Dismissing allegations of corruption in the contract for 36 Rafale jets, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman today asserted there can be no comparison between the scam-hit Bofors gun deal and the procurement of the fighter aircraft.
“Do not even compare it (Rafale deal) with Bofors. There is no scam here,” Sitharaman told reporters when asked whether Rafale deal will go the Bofors way.
Sitharaman said she would welcome if the Congress raises the issue of procurement of Rafale jets when the budget session of the Parliament reconvenes from Monday.
“I will welcome it (if Congress raises it),” she said.
The Congress has been ramping up attack on the government over the Rafale issue, claiming that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper then the contract signed by the Modi government to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets from France at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore.
Official sources claimed the original deal to procure 126 fighter jet could not go through during the UPA rule despite reaching the final stage due to an intervention by the then defence minister A K Antony as he felt something wrong in the process.
They said the government selected Rafale for procurement of the 36 fighter jets not because of the price arrived at during the UPA tenure but due to the “overarching” assessment of the jet.
There were allegations that pay-offs were made in procurement of the artillery guns from Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors in late 1980s during the then Congress government. The allegations and its subsequent political ramifications had severely crippled the Indian Army’s procurement of artillery guns.
Alleging corruption, the Congress has been asking the government whether the per aircraft price of Rafale, according to international bids opened on December 12, 2012, comes to USD 80.95 million (Rs 526.1 crore) as against the Modi government’s per aircraft negotiated price of USD 241.66 Million (Rs 1,570.8 crore) as per current exchange rates.
The UPA government floated a tender in 2007 for purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the Air Force and, post negotiations, two of them—Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon—remained in the reckoning.
However, the deal could not be finalised by the UPA regime.
The Congress had also claimed that Qatar had purchased 12 Rafale fighter jets in November 2017 for USD 108.33 million per aircraft (Rs 694.80 crore), noting that the per aircraft rate at which the Gulf nation is buying the jet is much lower than the rate at which India will procure them.
The government has refused to give details of the price break up of each rafale aircraft, citing confidentiality provisions of a 2008 Indo-France pact.
In a detailed statement, the defence ministry last month had termed as “unfounded” allegations made by the Congress about the Rafale deal, asserting that the demand to disclose details such as its value was “unrealistic” as doing so might compromise India’s national security.
It had said giving an item-wise cost and other information would reveal details about weapons systems and customisation of the jet.
The ministry had said that in 2012, the then defence minister exercised an unprecedented personal veto on the laid down institutional process then underway for the procurement of the 126 jets.