Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday reiterated the party’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation into the Rafale jet deal. Chidambaram was reacting to a report in The Hindu that said the price of each jet shot up by 41.42%, compared to the deal signed by the UPA, after the Narendra Modi government accepted the cost of €1.3 billion for India-specific enhancements in the jets.
Chidambaram, in a press conference, said that the report in The Hindu had revealed why the Centre scrapped the UPA’s deal for 126 aircraft, and instead negotiated a new agreement for just 36 jets.
Chidambaram said that the Indian Air Force had asked for 13 India-Specific Enhancements to the aircraft, which would cost €1,300 million under both the NDA and UPA deals. Under the UPA’s deal, manufacturer Dassault Aviation would have recovered €1,300 million over a period of 10 years and six months, the former finance minister said. But under the new deal, he claimed, the company will recover this amount in 36 months.
The Congress leader added that the price per aircraft, due to India-Specific Enhancements, would have risen by €10.3 million if 126 aircraft had been delivered. But under the agreement for 36 aircraft, the price increased by €36.11 million per jet.
Chidambaram also alleged that given the net present value of money, the €1,300 million that Dassault will recover in 36 months from now will be much higher than if it recovered the same amount in 10 years and six months.
“It seems to me that Dassault is laughing all the way to the bank,” the former finance minister said. “The government has wronged the country in two ways: firstly, it has compromised national security by denying to the Air Force 90 fighter aircraft that they desperately need; secondly, it has purchased two squadrons that will cost about €25 million more per aircraft. At the 2016 exchange rate, €25 million is equal to Rs 186 crore. India will pay Rs 186 crore more per aircraft.”
The Congress leader said that The Hindu report also raises doubts about the process of decision making which led to the new deal. “It is necessary to compliment the three officers of the Indian negotiating team who stood up to pressure and forced a vote of 4-3 on every issue,” he added. Chidambaram wondered whether there had been a lack of unanimity in any defence purchases before this.
Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia had earlier in the day criticised Modi. “The PM’s unilateral decision to buy 36 Rafales resulted in a price escalation of 41.42% per jet,” he tweeted. “When will the prime minister answer?”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury claimed that the government compromised India’s national security. “No doubt that the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets with France was done in a great hurry by Modi for the benefit of his crony businessman [Anil Ambani], at the cost of India’s national security and at a heavy cost to the Indian exchequer,” he tweeted. “It is crystal clear now, and no amount of spin will help.”
The Congress has claimed that the Narendra Modi-led government sought to benefit Ambani by enabling his firm Reliance Defence to get the offset contract for the deal. It also challenged the government to disclose the price of each aircraft.
However, last month, the Supreme Court rejected petitions seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the deal. The Comptroller and Auditor General on Tuesday refused to disclose details of its audit into the agreement, citing parliamentary privilege.