Where does government stand on Rafale Deal?

How much has been paid for each Rafale aircraft is a question that has been asked of the Modi government for which it has been dodging the answer claiming secrecy of the deal. This despite the fact that the French government has stated that the Indian government can reveal the price if it chooses to. The truth could not have been kept hidden for too long. The newly minted Reliance Aero structure Ltd (the newly formed Joint venture between Reliance Infrastructure and Dassault Aviation of France) which neither expertise in making fighter aircrafts nor in ‘keeping secrets’ has revealed the costs.

In a press release handed over it has clearly stated that the cost of each Rafale aircraft is Rs 1660 crore! Now the questions is why Rs 1660 crore for each aircraft when the initial deal that was signed between Rafale manufacturers Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was of Rs 715 crore per aircraft. The cost of Rs 715 crores each for 126 aircrafts was revealed by none other than earlier Defence minister Manohar Parrikar on  8th April 2015 when the deal was signed in Paris . India’s foreign Secretary S Jaishankar spoke to Doordarshan from Paris stating that negotiations were going on between HAL and Dassault Aviation for manufacture of aircrafts in India as the requirement is that of nearly 126 aircrafts and that the French manufacturer has promised transfer of technology helping HAL with the Make in India program.

But on 13 April 2015 after the arrival of PM Modi things suddenly change. PM Modi announces the deal of only 36 aircrafts and that too in ‘Fly Away‘ condition. The deal was to be carried out by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence and HAL was packed off. Here lies the moot point the aircraft deal was changed with no manufacturing ties it was to be bought straight off the shelf. It means Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerostructure Ltd will act as only a middleman for the deal. Incidentally before the Rafael deal was signed Eurofighter the rival aircraft manufacturers offered to deliver fly away aircrafts at 20% less price than the Rs 715 crore that Parrikar had considered.

So the question arises why was government owned well experienced HAL given a boot? What happened to the claim of government own Make in India program in this case? Why was a deal for only 36 aircrafts carried out when airforce way back in 2012 had said it needed 126 aircrafts in fly away condition? Why was new tender not floated for only 36 aircrafts as the government rules require retendering process when requirements change? Why was Reliance Defence Ltd which was incorporated on 28th March 2015 with no defence expertise given a chance to act as middleman and not as manufacturers? Now the government has stated on the floor of the Parliament that it will be only in 2022 that the aircraft will be delivered, why the delay when HAL was going to deliver the same by 2019?

It the onus of every Indian to know what price the government pays for defence equipment because we as citizens pay through taxes and petrol prices and other means for these purchases. Are we as a poor country ready to pay double price for the same aircraft only to make Anil Ambani rich?

PS: All documents and information used in this article is given from Reliance Defence press release, Parliament answers, and ministry of Corporate Affairs website.

(By Bhagyashree Pande, views expressed are personal)

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