly politicization of a serious issue of governance confronting our nation the saner voices ought to move towards a deeper reflection on the questions relating to the much controversial Rafale Deal. The Supreme Court judgement should not be seen as the end of the story. The public debate has to be kept alive.