NEW DELHI: As Congress president Rahul Gandhi kept up his attacks on the government for refusing to table details of the Rs 58,000-crore Rafale fighter aircraft deal, the Defence Ministry today defended its decision to maintain confidentiality and accused the Congress of attempting to "twist facts".
- Congress attacked the government on Rs 58,000-crore Rafale aircraft deal
- Centre said it was following protocol under an agreement signed in 2008
- The defence ministry accused the Congress of attempting to "twist facts"
The statement is seen as a stinging rebuttal to the Congress president, who has been firing non-stop at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the 2016 government-to-government deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets in fly-away condition.
"What is the price that the Prime Minister has spent on Rafale?" Mr Gandhi had asked yesterday. Today, he attempted to keep up the pressure on the deal after PM Modi spoke in parliament, insinuating that the government's silence implied there was something wrong with the deal.
Hours later, the government said it wouldn't have responded to such "unfounded allegations" but statements like this were causing "serious damage" to India's national security.
The defence ministry also explained why it could not reveal these details and also took a swipe at the Congress. The NDA government was "merely following" confidentiality provisions under an agreement signed between India and France in 2008 when the Congress-led UPA government was in power.
The Defence Ministry said "provision of exact item-wise cost and other information" would "reveal the various customizations and weapons systems specially designed to augment the effectiveness and lethality of the assets, impact our military preparedness and compromise our national security."
India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets, nearly one- and-half years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the proposal during a visit to Paris.
The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019.
The government's defence of the Rafale deal comes on a day NDTV accessed Rajya Sabha documents which clearly indicate that both Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony had refused to release commercial details of deals when they were Defence Minister in 2005 and 2008.
Like when Pranab Mukerjee, then defence minister in August 2005, was asked by his party's MP Janardhana Poojary about defence buys from overseas suppliers during the previous three years, Mr Mukherjee straightaway declined to reveal the information on grounds of "national security".
Three years later, it was AK Antony, the defence minister in December 2008, who took a similar line. Two CPM lawmakers Prasanta Chatterjee and Mohammed Amin wanted the government to list the ten biggest defence suppliers and the purchases made from them. Mr Antony said the major countries from who India imported defence equipment included Russia, the USA, the U.K., France, Germany and Israel. But he refused to get into the numbers beyond this basic information.
Sitaram Yechury, also from the CPM, had received the same response when he had, just a year earlier in 2007, asked Mr Antony about the cost of missiles purchased from Israel.
"The demand that the Government disclose the details and value of the contract for the Rafale aircraft contracted in 2016 is unrealistic," the Defence Ministry statement said, adding the approximate acquisition cost of the Rafale aircraft had already been provided to parliament.
Apart from reasons of national security, officials say a confidentiality clause, which bars the buyer and seller from talking about the pricing, makes it impossible for any government to reveal any detail about the defence deals.
This is because the entire international defence industry is based on differential pricing, not a fixed price. So if, for example, a supplier sells India equipment for a certain price, they want that price to be kept a secret so that they can sell the equipment at a higher price to other potential customers.