New Delhi, Feb 6: Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday slammed the Narendra Modi government for maintaining "secrecy" on the deal with 36 Rafale fighter jets with France after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharam told Parliament that its details were "classified information" and could not be disclosed.
The Congress meanwhile termed the deal a "great Indian mystery", and claimed that a "huge scam" is brewing as due procedures in the purchase of aircraft were not followed and the jets were bought off the shelf "like oranges".
"Top Secret (Not for Distribution) RM (Raksha Minister) says the price negotiated for each Rafale jet by the PM and his 'reliable' buddy is a state secret," Gandhi said in a tweet.
"Action Points -- Informing Parliament about the price is a national security threat and Brand all who ask, anti-national," he said in another tweet.
The Congress said pointed out that the government is not disclosing the exact cost of the entire deal but it "heard" that the new cost per jet is around three times higher than the cost finalised in the deal struck by the UPA government in 2012.
"Complete non-transparency in the purchase price of aircrafts, flagrant violation of the mandatory provisions of the 'Defence Procurement Procedure' and prior clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security, sacrificing both national interests and national security and blatant promotion of financial interests of capitalist friends by Prime Minister Narendra Modi mark the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by Modi government from Dassault Aviation of France," party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Rajeev Gowda and Randeep Singh Surjewala said here at a press conference.
Gowda, a Rajya Sabha member, had on Monday asked the government through a question the cost of each Rafale jet as per the new deal, but the government refused to disclose it, with Sitharman, in a written reply, maintaining that as per Article 10 of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between the Indian and French governments on the deal, the classified information and material is governed by the provisions of the security agreement signed between the two nations in 2008.
Azad, the Leader of Opposition in the upper house, said that the UPA had sought to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets at the cost of roughly Rs 526 crore per jet with transfer of technology.
"But we now hear that the Modi government is buying the same aircraft for around Rs 1,517 crore per jet, that is, three times the cost finalised in our deal. Is it true? Why is Modi government not disclosing this? This is not a state secret. The public of this country has a right to know."
He said that while striking a deal with the French company in 2015, Prime Minister Modi did not follow the due procedure.
"As per the Defence Procurement Procedure, 2013, before finalising any deal related to defence equipment, it has to first go through the Contract Negotiations Committee and then the Price Negotiations Committee would first make 'price discovery' followed by inter-governmental agreement.
"The Cabinet Committee on Security has to clear the deal before announcement of purchase. But on April 10, 2015, when Modiji unilaterally announced the deal, none of these steps had been followed."
Surjewala said that on July 4, 2014, Eurofighter Typhoon - another bidder along with Dasault -- wrote a letter to the then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley offering to reduce its prices by 20 per cent. This, he said, could have saved millions of dollars to the exchequer but the Modi government ignored it.
He asked why Modi and Jaitley did not take notice of this offer while deciding to buy the Rafale, and shouldn't both companies have been made to bid afresh through inter-governmental agreements route so as to arrive at the lowest price in favour of public exchequer.
"On November 17, 2017, the Defence Minister in a press conference stated that 36 Rafale aircraft were purchased on 'emergency basis'. What was the need to buy aircrafts on 'emergency basis' on April 10, 2015 when regular purchase had already been negotiated through an international tender on December 12, 2012?
"Why is it that despite the 'emergency purchase' and lapse of 35 months, not a single aircraft has been delivered? How long will it take for the delivery of aircrafts? Is it not correct that Indian Air Force will not have delivery of aircraft till end of 2019 as stated in public domain? Does it not compromise India's strategic interests?" Surjewala added.