The Congress on Thursday alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had enhanced and hiked the benchmark price for for the Rafale fighter jet deal from 5.2 billion Euros to 8.2 billion Euros and discarded objections by one of his own ministries on the sovereign guarantee issue.
It said the “entire spectrum of deception” on the deal “lies at the doorstep of the Prime Minister”, The Indian Express claimed in a report.
The CPI(M), too, hit out at the government demanding a Supreme Court-monitored SIT probe into the deal.
The Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala claimed that the negotiating team had “a serious dispute” on the benchmark price, which was referred to the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Manohar Parrikar refused to hike prices of Rafale
“Parrikar as also the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister and the chiefs of the three armed forces also didn’t agree and could not decide on the higher benchmark price of € 8.2 Billion. So DAC referred it to Cabinet Committee on Security (CSS) headed by the Prime Minister. PM Modi as the head of the CCS accepted the higher benchmark price without any negotiations or inquiry. Why did the Prime Minister set a higher benchmark price,” Sujrewala asked.
The Law Ministry had on December 9, 2015 “flagged the issue of “No Bank Guarantee/ Sovereign Guarantee” by the French Government and noted the concern that the contract involves huge payouts from the public exchequer without actual delivery in the form of advance payments.
The then Defence Minister Parikkar, Surjewala claimed, had in March 2016 refused to “opine of accepting the Letter of Comfort in lieu of bank-French government guarantee. The Air Acquisition Wing of the Defence Ministry, on the other hand, had put up a note in August of that year stating that “Bank Guarantees may be insisted from French side as required under our procedure and Indian side may bear the Bank Guarantee charges.”
Modi Waved Off Bank Guarantee
He said the Law Ministry reiterated its view and conveyed it again to the Defence Ministry on August 24, but the “very next day, PM Modi as head of the CCS accepted the ‘Letter of Comfort’ and waived off the condition of ‘Bank Guarantee/French Government Sovereign Guarantee’.”
“Why did PM Modi compromise national interests by waiving the Bank Guarantee/French Government’s Sovereign Guarantee’ in violation of Defence Procurement Procedure?” he asked. The Congress has alleged that all this was done only to favour one company Reliance Defence which is headed by Anil Ambani and levelled charges of crony capitalism on the BJP Central Govt.
On Wednesday, Attorney General K K Venugopal had told the Supreme Court no “sovereign guarantee” was given by the French government but it had issued a “letter of comfort” that was good enough to be “governmental guarantee”, according to a report in The Hindu.
Defence Minister Parrikar refused to accept Letter of Comfort
Sujrewala also claimed that Mr. Parrikar had refused to accept the “letter of comfort” in place of a sovereign/bank guarantee and cited an August 18, 2016 note in which the Air Acquisition wing of the Defence Ministry stated, “Bank Guarantees may be insisted from French side as required under our procedure and Indian side may bear the Bank Guarantee charges”.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the government’s own admission in the Supreme Court that there is no sovereign guarantee from the French government but only a letter of comfort which is not legally enforceable to ensure the delivery of this high-value contract was sensational.