In complete contradiction to what an official press statement from the French aviation giant Dassault Aviation, manufacturers of the Rafale fighter aircraft say, two top technical heads at Dassault Aviation (DA) have claimed in an exclusive interview with IndiaScoops.com, that the entire technical staff team at Dassault Aviation were unhappy with the move to drop the Indian PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and go ahead with Reliance Defence Ltd.
Speaking to IndiaScoops.com on phone, the two internal experts pointed out that there was a discussion between officials at DA and several emails were exchanged over a period of 7-8 days. The entire technical team wanted to work with HAL, but the decision was overruled by the top DA management headed by CEO Eric Trappier at the last minute.
Also Read: GOI told us take Reliance or No Deal: Former top Hollande aide stands by ex-President’s statements on Rafale
“We were sure we would be working with HAL and not any other Indian company. At least a 100 emails went to and fro from different departments at DA on the issue. At the last minute, we were informed that HAL was dropped and a new Indian company with whom we had never worked before and which had no expertise in manufacturing fighter aircraft was selected for the job. The entire technical team and our team heads and HODs were shocked. It was a bolt from the blue. But we had to follow instructions. At the end of the day, it’s profitability for the company that matters and if the top management decided to work with Reliance Defence, we had to toe the line. We all knew that the new company had no expertise, no experience. Internally, this issue was discussed among the technical HODs on email and several emails went to and fro. But it was CEO Eric Trappier and a couple of other officials’ at DA who took the decision to go with Reliance Defence,” the officials told IndiaScoops.com.
The decision to drop HAL and go with Reliance Defence Ltd was that of CEO Eric Trappier and two others who mysteriously refused to listen to any advice of the departmental HODs and selected Reliance on the grounds that the deal would be scrapped, they told IndiaScoops.com in an exclusive interview.
“We were told the Indian government would have scrapped the deal if Reliance was not taken on board. (Read Here) Scrapping the deal would mean losses for the company and hence the top management headed by CEO Eric Trappier took the decision to work with Reliance, even though the in-house technical HODs had vetoed working with a new company having no experience and expertise – this was the official explanation given to the team. The technical HODs told the Dassault Aviation top management that handing over the contract to a new company would compromise and jeopardize the technology and equipment as well as be hazardous for the over-all image of DA as a world-class manufacturer of fighter aircraft. This has been put in writing on several emails, but the final decision by CEO Eric Trappier and two others was in favor of Reliance Defence,” they told IndiaScoops.com.
IndiaScoops.com has with held the names of the officials concerned to protect their identity as “confidential sources” primarily as they are not authorized by DA to speak to the media, given the fact they head vital technical teams at DA and revealing their identity would violate their employment contracts and also prevent us from accessing further information.
Dassault, one of the world’s most established and experienced defence manufacturers, picked Anil Ambani’s debt-ridden firm as a partner in India, “because it was registered with the MCA (Ministry of Corporate Affairs) and had land in Nagpur which provided access to the runway,” said top sources at the French firm, in a damage control move, speaking to NDTV on the condition of anonymity.
As justification, those reasons are unlikely to tamp down the opposition’s allegations that Anil Ambani benefited from brazen crony capitalism in a massive $8.6 billion deal for India’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, a deal that was negotiated personally and then announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 during a visit to Paris, reports NDTV.
According to an Economic Times (ET) report, the French government has said it was in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners for the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal as former French president Francois Hollande’s reported comments that New Delhi proposed Reliance Defence as the Indian partner for the contract escalated the political row over it.
While the French government said French companies have the full freedom to select Indian firms for the deal, Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, said it had made the decision to partner with Reliance Defence Ltd, reported ET.
Both the French government and French aerospace company Dassault issued separate and varying statements following a French media report which quoted Hollande as saying that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence as the partner for French aerospace giant in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal and France did not have a choice.
The sensational comments quoted to Hollande by French publication ‘Mediapart’ gave a new twist to the controversy as the Indian government has been maintaining it was not officially aware of whom the Dassault Aviation has selected as its Indian partner to fulfill offset obligations of the deal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after holding talks with then French President Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris.
“The French government is in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners who have been, are being, or will be selected by French companies,” the French government said in its statement as quoted by ET.
NDTV reported that Hollande’s office said he stood by his earlier remarks and statements made to Mediapart.
Hollande’s comments drew sharp reactions from the opposition parties in India, which have been accusing the government of massive irregularities in the deal and benefiting Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL) despite not having any experience in the aerospace sector.
According to a report in The Hindu, the former French President Francois Hollande claimed that the Indian government suggested industrialist Anil Ambani’s company as the offset partner for the €7.87 billion deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets. Hollande was the French President at the time the deal was signed in 2015.
He told a French news outlet, Mediapart.fr, on Friday that his government didn’t have “a choice” in the selection of Reliance Defence, the company owned by Anil Ambani.
“It is the Indian government which has proposed this service group and it is Dassault that has negotiated with Ambani. We didn’t have a choice, we took the interlocutor that was given to us,” he was quoted as saying.
His comments fly in the face of repeated assertions made at the highest level of the Indian government that it was Dassault Aviation (DA) that selected Reliance Defence as its offset partner. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said “no offset contract has been signed so far” and an agreement between two companies did not require the permission of the government.
“As per the applicable guidelines, DA is free to select the Indian offset Partners and provide their details at the time of seeking offset credits, or one-year prior to the discharge of offset obligation,” the government had stated.
Responding to Hollande’s comments, the Defence Ministry tweeted that the statement was being “verified.” “It is reiterated that neither [the] Government of India nor [the] French Government had any say in the commercial decision,” the Ministry said in a tweet.
In September 2016, India and France signed a €7.87 bn agreement for 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition. The deal includes aircraft, spares, weapons, maintenance and performance guarantee for five years. The deal has a 50% offset clause to be executed by DA and its partners. Under this, DA and Reliance Defence have set up a joint venture to manufacture aerospace components.
In a recent interview Ms. Sitharaman denied any government role in the choice of offset partner in the Rafale deal.
She had said, “Isn’t that a decision of a commercial enterprise to take on its own? I have nothing to do with it. I have not prompted them, not led them, not told them, not instructed them. I have not done any match-making whatsoever.”
The Reliance Group had stated that it got the offset contract from DA and did not receive any contract from the Defence Ministry till date.
with inputs from The Hindu and The Economic Times