The government had considered all objections raised before India signed the Rafale jet deal with France in September 2016, unidentified officials told The Indian Express. The newspaper’s report on Friday came a day after it reported that a senior officer in the Ministry of Defence, who was part of the Contract Negotiations Committee, had raised questions about the deal’s benchmark price and put his objections on record almost a month before it was signed.
“While ensuring utmost integrity and transparency, the process allows for opinions to be freely expressed, recorded, discussed and, if necessary, modified,” unidentified officials told The Indian Express. “The government has categorically stated earlier as well that all provisions laid down in the Defence Procurement Procedure and other relevant guidelines were fully followed in the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. The apex decision-making body for defence acquisitions, the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by the Defence Minister, accepted the necessity for the acquisition of Rafale aircraft and mandated the Contract Negotiating Committee.”
The officer was then the joint secretary and acquisition manager (air) in the defence ministry and the one meant to initiate the note for the Cabinet’s approval. The deal was finally signed after another senior ministry official – the director general (acquisition) – overruled the officer’s objections.
The Cabinet Committee on Security approved the acquisition on August 24, 2016, after following the stipulated process. “The officer had signed the note considered and approved by the CCS on 24 August 2016, thereafter, he proceeded in September 2016 for a one-week training programme,” said unidentified officials.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also rejected the report. “The note that was presented to the Cabinet had the signature of the official, she told India Today. “At the time of discussions, there may be divergent views which are recorded. But at the end, decision is taken collectively.”
Under the deal, New Delhi agreed to buy 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore. The note by the joint secretary and acquisition manager is currently with the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which is examining the deal.
The Rafale deal has been at the centre of a heated debate, with Opposition parties urging the Central Vigilance Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to investigate alleged irregularities in the deal.
On September 21, French media outlet Mediapart quoted former President Francois Hollande as saying that the Indian government proposed the name of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence for an offset contract with Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the fighter jets. India’s Ministry of Defence, the French government and Dassault Aviation have contradicted his claim.