The new Rafale Deal: Corrupt and compromise to national security

Tikender Singh Panwar

A seminar on the expose of the Rafale deal was held in the Constitution Club at New Delhi by the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan (JEJAA). There were experts who dealt with the topic and exposed the true lies spread by the BJP government and punctured their balloon of “national security rhetoric”. If in concise, the deal to buy the fighter jets from Dassault company of France could be stated ; then it is “discarding the national interests”, “high level corruption”, “crony capitalism at its zenith” and “inept PM with overstepping intervention in handling the affairs”. It is a pity that the country is run not by a statesman but by a ‘Con’, whose sole interest is to ensure that some of his cronies rule the roost whereas overall interests of the country and the security interests are just for exhibition on televisions and media.

The first speaker was Paranjoy Guha Thakurata a famous journalist of the country who gave the introductory remarks about the deal. In his very candid speech he narrated the time line in which this deal in between the Indian and French companies was signed. He also brought in the comparison in between the Bofors and the Rafale deal. While mentioning at the outset that both the Howitzer bought in the Bofors and the Rafale to be bought are not questioned on the efficiency, efficacy or the superiority of the machine-in fact both are super fine, but on the procedure in which the deals were struck. The kickbacks and the corruption that exposed both the deals is the common feature. Also he said that both the deals have been sparked from an outside affirmation of the information.

In Bofors it was a radio station from Sweden that broadcast and leaked the information, similarly 29 years after it is the news that came from France through an interview of Hollande, the former President of France, which lit the spark. Brining the narrative of “Thief” , he vehemently stated that Rahul Gandhi the President of Congress party is openly stating that the PM is a thief . Similarly during the Bofors expose a slogan that resonated in the country was “Gali, Gali mein shor hai Rajiv Gandhi Chor hai” (there is a scream in every street that Rajiv Gandhi is a thief). The same slogan now reverberates in the country against Modi.

Paranjoy further clarified that the time line exposes the lies of the PM and the BJP completely. He said just a week before Modi announced the cancellation of the first Rafale deal the counter parties; Dassault ex CEO and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) announced that 95 percent of the agreement was over and just last minute details are worked out.

D Raghunandan, a senior scientist from the Delhi Science Forum (DSF) who has a vast experience in aeronautical science spoke on the technical aspect of the Rafale deal. He said the intention to purchase the aircraft is more than 10 years old and the time line is as:
• Initial Request for proposal - 6 companies participated in it.
• The Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted intensive and extensive field trials for a long period in different climatic conditions. The two: Rafale and Euro Fighters were short listed and considered as the best.
• Then as per L-1 formula, the lowest bidder Rafale struck the deal.
• Buying aircraft is not like buying grocery or green grocery in the market where one can adjust owing to whims and fancies of the buyer. Why 126 aircrafts were to be bought and manufactured?
• This happened after the strategic positioning of the IAF where to the  strength of 42 squadrons for a two front war at least 126 aircrafts were required. Hence this figure did not come out of imagination of some individual (like Modi who reduced the number to 36) or even an expert. Rather it went through an exercise that took place for a long period in which IAF was the core.
• But Modi in 2015 went to France and cancelled the deal for 126 and instead ordered 36. Who gave him the permission? Whom did he consult? For defence procurement there are various committees which decide the purchase. The present defence minister was asked about the deal and that the due course was not followed. She said the same will be followed now. “Which means first the deal- then the procedure”.
• Technically and fundamentally it is flawed. In the initial deal 18 aircrafts were to be purchased from Dassault company of France and 108 were to be manufactured in India by the HAL where the technology transfer was supposed to happen.
• In the new deal 36 aircrafts in ready condition will be purchased from Dassault in France and a new offset partner has been incorporated for the manufacture of spares and parts. This partner is Reliance Defence and Aerospace Limited(RADL). The company has no experience of defence production equipments and in fact does not even exist on ground.

Rahul Gupta who is part of the team of lawyers that challenged the deal in the Supreme Court of India spoke about the legal aspects of the deal. He said this is the biggest scandal of recent times and there are two important aspects of the deal; (i) compromising national security and (ii) massive corruption. Reiterating the genesis of the need for buying aircrafts he stressed on the IAF position of 42 squadrons and the number of 126 fighter aircrafts. He said according to the defence procurement procedure the work share was in the ratio of 70 percent and 30 percent in between HAL and Dassault. He further specified the diversified nature of IAF of the present fleet which had to be homogenous and hence the number of 126 aircrafts is so very important.

Rahul further clarified that in March 2014, a work share agreement took place and Eric Trappier the then CEO of Dassault had stated that the agreement in between HAL and ‘them’ is ‘about to be signed’. In this meeting even the IAF chief was present. When Modi cancelled the deal and went ahead with a new one no body except Anil Ambani knew about it. The defence minister was at that time inaugurating a fish shop in Goa and termed his complete obliviousness about it. S Jaishankar, the foreign secretary of India was quizzed by the press on April 8, 2015; he also stated that the deal to purchase 126 aircrafts is progressing. So, even he was not aware of it. Just a few days after that, the deal got cancelled unilaterally.

While stressing on the procedure of the decision to deal at such international platforms he said even the PM has no authority to redefine the deal. It is the sole discretion of the IAF to decide on the specification and quantity.

While explaining the process in which the defence deals are done he stated that the initial step is for services for qualitative requirements (SQR). Once this is done, which is the role of the DRDO then a quantity categorization committee (QCC) is formed; in the above case it is the IAF. This QCC decides the quantity of purchase; how many to be bought and how many to be manufactured in India. Then the mode of procurement is decided and acquisition consent is granted. Once there is an acceptance of necessity (AON) then it is a ‘streak on the stone’. This is non-negotiable. Nobody can change it. But the procedure was unilaterally demolished by Modi. The powers of the IAF were usurped by him. He has no authority to do so. There are blatant procedural violations, he said.

The second aspect is also important, he said, and it pertains to large scale corruption. In the first deal there was no offset partner. There was a production partner-HAL, but in the second deal there is an offset partner and that is RADL. There is massive corruption that has entailed this deal and a decaying crony is being oxygenated with the money of common man. This is ridiculous he explained and must be exposed thoroughly.

Ravi Nair who was instrumental in exposing the lies and has been responsible for collecting minute details about ‘both the deals’ also spoke in the seminar. While reiterating what Raghunandan and Rahul spoke about the necessity to buy a particular number he also explained the genesis of the defence procurement policy and procedure. He said in the year 2007 after very meticulous exercise by the IAF an extensive request for proposal (RFP) was floated to buy aircrafts. This had 2011 pages; probably the most detailed by any air force of the world. This was done purposely as every minute detail was mentioned in it. The type of aircrafts required; radar system; other technicalities and logistics; its science etc.

In August 2007, six manufacturers turned up and it took six months for the IAF to go through their proposal as the proposals were equally bulky. On April 28, 2008 big tenders were received and imagine that one US company that had bid, had 8500 pages while on an average there were 7000-8000 pages. Evaluation of these tenders was done at different levels. It took 13 months for the first technical evaluation owing to the large size of the bids. But according to Nair this was required for the specificity asked by the IAF.

Then on January 2010, flight tests were conducted and it took 11 months to conduct these tests and these were done in extreme geo-climatic conditions. For normal conditions these tests were conducted in Bangalore in Karnataka, for extreme hot-Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and extreme cold-Leh in J&K. Even the weapons systems in the aircraft were tested in 2011 itself.

It was after such an extensive exercise that the government and the IAF were able to shortlist two major suppliers in the market. As stated these include Dassault manufacturer of Rafale and a consortium of EU countries called the Euro-fighters. After three months negotiations Dasault was short listed. In March 2014 an agreement was arrived in between HAL and Dassault for buying 18 in ‘ready to use’ condition and 108 ‘to be manufactured’ in India. It was progressing well.

In March 2015 in the Dassault annual report which was released in December 2014, the then CEO told the media persons that an agreement for 126 is almost done and the deal will be closing soon. The Indian Ambassador to France, the HAL chief visited the Dassault factory and there is a video of Eric Trappier saying that 95 percent of the deal is done ; when asked what is the five percent left he said it is just a re-reading of the pages as there are thousands of pages; but the deal is done. Just three days after that in March 2015 Reliance registered its defence company called the RADL.

But the story changed as Modi came to power. According to Ravi Nair there is no value for what all the IAF has done and has contemplated. What matters is what Modi thinks. For sure, Ravi castigated,  that who thinks better on security matters for India ? Is it the IAF or Modi ? For sure it is the IAF whereas what Modi thinks is not in the interests of India rather Ambanis.

While describing the status of Ambanis and their company, which was registered in Maharashtra he said the company was served notices for non-payment of dues. He said 289 acres of land was allotted in Nagpur to Anil Ambani’s company. However, the balance sheet of 2015-16 of Anil Ambani shows a debt of Rs 1,52,000 crore. He did not even have the money to pay for the land and after receiving notices shed 185 acres and kept just 104 acres.

The company did not have the licence for manufacturing the required equipments. It applied under a Gujarat address and interestingly, the terms of reference state that they are supposed to produce parts of the aircrafts used in a business jet rather than for the Rafale aircraft. Who are they befooling ?

Ravi termed the entire deal as bundle of lies and termed it as “true lies”. He further called upon the people to learn more about the deal as it is both anti-national and extremely corrupt.

The concluding remarks were made by Tapan Sen and the seminar was conducted by Kavita Krishnan.

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