The Scorpene data leak scandal has left India in a Catch-22 situation.
The government has not indicated its next move — whether it will invoke the confidentiality clause in the Rs 23,562-crore project, revisit the ongoing programme or ask French shipbuilder DCNS to reconfigure the submarine after evaluating the risks from leaked data.
The DCNS can be punished if found guilty of lapses. The non-disclosure clause clearly states that no provision, specification, plan, design, pattern or information related to the contract can be disclosed.
“India can claim huge damages if it is established that the leak happened at the French firm’s end,” said admiral Arun Prakash, who was the navy chief when the deal was signed in 2005.
However, legal experts caution against invoking the confidentiality clause in a rush.
“Contractual remedies are available but the government can’t act on impulse. A cost-benefit analysis has to be done. I think it will be best to engage with the French firm to see how the problem can be fixed,” said Gopal Subramaniam, a former solicitor general.
In any case, penalties would hardly serve any purpose if the leaked documents have given away sensitive data.
Navy officials and experts said there was no question of reconsidering the project as it was in an advanced stage and any delay would seriously upset the navy’s plan to scale up its underwater warfare capabilities.
“That’s out of question…it will put us behind by several years. And you can’t buy submarines of the shelf,” said a senior naval officer.
The extent of damage caused is yet to be ascertained though the navy dismissed any threats from the leak after carrying out its initial analysis.
The French firm has dubbed the leak as a “serious matter” and launched a probe to assess “potential damages” to its customers and fix responsibility for it. Experts are divided over how damaging the leak of sensitive data could prove to be and whether it could have compromised the platform.
Reconfiguring the submarine to neutralise any possible threat would increase costs and delay. Sources in the shipbuilding industry said changing the characteristics of the platform is not easy.
Strategic affairs expert Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd) said, “India should review to what degree the characteristics of the boat can be revisited. These are unchartered waters for both the navy and the DCNS.”