The government admitted to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) “monitoring” the progress of the Rafale jets purchase deal but said this did not translate to conducting “parallel negotiations” with the French side.
“The monitoring of the progress by PMO of this Government to Government process cannot be construed as interference or parallel negotiations,” a 13-page reply filed by the government in the Supreme Court on Saturday explained.
The government said everything was transparent as the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar himself had noted that “it appears that PMO and French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issues which was an outcome of the summit meeting”.
A series of reports by The Hindu had revealed that the PMO was conducting “parallel negotiations” with the French for the off-the-shelf purchase of 36 Rafale jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation even as the Indian Negotiation Team was in the process of detailed talks with their French counterparts.
The government affidavit filed by the Ministry of Defence said the petitioners, who include former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, are “attempting to bring out internal processing of this Government-to-Government procurement and trying to present a selective and incomplete picture of the same”.
“The decisions by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the highest decision making body in the Government on defence matters and also by Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the highest decision making body in Ministry of Defence have been made keeping in view all the facts of the case and the critical operational necessity of Indian Air Force,” the government said
The Defence Ministry countered that the “actions of the petitioners tantamount to questioning the sovereign decision concerning national security and defence”.
The government said the petitioners are trying to link unrelated issues and create controversies on the basis of certain media reports. The government said there is no relation whatsoever between the French government giving concessions to a subsidiary of an Anil Ambani company and the Rafale deal.
“The issue reported in the media relates to the decision of a sovereign Government giving certain concessions to the subsidiary of an Indian private entity in a sector unrelated to Defence. It is far-fetched and a figment of imagination to link the decision of the French Government in this case to the procurement of 36 Rafale Aircraft,” the government said.
The Centre reiterated that the Government of India has no role in selection of Indian offset partner, which is a commercial decision of OEM.
The government quoted from the Supreme Court judgment of December 14 in the Rafale case, in which the court had found no “substantial material on record to show that this a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Indian Government, as the option to choose the IOP does not rest with the Indian Government”.
“Therefore, the contention of the petitioners that the issue of IOP are matters of fact and requires investigation is nothing but an attempt to get a fishing or roving enquiry ordered without even pleading a prima facie case,” the government claimed.
All files, notings, letters, etc., related to the procurement, including the full pricing details, have been made available to the Comptroller and Auditor General, who has given a report concluding that the price of 36 Rafale is 2.86% lower than the audit aligned price, apart from additional benefits which would accrue because of change from firm and fixed pricing to non-firm price, the government said.
The reply explained that the CAG, a constitutional body, after examining extensively the process regarding procurement of 126 MMRCA, has clearly stated in its audit report that in case of 126 MMRCA the procurement which started in 2000 had made no progress even after lapse of 15 years and, in fact, failed on the twin issue of calculation of manpower costs of production of aircraft in India and non-guarantee of aircraft by M/s Dassault Aviation, the OEM for aircraft to be licence manufactured by M/s HAL in India.
The government alleged that the petitioners have made a false allegation that Rajeev Verma, Joint Secretary & Acquisition Manager (Air), who was one of the three officers who had highlighted the issues of concern, had proceeded on leave because of this.
“In fact, Shri Rajeev Verma signed the Note for the Cabinet in the instant case. At the time of the signing of the contract, Shri Rajeev Verma had proceeded on official training abroad of Department of Personnel & Training, for which he had applied and the training was approved several months earlier,” the government said.
In the garb of a review, the petitioners are trying to reopen the whole matter, the government claimed.