New Delhi: Firing a fresh salvo on the Rafale issue, the Congress on Friday alleged that the NDA government has wronged the country by reducing the number of aircraft bought under the deal as it “denied” the IAF the fighter jets it “desperately” needed and gave a “windfall” to Dassault Aviation by paying more per aircraft. Addressing a press conference, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the government did not buy the 90 more aircraft needed by the Air Force and paid Rs 186 crore more to French firm Dassault, maker of Rafale, for 13 India-specific enhancements in the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).
The former finance minister reiterated his party’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale jet deal, saying the decision is not amenable to court but to a parliamentary panel. The Congress has alleged earlier that the prime minister increased the ‘Benchmark Price’ of Rafale deal from 5.2 billion Euros to 8.2 billion Euros and that the NDA government paid over Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft against UPA’s negotiated price of Rs 527 crore per aircraft, demanding answers as to who is responsible for the loss to the state exchequer.
Chidambaram’s press conference came in the backdrop of a media report claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to buy 36 aircraft instead of the 126 asked for by the Indian Air Force pushed the price of each jet up by 41.42 per cent. “The government has wronged the country in two ways – firstly, it has compromised national security by denying to the Air Force 90 fighter aircraft that they desperately need. “Secondly, it has purchased two squadrons that will cost about ?25 million more per aircraft. At the 2016 exchange rate, Euro 25 million is equal to Rs 186 crore. India will pay Rs 186 crore more per aircraft,” Chidambaram told reporters.
“There is no doubt any longer that Rafale aircraft deal deserves to be examined thoroughly by a joint parliamentary committee. The Congress reiterates its demand for constitution of a JPC,” he said. The Congress leader said he feels that Dassault “is laughing all the way to the bank”, as the NDA government gave a “gift” to the French firm over amortization or recovery on the cost of 13 India-specific enhancements sought in the aircraft that cost 1,300 million Euros. He said the cost of these enhancements have been recovered by Dassault in 36 aircraft and the same should have been recovered by it for 126 aircraft instead.
“That is a windfall for Dassault. That is the gift that the NDA government has given to Dassault and that is why I said that Dassault is laughing all the way to the bank….The windfall to Dassault was a deliberate decision of NDA government and is highly questionable,” he said. “The increased price per aircraft is a gift to Dassault that the NDA government gave between April 2015 to August 2016,” he also said. Chidambaram earlier said that in the light of new facts and revelations, “the question gains greater urgency: why did the government buy only 36 Rafale aircraft instead of 126 aircraft required by the Air Force?.
“The government has compromised national security by denying to the Air Force the 7 squadrons (126 aircraft) that it desperately needs,” he tweeted earlier. Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia also took to Twitter to demand answers from Modi on the increased cost of aircraft. “The PM’s unilateral decision to buy 36 Rafales resulted in a price escalation of 41.42% per jet. When will the prime minister answer?” he asked.
Chidambaram said serious issues are being raised in media reports about the process of decision-making in the NDA government and alleged that “the man who got away was Mr Manohar Parrikar who passed the buck to the Cabinet Committee on Security. Clever man.” “We will not comment on the process today. However, it is necessary to compliment the three officers of the Indian Negotiating Team who stood up to pressure and forced a vote of 4-3 on every issue,” he said, adding that he has never seen such a decision on a defence deal happening in any government so far in the country.