The Rafale deal has sparked a major political slugfest in the country. (Representational)
The government followed all laid down procedures in sealing the Rafale deal, official sources said Thursday, dismissing a media report that a senior bureaucrat in the defence ministry had raised questions about the aircraft’s benchmark price.
Claiming that the report suffers from several “factual errors”, the sources said the deal was finalised following a collegiate process of decision making that allows for opinions to be freely expressed, recorded and discussed.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also rejected the report, saying the official was a signatory to the final note on the agreement which was presented to the Union Cabinet for approval in August 2016.
“The note that was presented to the Cabinet had the signature of the official. At the time of discussions, there may be divergent views which are recorded. But at the end, decision is taken collectively,” Ms Sitharaman told India Today news channel.
The media report said the then Joint Secretary and Acquisition Manager (Air) in the defence ministry raised objections about price of the jets and put his objections on record which caused delays in preparation of the Cabinet note on the deal.
According to the report, the official was part of the Contract Negotiations Committee (CNC) for the deal, and signing of the Cabinet happened only after his objections were “overruled” by another senior official in the ministry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after talks with the then French President Francois Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris. The final deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal.
“The government has seen today a report in the media about the procurement of Rafale fighter aircraft, which once again seeks to create confusion through distorted and selective presentation of facts,” said an official source.
The sources said all provisions laid down in the defence procurement procedure and other relevant guidelines were fully followed in the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft.
They said the the Defence Acquisition Council had accepted the necessity for the acquisition of aircraft and mandated the Contract Negotiating Committee to go ahead.
Following the stipulated process, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) accorded its approval to the acquisition on August 24, 2016, and not in September 2016 – as erroneously claimed in the media report, the sources said.
They said the officer proceeded in September 2016 for a one-week training programme – and not on leave as “mischievously” alleged in the report.