Big Blow For Modi-led BJP Govt, As Supreme Court Says Submit Details of Rafale Pricing, Ambani Selection Procedure

New Delhi: The highest court in the country, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Narendra Modi-led BJP government when it asked the latter to submit complete details of the Rafale Jet fighter deal, including pricing, procedure for selection of Anil Ambani’s firm Reliance Defence and the reasons why other Indian companies, particularly the PSU HAL were not given the same kind of ‘special treatment’ that was accorded to Anil Ambani.

According to an NDTV report, hearing petitions questioning the Rafale jet deal, the Supreme Court today asked the government to submit details of pricing and the selection of Anil Ambani’s defence firm as India offset partner.

The government refused to do so claiming that the information is classified, after which the court asked for a written submission in the form of an affidavit, within 10 days that these details cannot be shared.The SC will pass further orders based on the affidavit submitted by the government and can even compel the government to make it’s paper-work public – at least in a sealed cover before the court.

In the last hearing, the court had asked for details of the decision-making process that led to the deal but had emphasized that it would not get into “pricing or suitability” of the jets.

But today, the court said, “We would like the details of pricing and cost to be submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. This may be submitted in the next 10 days.”

The government argued that pricing was not revealed in Parliament and the earlier government had also not disclosed details of a previous deal. Say it in an affidavit, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi told the government’s lawyer.

The court is hearing petitions, including those filed by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan questioning the jet deal between India and France and the choice of Anil Ambani’s inexperienced Reliance Defence as India partner for Rafale maker Dassault.

Mr Shourie called the court’s order a “very, very substantial step forward” in the controversy. “Confidentiality does not relate to price, only technical specifications. It will be subject to challenge. It will be difficult to say pricing is confidential,” Mr Shourie told NDTV.

Beginning the hearing, the judges noted that the “suitability of the jet and its utility” has not been questioned. “What had been questioned is the bonafide of the decision-making and price,” they said.

Petitions before the court call for an investigation into the Rs. 59,000 crore deal for 36 fighters from Dassault, announced in 2016 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talks in Paris with then French president Francois Hollande.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has led the opposition charge against the Rafale deal, repeatedly accusing the government of negotiating a not-so-favourable contract just to benefit Anil Ambani. Both the government and the industrialist have denied the charge.

The political row escalated sharply after Francois Hollande said in an interview last month that France had no role in the selection of Anil Ambani’s company as India partner.

The previous Congress-led UPA government had negotiated with Dassault for 126 Rafale jets under which 18 jets were to be supplied in a fly-away condition and 108 were to be manufactured in India along with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). However, the UPA could not seal the deal.

In the deal negotiated by the new government, Anil Ambani’s firm became Dassault’s offset partner with no experience in the field. As part of the offset clause, Dassault has to ensure that business worth at least half the money – Rs. 30,000 – is generated in India.

The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa says can be a “game-changer” and booster for India’s defence.

Source: NDTV

Even Before Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie Could Begin Their PC, Media Houses and Editors Discreetly ‘Told’ to Prominently Incorporate Govt’s Views on Rafale Scam

Even before former cabinet ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, along with Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan could begin their Press Conference (PC) at the Delhi Press Club on Wednesday, regarding the Rafale Jet Fighter deal, senior I&B and PMO officials were furiously working their phones.

IndiaScoops.com has learnt that government officials and BJP spokespersons including a PR agency phoned several ‘friendly’ editors of newspapers and news TV channels requesting them to either boycott the PC or relegate it’s coverage to the inner pages and non-peak time TV telecast.

The Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group PR team was also on its toes, trying to find out which correspondents were attending the event.

IndiaScoops.com  spoke to five senior editors – three from national dailies and two from mainline news channels who admitted off the record that they got ‘how are you’ calls from the I&B Ministry and the PMO inquiring if they were covering the PC called by the trio.

Other editors from pro-BJP outlets refused to speak to IndiaScoops.com, or simply banged down the phone when queried on the subject, but their impulsive curtness was an indication of their indignation.

Two editors told IndiaScoops.com that they were asked as to which reporter or correspondent was covering the event, while others were indirectly advised and reminded to prominently feature the government view in their reportage of the PC.

According to a report in the Indian Express at a press meet, Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan said public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which was part of the original negotiations, was pushed out and a newly-minted company, Reliance Defence Ltd, which had zero experience in defence manufacturing bagged an offset contract. They said such an agreement between Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation, which makes Rafale jets, should have come after governmental approval.

Sinha said Bofors “pales into insignificance” when compared to this “scam”. They said statements of then foreign secretary S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar suggest that none of them were aware of the new deal to buy 36 jets, against 126 aircraft as per a Request for Proposal issued in 2007, for which Dassault had been selected as it was the lowest bidder, reports the Indian Express.

“Nobody in the Air Force or the defence ministry was aware” of the reduction, Bhushan told media persons at the PC.

They also said there were no additional add-ons as per Indian specifications, as claimed by the government, compared to the original RFP. They quoted the joint statement by India and France on April 10, 2015, which mentioned that the 36 jets to be delivered by Dassault “and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by the Indian Air Force”.

Calling it an “enormous scandal which jeopardizes national security”, Shourie asked the government to make details of the deal public, reports Indian Express.

Regarding Dassault’s deal with Reliance Defence, he asked if it could have happened “without a nudge and a wink” from the government. He highlighted that offset guidelines of the government issued on April 1, 2016, mention that “all offset proposals will be processed by the Acquisition Manager and approved by Raksha Mantri, regardless of their value”.

A joint statement issued by the Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie said, “Could an experienced manufacturer like Dassault have picked a company that had no experience whatsoever of manufacturing aircraft…without the approval from the government and particularly the PM?”

The statement said a “private party which has had absolutely no experience in manufacturing aerospace and defence equipment has been handed an enormous financial benefit.” They demanded an independent audit by Comptroller and Auditor General.

The government machiney spun into action immediately after the PC was over. A statement was ready and emailed to most media persons. Correspondents from wire services were also sent the government’s version to counter the allegations made by the trio.

A few hours after the press meet, Arun Jaitley wrote in a blog post, “There is not a grain of truth in the wild allegations repeated today nor anything substantiating in the purported facts and voluminous documents marshaled to corroborate the baseless accusations,” he claimed

Jaitley added that the allegations constitute nothing but “reprocessed lies by forces increasingly desperate to prove their relevance”. He said the government had already responded effectively to every distortion and misinformation on the issue.” reported the Indian Express.

with inputs from Indian Express and Agencies

Bofors scam ‘insignificant’ before Rafale, which is the mother of all scams, say Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan

New Delhi: (PTI) The Rafale deal is a case of “monumental criminal misconduct” by the NDA government and the scam involving it is much bigger than the Bofors scandal, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie alleged on Wednesday, demanding a time-bound probe into the contract by national auditor CAG, reports news agency PTI.

The duo were accompanied by senior counsel and activist Prashant Bhushan and held a press conference at the Delhi Press Club on Wednesday.

In a tweet, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected the charges as “baseless”, asserting that the government had already responded to the allegations on the floor of Parliament.

She said a recent attempt in Parliament to malign the government through baseless charges had collapsed.

Sinha and Shourie, addressing a press conference along with lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, raised a number of questions over the Rs 58,000 crore deal for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

Both Shourie and Sinha have served in the previous BJP-led government at the Centre.

The trio, known as strong critics of the NDA government, also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of single-handedly changing the parameters of the deal and that there was gross violation of mandatory procedures in finalising the contract.

The entire deal was a “textbook case of criminal misconduct, of misuse of public office and of enriching parties at the expense of the national interest and national security”, they alleged, adding there was an “effort” by the government to “conceal” facts.

The Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the Rafale deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government for the procurement of 126 Rafale jets.

The deal negotiated by the UPA could not be inked.

The trio also rejected government’s contention that the prices of the aircraft have gone up due to India-specific add-ons and weapons systems, citing a joint statement by India and France during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris in 2015.

They said the joint statement mentioned that the aircraft and the associated systems and weapons would be delivered to India on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by Indian Air Force for the deal negotiated for procurement of 126 jets under the UPA government.

Shourie alleged that there had been “gross misuse of office” by which the original project for the acquisition of 126 fighter aircraft had been “sabotaged”. “I can tell you, as a person who handled the matter with regards to Bofors, that Bofors was absolutely nothing compared to this (Rafale scam). There was never a sudden change (in the deal) like this in which you suddenly give up the entire project,” the former minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government said.

The Congress has also been pressing for price details of the deal but the NDA government has refused to divulge them citing confidentiality provisions of a 2008 Indo-France pact. The government has asserted that there were no irregularities in the deal.

“I would suggest, on our behalf, that the audit which Comptroller and Auditor General was supposed to take up, that should be a forensic audit and it should be completed within three months,” said Sinha, adding “It is a huge scam. Bofors pales into insignificance before this scam.”

The Bofors scandal involving procurement of howitzer guns in late 1980s had rocked the then Rajiv Gandhi government. Terming the Rafale deal as the “biggest defence scam” that this country has seen so far, Bhushan alleged that it involved a loss of at least 35,000 crore to the public exchequer.

The trio said the ever-shifting statements of the ministers of defence, invoking of secrecy clauses in the contract and the inexplicable dropping of the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), from the project were among the factors which convinced them of the deal being “a major scandal”.

“We are convinced that this is an enormous scandal that jeopardises national security and hence we feel the government must reveal the facts, especially the facts in relation to what the whole deal is going to cost the public exchequer,” Shourie said.

“We hope that the opposition parties will relentlessly pursue this matter, the way the BJP had pursued Bofors at that time. With the same tenacity, the opposition parties must pursue the matter,” he said.

The three leaders also accused the government of benefitting Reliance Defence, saying that the company which was under Rs 8,000 crore in debt and had no experience in making aircraft was involved under mandatory offset obligations of the French firm. Strongly rejecting the charges, CEO of Reliance Defence and Aerospace Rajesh K Dhingra said no contract has been given to any Reliance Group company by the Ministry of Defence related to the purchase of the 36 Rafale aircraft. “As all 36 aircraft are to be delivered ‘fly-away’, to be manufactured in France by Dassault and exported to India, how is the question of experience in manufacturing aircraft relevant here?,” he asked.

Under India’s offset policy, foreign defence entities are mandated to spend at least 30 per cent of the total contract value in India through procurement of components or setting up of research and development facilities.

Source: PTI