Rahul Gandhi has successfully exploited Goebbels propaganda tool “Repeat a lie thousand times and it will become a truth”. It was he who was more vocal than anyone in the country in trying to paint Modi as Choukidar turned Chor. Goebbels advise to “keep the lie simple but big, keep saying it eventually they will believe it” was apparently followed by Rahul Gandhi well. So, be it while meeting the students or addressing farmers or in election rallies or in parliament, he kept repeating that Modi is a Chor. Public who solely depended on new papers or magazines reports written by those who know little of defence procurement procedures started believing it.
However, his allegations have met first judicial scrutiny with row of writ petitions in supreme Court on the issue. Petitioners include Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Prashant Bhushan, Sanjay Singh, ML Sharma a practicing lawyer of SC, V Dhanda, as spirited citizen of India. Petitioners main issues were that the procedure in concluding the deal was violated, prices were hiked by three folds, an inexperienced private company was favored as Indian Offset Partner (IOP) in preference to HAL compromising national security. Regretfully none of the petitioners placed any evidence before the court except quoting magazine or news paper report or press interviews of individuals.
Court in its order concluded that on scrutiny of all the three major allegation, find no reason for any intervention by this Court on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts by the Government. Court further said that perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by the Court, especially in such matters and thus dismissed all the writ petitions.
Despite clear and loud judgment, opposition is not ready to accept the verdict and wants probe by JPC. Govt was willing for debate in the house which opposition is not ready as there is no substance left in any of their allegations. Even on the issue of Supreme Courts remarks at Para 25, apparently due to its misinterpretation, that CAG report has been submitted to PAC and redacted portions have been placed in Parliament and public domain, has been settled from Govts point of view with the filing of additional affidavit. Let us review allegations of opposition further.
HAL vs Relience Defence
First issue we need to review is whether HAL is an asset or liability. Most of the projects undertaken by HAL are running way behind schedule. The most ambiguous project of HAL, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCT) Tejas is far behind schedule. Against order placed for 20 aircrafts in 2006, they haven’t produced even 10 till now that is after 12 years. Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge has come down severely on HAL for its poor performance in his last wweek report. It was not the only project that was delayed, production of Jet Trainers is delayed by 14 years, basic trainer aircraft is delayed by 6 years ( due to inordinate delay in production, most of the requirements are met through import), Light Utility and Light Combat Helicopters are delayed by 4 and 7 years respectively.
Sukoi is further unique case. After placing order for 222 aircrafts on HAL, due to delay in production, Country had import 82 aircrafts. Production delayed despite many concessions like the use of short-life components and delay in supply of role equipment etc, granted to it. But for these concessions, the delays would have been even more. Delays are not the only worrying part, even the cost is a major concern. Every aircraft manufactured by HAL has costed very high compared to import cost.
In 2012, Parliamentary Committee on Defence headed by then UPA Ministers Shashi Taroor and manish Tiwari gave very adverse report on HA|L. Again as late as in January 2014, then Defence Minister Antony too in an internal note was very critical of HALs abilities and capabilities.
M/s Dassualt after detailed analysis of HAL capabilities, had asked the Govt for two separate contracts, first one with them for manufacturing 18 aircrafts and second with HAL independently for manufacturing 108 aircrafts. But Govt did not agree and asked M/s Dassualt to sign one agreement taking responsibility for getting 108 aircrats manufactured by HAL. Dassault felt HAL would not be able to handle complexities of technology transfer and manufacturing. In fact Dassault had asked Govt to allow it to manufacture aircrafts in joint venture with Relience Industries ltd way back in 2012 itself, which was rejected by Govt. During subsequent negotiations, HAL wanted 2.7 times more man hours for manufacturing the aircrafts pushing the cost high. A word about Relience Defence companys credibility in defence production, it is pertinent to mention that it had won a global contract from USA to maintain its prestigious 7th Fleet. It has also supplied many naval vessels to Indian Navy and bid for many new projects.
On the same day of signing the Inter Government Agreement, two contracts were signed with original manufactures supplying the aircrafts M/s Dassault and M/s MBDA Missiles Systems Ltd for offset contracts. As per the contract, against total contract order of around Rs 59,000 crores, these companies are required to invest 20 % DRDO and 30 % on other companies amounting to Rs 17,700 crores. They have selected 100 companies to meet offset obligations and Relience Defence is one among the 100.
Weapon systems of any aircrafts are highly secret and can’t be disclosed ever unless adversaries identify them after actual war. In earlier wars with Pakistan, we had successfully exploited capability of our aircrafts that are unknown to Pakistan. Price of aircraft will enable adversary to estimate the weapons systems mounted on them and thus capabilities of aircrafts. For this very reason, present Chief of Air Staff has categorically communicated to Govt not to reveal details price or weapon system.
Price of aircrafts agreed upon are given in Inter Government Agreement and the IGA is covered under secrecy agreement signed by UPA in 2008. Court in its order appreciated the Govt for providing details of cost of basic model of Rafale arrived by UPA and now agreed by NDA along with few other details, which Govt is not obliged to reveal due to secrecy clauses and security reasons, only to clear its consciousness.
Another important issue about pricing is maintenance cost of the fleet. So far IAF is dependent on HAL for spares and third line repairs. However HAL record in maintenance of existing fleet is poor leaving large fleet of aircrafts in unserviceable state at any given point of time adversely affecting combat potential. Accordingly, IAF had in this case, insisted the Govt for the first time, to include a clause in the contract obliging the manufacturer to maintain certain percentage of aircrafts in operational condition at all times for specified period say 15 or 20 years after induction. This necessitates manufacturer to maintain its repair base, logistic base and pool of spares in India. So cost of the aircraft would go up. Surprisingly Civilian VIP air fleet of the country maintained by Airforce is in better state than military fleet because UPA Govt has placed the contract for maintenance of Civilian VIP Fleet with manufacturer but not most important military fleet.
Various sources reveal that estimated cost of 126 aircrafts in 2007 was around 12 Billion USD and in the same in 2014 was around 25 to 28 Billion USD. As per this estimate, present contracted rate appears to same or lower than what was estimated in 2014. However if we consider HALs claim of 2.7 times more man hours, final cost agreed, appear to be much lower. CMD who was part of the final negotiation committee, has confirmed in a press statement that cost of manufacturing aircrafts in HAL would have been more than agreed in IGA as more man hours are needed.
Finally, Court in its order has stated that there is no case for considering HAL for the deal as 3 years of negotiation has not yielded in any result and aircrafts are urgently required as demanded by Air Force to meet acute shortage and beef up its combat capability. It is hypocritical for Rahul Gandhi to question Govt why it has not considered HAL for manufacturing Rafale aircrafts, when his Govt failed in concluding the deal in 3 years and while his leader in Lok Sabha as chairman of PAC indicted HAL severely for its incompetence affecting combat capability of Countrys Air Force.
Why procure only 36 instead of 126
This is another allegation made by opposition. The main reason for Government to decide to buy 36 aircrafts which was also brought out in Court order, was , while India was deliberating from 2001 to 20014 on procurement, our adversaries procured modern aircrafts in large quantities, thus putting the country at great disadvantage. Also, three year long negotiations have not yielded any result, and air force projected urgent need of 36 aircrafts. Thus order was placed for 36 aircrafts with provision to keep the prices agreed open for future procurement.
It is pertinent to mention that then Raksha mantri in a press meet in 2013, mentioned that Government had diverted Rs 90,000 crores catered for purchase of aircrafts to meet the shortage of revenue expenditure and the procurement can be undertaken only next financial year(2014-15). It is hypocritical for Rahul Gandhi to question why present Govt is procuring only 36 aircrafts and not 126, when his own govt had no money to buy even a single aircraft just a year back.
It is very essential for every citizen to understand security concerns of the Country. To satisfy irrational minds Country can’t afford to compromise its security. These pseudo intellectuals did enormous harm to the interests of country by questioning Govt to provide video proof of surgical strikes. For petty political goals, undermining the security concerns will prove costly to the nation. Sooner the politicians and their pseudo intellectual supporters realize this , better it would be for the country. I am reminded of famous saying of Late Dr Chub Okadiqbo,
“If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion, or political leaning to the point beyond truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless. Your exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are liability to mankind”.