Congress goes to CAG again over Rafale, demands forensic audit of deal
For the second time in a fortnight, a Congress delegation on Thursday met Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India Rajiv Mehrishi with what it termed new facts and reiterated its demand for a forensic audit of the ₹60,150 crore Rafale deal.
“We have brought to the CAG’s attention additional developments and revelations since the last time we met,” Congress leader Anand Sharma told reporters after the meeting.
“More details will come and each and every detail and document related to the Rafale deal must go through the CAG’s forensic audit before a report is submitted to Parliament,” he said.
Apart from Sharma, the delegation comprised senior leaders Ahmed Patel, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Jairam Ramesh, RPN Singh and Vivek Tankha.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
The deal has become controversial with the Opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is ₹1,670 crore for each, three times the ₹526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.
The NDA has not disclosed details of the price, but the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar has previously said, implying that it would have never been closed and that, therefore, any comparison is moot. Indeed, the UPA was not able to close the deal until 2014, largely over discussions related to pricing of items not included in the initial bid.
The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal, which requires a supplier of military equipment to source a certain portion of the contract value from India. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this. On September 22, the former French president Francois Hollande said it was the Indian government that had suggested Reliance’s name. The French government, New Delhi, and Dassault have all denied this.
The Congress has been relentlessly keeping up the heat on the NDA government over the Rafale deal.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the NDA, declined to comment on the Congress delegation’s meeting with the CAG.
The Congress delegation had earlier met the CAG on September 19, demanding a timebound audit of the deal through a threadbare examination of the records.
Five days later, a Congress delegation met Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) KV Chowdary on September 24 urging him to register a first information report (FIR) to probe the alleged corruption and seize all the documents related to the deal.
This time, Congress leaders presented another memorandum to the CAG along with fresh documents, alleging that paperwork and revelations made at the highest level in India and France have “exposed a deep rooted sinister conspiracy and a clear cut case of loss” to the public exchequer.
In the fresh memorandum, the Congress has cited assertions made by Hollande as well as former HAL chief TS Raju’s claims of the defence aircraft maker entering into a work-share agreement with Dassault.
“The Rafale scam has now emerged as India’s biggest defence scam. Skeletons are tumbling out of the closet everyday with repeated disclosures getting zero answers from the defence ministry. In fact, the only truth of this government is subterfuge,” the memorandum said.
“The stench of corruption and cronyism in the Rafale deal is nauseating, requiring urgent intervention,” it added.