Rafale deal: Why indemnify the French?

New Delhi: Harping on yet another expose by The Hindu, the Congress on Monday asked why the Modi government had dropped the anti-corruption clauses in the Rafale aircraft deal.

The party has asserted that by dropping these anti-corruption clauses the government had essentially indemnified the French, especially the supplier Dassault, so that tomorrow if any evidence of any alleged corruption is found, there would be no clauses in the agreement which can lead to its cancellation. ‘‘Why would any Government do it,’’ Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari asked and went on to point out that it would only be done if they are scared, nervous, petrified that eventually the smoking gun will lead to their undoing.

“Never ever in any past transaction going back over three decades has the Government of India ever dropped such mandatory clauses from a procurement contract and it does not end there,” he said. “A sovereign guarantee and escrow account were also thrown by the wayside, as per The Hindu report. It was replaced by a Comfort Letter. Now which Government would not want to secure the advances that it has paid?

Why would it settle for a Comfort Letter when sovereign bank guarantees or the escrow account is the standard operating procedure adopted by the Government of India in every other transaction?  Tiwari wanted to know whether these clauses were dropped because there has been corruption in the deal and that too by a senior functionary who has to be protected, come what may.

In support of his contention, he cited the sequence of events. On the 24th of August, 2016, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by the Prime Minister approves the inter-governmental agreement. In September 2016, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) overrides it – something unprecedented in itself and amends eight vital clauses of the Rafale deal.

Tiwari said among those clauses dropped were the mandatory anti-corruption articles that were an integral part of the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013, under which this particular agreement was signed. All these developments culminated in the signing of the contract between India and France on 23rd of September, 2016.

‘‘The moot question is what happened between the 24th of August, 2016, and 23rd of September, 2016. What transpired in those 30 days? Who paid whom in those 30 days that it led to the dropping of the anti-corruption clauses from the Rafale agreement? All this means that the end beneficiaries of the corruption have got fully indemnified because even the Government of India will have no legal locus to cancel the contract.

This is the implication of removing the anti-corruption clauses from the Rafale fighter contract, it cannot be scrapped, not even if the Congress comes to power,” Tiwari asserted. He said the matter requires a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation. That is the only way to arrive at the truth.

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