Sitharaman Rejects Report of MoD Officer’s Objections on Rafale
The officer had also put his objections on record before the deal for 36 Rafale aircrafts was signed between then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart in New Delhi.
The officer had also put his objections on record before the deal for 36 Rafale aircrafts was signed between then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart in New Delhi.(Photo altered by The Quint)

Sitharaman Rejects Report of MoD Officer’s Objections on Rafale

Refuting news reports that a senior officer of the Ministry of Defence had allegedly objected to the Rafale negotiations before the deal was signed, Nirmala Sitharaman, the Minister of Defence, said that the officer who objected was a signatory to the final note on the agreement which was sent to the Cabinet.

Speaking to India Today, she said, “There may be disagreements among those negotiating the deal at the time of discussions and those disagreements may even be noted on an official piece of paper. But in the end, the collective decision had the officer's signature on it.”

The officer had been part of the Contract Negotiations Committee (CNC) for the Rafale aircraft deal, raising questions about its benchmark price a month before the deal was signed, The Indian Express (IE) reported on Thursday, 27 September.

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The officer, according to IE, had also put his objections on record before the the deal for 36 Rafale aircrafts was signed between the then-defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart in New Delhi.

The officer was reportedly the then-joint secretary & acquisition manager (Air) (JS & AM) in the MoD, responsible for initiating the note for the Cabinet’s approval.

His objections to the deal had delayed the Cabinet note approving the deal. But the deal was reportedly signed after his objections were “overruled” by another senior MoD official, Director General (Acquisition), Indian Express reported.

The note is now a part of the Rafale deal file which is currently with the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) who is studying the deal, the report of which is going to be submitted by the winter session of Parliament in December, sources told The Indian Express.

How Were the Tenders Chosen?

According to IE, the proposal for 126 Rafale jets was part of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender issued in 2007.

The Indian Air Force had conducted trials of fighter aircraft of six firms under the tender. Negotiations then began with Dassault after its bid, along with Eurofighter’s, the second aircraft which had qualified in the IAF trials.

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What Objections Were Raised in the Note?

According to IE, the note had pointed out that the makers of Eurofighter — the second qualifier among the tenders — had offered a 20 percent discount on its bid price to the Indian government in July 2014.

The note argued that a similar 20 percent cut should be applied for rates in the case of 36 Rafale aircraft.

The note, according to IE, also observed that the fleet of the IAF consisted of the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 MKI, manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India, and the IAF could get more Sukhoi aircraft from HAL for the same amount.

The note, according to IE sources, was considered by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Parrikar in August 2016. That DAC meeting had been scheduled to approve the 36 Rafale deal and initiate the process of preparing a note for the approval of the Cabinet, but was postponed after the objections.

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Why and How Were the Objections Overruled?

The objections in the note were overruled by the DG (Acquisition) who said that the benchmark price had to be compared with the price offered for 18 Rafale aircraft, as part of the MMRCA proposal, IE reported.

The IAF, too, reportedly justified the need for Rafale aircraft, as compared to more Sukhois.

The JS & AM (Air) then went on a month’s leave, after which the note was initiated by another official holding charge of JS & AM (Air) and was, subsequently, approved by the Cabinet in the third week of September 2016.

The Rs 59,262 deal was finally signed between India and France on 23 September 2016.

Also Read : Rafale Deal: The ‘Fall’ of the Modi Government

(With inputs from The Indian Express)

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