Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former Union minister Arun Shourie met CBI Director Alok Verma on Thursday, demanding a probe into alleged corruption in the Rafale aircraft deal and offset contract.
Along with a "detailed" complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Mr Bhushan and Mr Shourie submitted documents buttressing their argument for the need of probe.
Alleging that the offset contract for Rafale aircraft was actually a commission to an Anil Ambani-led Reliance group subsidiary, they asked CBI Director Alok Verma to take government's permission to initiate a probe in accordance with the law.
French company Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, had chosen Reliance Defence as its partner to fulfil offset obligations of the deal. Rejecting allegations of corruption, the government has been maintaining it did not have any role in selection of the offset partner by Dassault.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September last year for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore, nearly one-and-a-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.
In the 33-page complaint to the CBI, Mr Bhushan and Mr Shourie claimed that Anil Ambani-led Reliance group had incorporated its own subsidiary Reliance Defence barely a few days before the deal was to be signed in Paris.
Barely two months after the deal was signed, Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), 2013 was amended, with amendments dealing only with offset conditions, it said.
"Evidently, even in August, 2015, when the main procurement contract was yet to be signed, somebody in the government was overly concerned with offsets," it alleged. "The said amendment was thereafter incorporated in DPP, 2016 verbatim, which came into effect on April 1, 2016," it alleged.
Alleging "a scam of Rs 36,000 crore", the complaint claimed that the deal was executed in "improper, dishonest, malafide, and abuse of official position".
It alleged that "no mandatory prerequisites for the deal including IAF Services Head Quarters initiating the procurement process by preparing Services Qualitative Requirements (SQRs), Categorisation Committee recommending the 'mode of procurement'; Defence Acquisition Council and others were taken".
"The original deal for 126 aircraft was also inclusive of weapons.... Therefore, only the cost of the new weapons could be inflated and was indeed artificially inflated," the complaint alleged.
It alleged if price had been the real concern for the government for discarding the old deal, the government would have considered Eurofighter's offer of July 12, 2014 to reduce its price by a full 20 per cent.
The "government's claims that Dassault was not satisfied with HAL are belied by the former HAL Chairman, T Suvarana Raju, who was the lead technical negotiator for the original deal, and has dared the government to put the files in the public domain," it said.
"We are also aware that this will place you in the peculiar situation, of having to ask the accused himself, for permission to investigate a case against him," the duo said in the complaint to the CBI Director.
"We realise that your hands are tied in this matter, but we request you to at least take the first step, of seeking permission of the government under Section 17(A) of Prevention of Corruption Act for investigating this offence and under which, 'the concerned authority shall convey its decision under this section within a period of three months, which may, for reasons to be recorded in writing by such authority, be extended by a further period of one month'," the complaint said.
After submitting the complaint to the CBI Director in his office at agency headquarters, Shourie, who is a vocal critic of the Modi government, said "every single element, every single fact has been documented in annexure". The government could not explain rationale behind cutting down deal for 126 aircraft to 36 aircraft, he claimed.
Mr Shourie, who was a Union minister in the Atal Bihari Vajapee-led NDA government, has been sidelined in the party under the current BJP leadership.
"The CBI Director said he will look into it very carefully. He said he will take appropriate action," Mr Bhushan said.
Opposition Congress has accused the government of choosing Reliance Defence over state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to benefit the private firm though it did not have any experience in the aerospace sector. It raised several questions about the deal including the rates.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said the defence procurement procedure allows a contract with a friendly government, and had rubbished allegations that government was favouring any businessman through the deal.
Ms Sitharaman had said the cost of each aircraft along with weapon systems was much lower than what was negotiated by the UPA government.
Reliance Defence had said Dassault chose it to meet its 'offset' or export obligation in the contract and the Ministry of Defence has no role in the selection of Indian partners by the foreign vendors.
Company CEO Rajesh Dhingra had said the government-to-government deal requires all 36 aircraft to be delivered in a 'fly-away' condition which means "they are to be exported from France by Dassault" and "HAL or anyone else cannot be the production agency for the simple reason that no aircraft are to be produced in India."