After the Supreme Court asked the centre to provide details of how the Rafale fighter jet deal with France was finalised, sources have indicated to NDTV that the Defence Ministry is already putting together the necessary documents to be handed over to the court.
While the court said it didn’t wish to get into the “pricing or suitability” of the fighter jets, the ministry, say sources, would be happy to divulge those details. The documents are to be delivered in a sealed envelope by October 29, which explains the ministry’s willingness to share the “contentious” details.
The top court’s direction came on a day when Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman flies to France for a three-day visit during which she will visit the Dassault unit where Rafale fighter jets are being manufactured for India.
The acquisition of Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force has been one of the most controversial defence deals ever signed by India.
In 2016, India got into a massive $8.6 billion deal with France for 36 ready-to-fly Rafale jets after the erstwhile Congress government’s negotiations were binned. The UPA government had planned to buy 18 off-the-shelf jets from Dassault and 108 were to be assembled by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the state-run defence manufacturer, in Bengaluru.
The Congress alleged colossal corruption in the new deal and said it was designed in a way to benefit Anil Ambani’s debt-ridden Reliance Defence which became the French giant’s offset partner in India.
French investigative journal Mediapart has reported that they have accessed a document that says picking Anil Ambani’s rookie firm was mandatory for the Rafale deal.
Last month, former French president Francois Hollande, who negotiated the Rafale deal with PM Modi, also said that they weren’t given any choice. “…it was the Indian government that proposed Reliance” he said.
But Dassault had denied any pressure or influence.
Sources suggest that the French delegation is likely to push India to consider buying additional Rafale fighters. The Rafale is among the six contenders the Defence Ministry is currently considering for a multi-billion dollar purchase of 114 fighter jets. There is no indication when the government will downselect the fighters it wants before price negotiations begin, it’s certain that there will be significant technology sharing and Make-in-India element in the deal.
In March, ahead of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s arrival in Delhi, NDTV had shared details about a letter written by the French Defence Minister Florence Parly to her Indian counterpart asking India to announce that both countries were in talks for an additional 36 Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa says can be a “game-changer” and booster for India’s defence.