New Delhi: The government today called “unfounded” allegations made by the Opposition about the Rs 58,000-crore deal for 36 Rafale jets, asserting that the demand to disclose details such as its value was “unrealistic” as doing so might compromise India’s national security.
In a statement, the defence ministry said the earlier UPA government had also expressed its inability to disclose the price of various defence procurements, including in its responses to Parliament questions, in keeping with confidentiality requirements.
Giving an item-wise cost and other information would reveal details about weapons systems and customisation of the jet, it said, adding that the government was bound by the confidentiality provisions of a 2008 Indo-France pact in not sharing details of the deal.
The government said, “doubts” were sought to be created about the contract and insisted that the deal secured by the government was better in terms of capability, price, equipment, and delivery than the one “notionally” negotiated by the UPA regime in a process which it could not conclude even in 10 years.
“Unfounded allegations are being made regarding the 2016 Inter-Governmental Agreement to procure 36 Rafale aircraft in fly-away condition from France. This would normally not have merited a response but for the serious damage being caused by the misleading statements, sought to be repeatedly perpetrated on a serious matter of national security,” said the ministry.
The government’s response came a day after the Congress launched a concerted attack on it over the “top secret” deal, alleging a “scam” and accusing the government of compromising” on national interest and security.
The Congress’s criticism came after the government refused to share the cost and other details of the deal in Parliament on Monday while replying to questions on it.
At a press conference on 17 November last year, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, when asked repeatedly about the comparative cost of each aircraft negotiated by the then UPA government for the original deal for 126 aircraft and the rate at which the NDA had sealed the Rafale contract, had said the details would be provided soon.
However, the government did not reveal the details.
Apparently referring to a reply to a question on the cost of Rafale in the Lok Sabha in November 2016, the ministry said the approximate acquisition cost of the Rafale aircraft had already been provided to Parliament.
“Provision of exact item-wise cost and other information will reveal, inter alia, details regarding the various customisations and weapons systems specially designed to augment the effectiveness and lethality of the assets, impact our military preparedness and compromise our national security,” it said.
The Congress had claimed that according to information, the per aircraft price during the NDA came to Rs 1,570.8 crore as against the Rs 526.1 crore negotiated during the UPA. It also asked, “while the aircraft was sold for Rs 694.8 crore to Qatar by the same company, why was it sold for 100% more prices to India?”
The ministry said in 2012, the then Defence Minister exercised an unprecedented personal veto on the laid down institutional process then underway for the procurement of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
“In another effort to twist facts, the Government is asked why it did not conduct negotiations with a particular company representing a competing fighter aircraft.
“It seems to have been conveniently forgotten that the then Government itself had rejected that company’s unsolicited offer made days after the closure of the bid process, declared Rafale (DA) as the L1 bidder and had commenced negotiations with it in February 2012,” said the ministry.
It said in keeping with confidentiality requirements, the UPA Government had also expressed its inability to disclose the price of various defence procurements, including in its responses to Parliament questions.
The ministry said by not revealing the item-wise details of the contract, the government was merely following in letter and spirit the confidentiality provisions of a bilateral India-France Agreement of 2008 signed by the previous government.
It said under negotiations carried out by the UPA government for the original MMRCA deal, there was no provision for transfer of technology and it was only for manufacture under licence.
The Inter-Governmental Agreement was inked, the ministry said, to meet the urgent need of the IAF and is strictly in accordance with all laid down procedures including approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security.
The government said no Indian offset partner for the Rafale deal has been selected by the vendor and that under the guidelines, the vendor is free to select the Indian partners.